The Creative Process

July 12, 2009

My creative spirit can be quite moody. Sometimes she wants to play for weeks, dropping by at all hours with seductive ideas and pretty accoutrements for what I’m developing. I can’t keep up, she jostles me awake at 3 am or rallies me on to write for 10 hours straight. Like that friend in college who would knock at your door at 11 pm during finals to go for a run in the first snowfall of the year, I love but get a bit nervous about Creativity’s visits. Her presence is surprising, fun, but demanding.

Apollo and the Muses by Raphael

After a creative binge, she can “sleep it off” for months…this spring I wanted to finish my latest book, Thriving Through Tough Times. I’d sit down and try to wake her. If I nudged her hard enough I would she would mutter a phrase or two and I could create a blog post. But, then my fickle companion would roll over and start snoring again. A post a week I was allowed to produce, but the book I couldn’t get complete.

In the 2002 movie Adaptation Nicholas Cage portrayed a protagonist tasked with completing a screenplay for The Orchid Thief. He struggles to sit long enough to actually write a coherent page. We watch him bouncing up and down and becoming obsessed with wanting a banana nut muffin. My friend novelist Marcus Stevens and I often respond when asking one another about book progress, “Banana nut muffins.”

Sometimes it’s the cookies calling from the pantry or the dishes screaming from the sink. Then there’s the laundry, the emails I’ve neglected or a lunch date I’ve scheduled since “I’m free.” Frustrated with my own lack of progress, I really appreciated the following TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about the creative process and its fickle nature.

I resonate with Gibert’s description of writing being a long, slow slog and fussing at her muses that she is holding up her end of the bargain. At her virtual urge, I decided to “do my part.” To ignore the siren song of groceries, friends and the Internet, I hid out in a cabin for a week…perhaps you noticed the blog lull in the later part of June? With few distractions I sat down at 9 am and made myself work til 5:30 each day without fail and finished a rough draft of book #3.

I shouldn’t be surprised, it was the only way that I could complete Worst Enemy, Best Teacher. Some can get up at 5 am each day and diligently go straight to their office; Miss Creativity and I don’t seem to work that way. She wants me all to herself and as long as the cell phone and emails can garner my attention, she treats me with the same level of affection that I am affording her.

I’ve now got a book, but there is much more work to be done. I have reached the culling, combing and cutting stage of its development, but, next week holds a family vacation and I won’t bring my laptop. I need time with my wild invisible girlfriend, but since she doesn’t share well, I need to postpone our date. It is time instead for focusing on incarnate friends, family and a devouring good banana nut muffin or two.

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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