“Creativity is a scavenger hunt. It’s your obligation to pay attention to clues, to the thing that gives you that little tweak. The muses or fairies – they’re trying to get your attention.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
When I read Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, I was going through a similar life transition and deeply resonated with the book, as did millions of others. Since then, I have been intrigued to see her interest in creativity become a passion, and I have learned a lot from her. (See her amazing TED talk.)
The quote above, from the October Oprah magazine article about Gilbert and her new novel, The Signature of All Things, is a great reminder to be aware as writers.
Prompts from the universe, your muse, fairies – whatever you want to call them – are real. But hearing them requires slowing down and listening, being receptive to the creative gifts that come to us. Several times I’ve had powerful experiences like this.
More than 20 years ago I wrote a scene in a creative writing class. I really liked it, but didn’t have a clue where to take it. So I put it away and only very occasionally looked at it. I just didn’t know how it would fit into a larger story.
Then, about three years ago, I was in a dream state in the early morning, barely awake, and the story came to me. I watched the entire novel unfold in my mind’s eye. The scene I had written was clearly a prologue, and I knew the entire narrative from that beginning. I woke up and went to my desk and wrote a brief synopsis and a chapter outline. I’ve been working on the novel ever since.
More recently, I needed to work out a problem with a new nonfiction book idea. Once again, the solution – vivid and detailed – came to me in an early morning dream state.
These moments of revelation, bursts of creative genius, happen all the time, perhaps in small ways we might not necessarily recognize as divinely inspired. But I know they are.
From the perfect word suddenly popping into one’s head, to the discovery of a title for that article or book that had remained elusive.
The muse exists. It works. But you have to let it in, be receptive, invite it to inhabit your creative space. Meditation works, so does journaling. I do both. Listening to music, walking on the beach or through the woods also is effective. Any immersion in Nature will invite your muse to visit. Thoreau went to Walden Pond. Wordsworth walked the English Lake District and gazed upon fields of daffodils.
Muses don’t like to be rushed and they don’t come on command. But with a little openness and invitation, they will come.