How Does Your Creative Genius Visit You?

elusive creative genius

This week I didn’t publish a post on Monday as I had nothing to say. Told this to a friend and she tried to give me ideas, but ideas are never my problem, I have plenty of those, I can’t write until I can write, I told her.

This morning, I saw this from Smaggle.

“True creativity comes from love of your chosen medium. I don’t think anyone can be a great writer unless they truly love writing.”

And I realised I didn’t agree. I’m just not like that. I don’t love writing. I don’t love painting, or any of my other creative outlets. I don’t have a love of any medium – I just do them.

The poet Ruth Stone once told Elizabeth Gilbert that growing up she would feel and hear a poem thundering across the landscape at her and she had to run like hell to a pen and a paper to capture the poem as it flowed through her. Sometimes she wouldn’t be fast enough and she would miss it, it would pass through her then continue across the landscape to find another poet. Sometimes she would catch it just as it passed through her and have to grab it by the tail and pull it back, resulting in the poem appearing on the page perfect but backwards from the last word to the first.

This possibly doesn’t sound too familiar to many of you, and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s retelling of this story everyone laughed, but it strongly resonated with me and I’ve never forgotten it.

That is exactly what writing is for me. That is actually how many things in my life are for me, which is why I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of myself as an artist, as a writer. I’m not. I am just a vessel for the external creative genius to flow through me.

So the idea that Elizabeth Gilbert put forward of us returning to the Ancient Roman way of viewing creative genius as an external divine being or force, rather than something that comes from the individual itself, strongly appealed to me. Creative people weren’t a genius, they had a genius.

I don’t love writing, I don’t. That may be controversial, particularly in the blogging world where so many people truly love their craft and they want to get up and do nothing but write every day, even when they have to strap themselves down and squeeze their brains until there is blood on the page.

I write because something tells me to. I write because the words appear in my head and I know I have to get them out, write them down, or they will disappear.

Over the years I have learnt to control it to some extent. Occasionally I’ve been able to tell it “Wait, come back to me at another time” and it will. But often it doesn’t. Or it does, but a year or two later when something sparks it again. Sometimes my blog posts start in the middle because that’s when I was able to get my hands on a keyboard or pen and paper and after I’ve finished the post I have to go back to the beginning and fill in the rest. Sometimes I only get a few words, a few ideas down, and there are a million of these partially formed fragments sitting in my drafts.

It’s one of the reasons I write so quickly – I have to frantically get the words down before they disappear and they flow through me as quickly as I can speak, rather than at a pace that’s cohesive for writing them out in any coherent way.

And, if I’m honest, this is one of the many reasons I’m too afraid to quit my job and go to blogging full time. Or commit to making birthday cards, paintings, or any other consumable that could be sold on Etsy that I could make some kind of living from. I can’t tell you when I will be able to write something new. When I will be able to paint something, draw something, make something. I have to wait for the creative genius to visit me.

It doesn’t come from me, it comes from somewhere else.

How does your creative genius visit you? Do you have to force yourself to write, does it flow through you, can you control it? 

  • Gina Soldano-Herrle

    This is so true, for me at least. Julia Cameron says something similar about a creative energy flowing through you. I agree with it. I’ve tried time and again to sit down and just write. Sometimes something great will come to me and my fingers are flying. But, more often than not I sit and stare at a blank screen for a long time. I can’t force myself to write. I try to babble on until something comes to me. I can relate to the imagery of grabbing the idea. Once I have one, I feel like I’m frantically trying to keep up just like you said. Sometimes I miss words or have run on sentences and I have to go back and connect the thoughts I missed. It really is a flow of creativity.

    • Tamsin Howse

      Thank God it’s not just me! I hear you on missing words, I do that all the time.

  • John James

    Creativity is so subjective and different for everyone, but this is my experience.

    I’m the opposite to you. I write because I enjoy writing. And I don’t feel as if I’m a vessel for my art. My writing comes from within me, nowhere else.

