I am staring into the face of another person trying very hard to concentrate. It is not because they are boring or because what they are talking about is particularly uninteresting. I am not tired, at least not more than I usually feel. I have no current level of physical discomfort that is keeping me from focusing on what they’re saying. I am, however, trying to retain a few clips of breakthrough dialogue for a story I'm writing that just now came to me during this conversation.

Has something like this ever happened to you? Do you find yourself straining to reach creative enlightenment one minute and then find it magically upon you at the most inopportune moments possible? Have you ever been in the middle of another task or engaged in an activity only to be immediately bombarded by the need to write down an idea that seemingly fell on your head from out of the sky? After several instances of frantically repeating ideas out loud to myself while driving, I now keep a tiny pocket sized notebook in my car so that I can pull over, write these ideas down and actually direct my attention back to the road.

"Creativity itself doesn't care at all about results - the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it." - Elizabeth Gilbert

It feels good to capture these ideas as they come and it is ultimately frustrating to forget them when a writing utensil or recording device isn’t immediately available. There’s nothing like feeling you’ve turned a creative corner only to realize you’ve ended up in a place you don’t recognize with no real idea on how to get back. That’s how it feels to know you had a really good idea that you suddenly can’t remember, not even barely. The biggest downside to the ideas you actually capture, however, is making sense of them after they’re written down. Sure, I have notebooks upon notebooks (and receipts and virtual notes on my phone and Post-its and sprawled misspelled text on the backs of my hands) that are brimming with what were in the moment deemed as brilliance, as worth pulling over for, worth waking up for in the middle of the night. And now a lot of them don’t make much sense if any at all. (I’d offer up some examples if only they weren’t collectively so embarrassing.)

So where does that leave us? We can either catch our most brilliant ideas by the tail only to have them not make sense later or they can elude us entirely, leaving us scratching our heads and damning our minds for their lack of retention. It’s such a rare moment to be primed to do some sort of creative work, pen poised to the page, and have the ideas we’re always hoping for suddenly appear. Creativity, and the ways in which it comes to us, is not exactly convenient. It doesn’t run on a scheduled system, or if it does it is a system completely out of sync with our own. It is not a beast to be tamed. I would imagine it doesn't have very good table manners and is generally unapologetic when it comes to interruptions like the one illustrated in the opening scenario.

But then again, I, like many others, don't do creative work because it's easy. Instead, I do it because it calls to me, because life seems to be missing something very essential without it. Does it feel good to be frustrated or very, very lost? Not really. But it makes the finding and the being found that much more moving, more significant and a more whole reminder of what’s possible.

So don’t stop writing down your ideas. Don’t stop trying to decipher your scrambled musings and your first drafts and your sketched outlines because they matter. They’re an important part of something we might not understand yet. And to keep listening and keep feeling your way through that creative movement is how you get there, to the good stuff that crops up when the time is right, that peek of something beautiful shooting up through the cracks in the pavement, into the light that guides us as we’re all feeling our way through the dark.

Further reading (and watching):

  • Author Elizabeth Gilbert on your elusive creative genius. (TED)
  • Cultural icons answer the question, "What is creativity?" (Brain Pickings)
  • A psychiatrist's inside look on secrets of the creative brain. (The Atlantic)


Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She's strives, every day, to be less sorry 

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