The Creative Process

woman in white shirt and blue denim short shorts sitting

Are you finding it hard to focus on a creative project while this health pandemic is sweeping the world? It’s hard to stop thinking and worrying about the horrific consequences worldwide.

Being able to create something new though, is a wonderful way to stop obsessing and to put your thoughts on to something constructive. Creative writing is a perfect example.

For myself, I can’t write about the world around me just now. It is still too raw and I need to process what is happening. So I am concentrating on coming up with other ideas for my stories and poems and novels.

I heard someone say, “The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious.  Your brain will do the work.”

It takes time for our experience to make its way through our consciousness.  For example, it is hard to write about a journey while you are still in the midst of the adventure.  We have no distance from what is happening to us.  The only things we seem to be able to say are “having a great time”, “the weather is good”, “wish you were here”.  It is also hard to write about a place we just moved to, we haven’t absorbed it yet.  We don’t really know where we are, even if we can walk to the train station without losing our way.  We haven’t experienced three scorching summers in this country or seen the dolphins migrating south along the  coast in the winter.

“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.  I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast  (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964).

So we take in experience, but we need to let things make their way through our consciousness for a while and be absorbed by our whole selves.  We are bower birds, collecting experience, and from the thrown away apple skins, outer lettuce layers, tea leaves, and chicken bones of our minds come our ideas for stories and poems and songs.  But this does not come any time soon.  It takes a very long time (three to ten years in the case of literary fiction).  We need to keep picking through those scraps until some of the thoughts together form a pattern or can be organised around a central theme, something  we can shape into a narrative.  We mine our hidden thoughts for ideas.  But the ideas need time to percolate:  to slowly filter through.

Rumi, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet, summed up what could be the creative process when he wrote “The Guest House”:

This being human is a guest house.

Each morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite

them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


Jalaluddin Rumi, in The Essential Rumi

Translated by Coleman Barks, 1999

Our work is to keep rummaging through the rubbish bins of our minds, exercising the writing muscle, in readiness to answer that knock at the door when it comes.

As the author Vivian Gornick said, “The writers life is the pits.  You live alone and you work alone, every day I have to recreate myself.”  She paused and laughed.  “But when the work is going well there is nothing that compares.”

What about you? Are you able to force yourself to concentrate on creative writing projects during the corona virus pandemic?

6 thoughts on “The Creative Process

  1. Great post! I am currently doing the Creative Writing Course through the Australian Writers’ Centre. It is helping me get my mind off all the restrictions/worries we are being confronted with at present.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great quote from Rumi. I have never heard of him but should have. I do agree about “The thing to do is put the idea in your subconscious. Your brain will do the work.” That is what I do also with plots or scenes I think won’t work. If my subconscious won’t let them go, I probably need to deal with them.

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  3. Hi Libby, well the first two weeks was certainly more difficult for me in picking up my actual writing again, but then I thought, it’s somewhere ‘to go’, and I got my usual rhythm back. Listening to the news only in the evening has been an important part of this and breaking up the day with exercise as usual. It’s been a case of keeping abreast of the crisis through awareness and feeling and trying to process it, but not being too distracted from what brings me my meaning. I suppose it can seem selfish and I know a creative friend of mine is struggling to ‘carry on as normal’. Ultimately, it is there in the background all the time.

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    1. wow. that’s great Lynne that you were able to get your writing mojo back. it’s very hard to concentrate just now. for myself, i’m working on a suite of Quarantine poems, as i can’t get my mind on to life outside the pandemic. great idea only to watch the news in the evenings. me too. although i listen to the radio news first up in the morning. yes, thank goodness we are still allowed to exercise. like you, i use it to break up the day. a walk mornings and afternoons and YouTube yoga and upper body workouts. amazingly, here in Sydney, we’re allowed to play tennis or golf, as long as only two people, so i’m having a half hour a week workout with my tennis coach. lucky. but the main thing is we have our creative projects. they definitely give meaning and purpose. excellent to read that you have such clarity on what brings you meaning in your life. take care dear friend and stay well. Libby

      Liked by 1 person

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