    I also believe that writing is a craft, like any other. You learn to become a good writer through practice and experience. And the more you write, the easier it becomes to write. At least, that’s been my experience over the past four years as I’ve worked towards becoming a published writer.

    As my mentor Pamela Freeman likes to say, you have to make room for the work. And that’s what I’ve done over the past few years. I’ve made room for the work, and I now only work three days a week. The rest of my week is dedicated to writing, and I try to write for at least four hours a day between Saturday and Tuesday. I never waste that time. I just sit down and write. The more you do this, the easier it becomes. That’s something that only happens with time.

    Part of the craft of writing is learning how to be a disciplined writer, and that’s something I’ve taught myself to be. I never suffer from writer’s block anymore. When it’s time to write, I just sit down and write. It doesn’t matter how sloppy the writing is, I just write. The sloppiness gets fixed during the editing process.

    But I also really enjoy writing. Learning the craft is important, but I wouldn’t write unless I enjoyed it. I don’t think I’m more happy or relaxed than when I’m writing. Editing too. I love editing just as much as writing. It’s like working on a big jigsaw puzzle made of words. I have no doubt that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Having now written a submission-ready version of one book, I just want to keep writing more and more. Writing is both my craft and my passion.

    • Tamsin Howse

      The skill is definitely attained through practice. Art as well. I’ve heard a lot lately about having to make room for the work. There’s definitely truth to it.

  • Bek

    It’s so interesting reading how different people interact with their creativity and imaginations.
    I often get inspiration from dreams. I’ll hear music in my dreams, and have dreams that are like magical action movies. I’ll wake up needing to write it all down.

    Sometimes an idea for a story, scrap of dialogue will pop into my brain and be lost if I don’t write it down, which is why I always carry a notebook with me (writing it by hand works better for me than trying to tap it out onto my phone).

    But I also get inspired when I have to write from prompts, which happens a lot in fanfic. Someone might say, rewrite a fairy tale featuring Sherlock and John as the main characters and immediately my brain will start thinking about things and putting out ideas. Often if I get stuck on a bit of plot or scene, I leave it for a bit, and let it simmer in my subconscious. Later the solution will suddenly pop into my head.

    I love writing, I have always been a writer, and I feel all tense and unhappy when I go a long stretch without writing fiction. I don’t have those feelings when I’m not writing non-fiction. I see writing as one of the ways I express myself creatively, so I can’t not write.

    • Tamsin Howse

      It fascinates me! Prompts can inspire me too, but not very often. I’ve never been good at writing fiction, as much as I would love to,m. Really admire that skill

  • Jessica Chapman

    I can definitely relate to the catching the poem metaphor. Sometimes sentences, paragraphs, even paragraphs come and flow through me. Just last night I was jumping up to quickly get down a snippet of dialogue before it disappeared, and rather frustratingly, like it does sometimes, it changed on the page and became something a little bit different, so I didn’t entirely catch it.

    But if I waited for that to happen to me every time I wrote I wouldn’t have a tenth of what I’ve written. For me it takes both forcing myself to write and letting it flow through me. I definitely identify with an external genius or muse because sometimes I sit down to write and nothing comes out, or nothing good comes out, but sometimes I sit down to write and I get good work flowing through me. One of my lecturers said it was like a date. You make a date with the muse and you have no idea whether it will show up or not but in order to meet it you have to be there.

    But even when the muse shows up and I let the work flow through me it often comes out backwards or inside out and that’s why I have to sit down later and edit it together like a puzzle. I have to force myself to do that too.

    Sometimes I’m actually not sure if I truly love writing, sometimes the process of writing and editing feels like such a grind, such a tax on myself. Today the muse did not show up at all and that made it a really tough writing day. But I know I hate the idea of not writing, when I don’t do it for a while I feel really anxious and pent up.

    • Tamsin Howse

      I love that! Making a date! Sometimes, not often but sometimes, I can force words out of me. But more often it just flows through. I think if I ever wrote full time, I would have to do what you do.