Rod Serling on writing, creativity, and the source of ideas

In this brief and brilliant excerpt from a series of talks about writing for television (recorded at Ithaca College circa 1972, according to the FAQ at, Twilight Zone and Night Gallery creator Rod Serling talks about the source of creative ideas. In doing so, he manages to pack more intellectually and creatively stimulating goodness into a one-minute extemporaneous statement than many authors and college teachers manage to supply in the course of an entire book, lecture, or semester. His manner, vibe, and tone of delivery also augment the content of his words to perfection. This is simply brilliant, and we thank Maria Popova, who highlighted the clip in a recent post at the ever-exciting Brain Pickings, for bringing it to our attention. The accompanying transcript is also courtesy of her.

Ideas come from the Earth. They come from every human experience that you’ve either witnessed or have heard about, translated into your brain in your own sense of dialogue, in your own language form. Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized. Ideas are probably in the air, like little tiny items of ozone.

The only thing Serling misses here — and it is, to be sure, a significant omission — is the fact that there’s also an innate source of ideas: the collective/daimonic unconscious or imaginal realm, where the archetypes reside, and which serves as the source of each person’s unique bent, leaning, passion, vocation, mission, muse, genius, and daemonic calling. It’s all of this, working in fermentative interaction with the swirling “external” universe of stimuli that Serling describes, that ends up producing the idiosyncratic flow of creativity that is each person’s inborn calling and birthright.

For more from Serling on creativity and the writing life, note that more video clips of the “Writing for Television” talks are available on YouTube, and Retroist has helpfully compiled all sixteen of them on a single page. What’s more, has made available the complete text of “Writing for Television,” a long and fascinating essay by Serling that appeared as the introduction to Patterns, a 1957 book containing four of his plays.


About The Teeming Brain

The Teeming Brain is a blog magazine exploring the intersection of religion, horror, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture. It also tracks apocalyptic and dystopian trends in technology, politics, ecology, economics, the arts, education, and society at large.

Posted on August 19, 2012, in Writing & Creativity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Yep, I agree. Ideas are from the conjunction of the imaginal and experience.

    I agree with the unique bent too. Certain archetypes seem to be uppermost in any one person and it is this that controls what the final output is: style, form and content, even versatility. I wrote a blog on this at my Letters blog and called the residence of these most significant archetypes “the most holy place” a la King David’s “secret place of the most High”. Further in that terminology, it is the unique version of God or the Spirit in every man. The blog was on the definition of and the internal workings of an Artist.

    Matt, could you give me a nice and sexy description of what the imaginal is? Up till now, I’ve been using that intuitively

    • The word “imaginal” refers to the intermediate realm or half-realm between the physical and the level of pure divinity or spirit. It’s the same thing that Patrick Harpur refers to by his term “daimonic reality”: the realm of angels, aliens, archetypes, and so on. It’s a word that’s usually associated with the (completely brilliant) philosopher and theologian Henri Corbin, who talked about it in, among other places, a readily available speech and essay titled “Mundus Imaginalis, or The Imaginary and the Imaginal“, where he took pains to distinguish the imaginal, conceived as an ontologically real realm of spiritual reality with a discernible (though symbolically and oneirically/daimonically charged and fluid) topology, from the imaginary, meaning things that are pure fantasy.

      For a really gripping and lucid description of the imaginal by a current writer, I recommend Embrace of the Daimon by psychotherapist Sandra Lee Dennis. It describes the almost total upending of her life and self by a season of horrific visionary eruptions that spontaneously happened in her psyche over an extended period of time, in a fashion very much akin to Jung’s famous several-year period of psychic/visionary eruptions after his break with Freud, which led him to fear he was going (or had gone) insane, and which he channeled into the creation of the famed Liber Novus. The first paragraph of text on the page for the book at Ms. Dennis’s website (which I just linked to) conveys the gist:

      Imaginal reality touches us at moments of crisis. It may announce its presence during sleep, in dreams or nightmares, or move us while awake, as a muse, guardian angel, or demon. Some call the imaginal the realm of the archetypes, the home of the gods and goddesses, the land of the daimons, or the source of creativity. Others simply call it soul. The daimonic image plays the magician, joining separate parts of ourselves and opening us to a sphere outside our everyday reality. The daimons of the imaginal world facilitate the incarnation of soul into the physical body. Through transmuting those dark energies into our consciousness, the daimons guide us as spiritual beings, to live life from a more conscious and holistic view.

  2. I would have argued that I find it hard to conceive a pure spirit realm, rather a daimonic one is more plausible, but the last part of that quote gave me an idea of what that intermediacy is. Because I thought it just a conjunction between archetype and physics bringing about man and all our patterns.

    That means there is a level of just scattered essences. Essences that are random in motion. As they congregate, based on coincidence with physics, they develop patterns that identify in the physical realm. These patterns are man and his phenomenal realm a la Kant. And it is also the realm of the daemon or archetype which accordingly has a life of its own since it really never was under our ‘control’. A given daemon can then drive our lives. These daemons are everywhere like the gods of animistic Shinto. This ties in with thoughts in your book and a discussion here about “daemons having us” as well as my own intuition that there is a garden of singular, scattered, random luminiscent daemons at the lowest levels that intermix without preset order, they do their own thing.

    That intuition I mention came at a time of a long period of wax and wane series of daemonic upheavals where I also thought I had lost my mind. Almost 2 years or maybe, add a half. It is under control now though. It was nothing short of the protagonists experience in the movie, Limitless. My Intuition skyrocketed and I could see things coming from far away. It is this intuition that attracted me to you. I always said that I do not dream, my dreams happen outside but this time, it was more than clear. I had messed with patterns a long time, now, they came for me πŸ˜€

    • I had the same losing-my-mind fears and experiences during my worst period of sleep paralysis attacks — the same period that I came to recognize was a spontaneous spiritual initiation of the quasi-shamanic kind, minus the shamanic guidance. So I definitely resonate and sympathize, or rather empathize, with you here.

  3. I bet it would be lovely to have a shaman hold my hand but I’m much too individualistic for that. Many times during the experiences though, I felt I was being foolhardy but it never stayed long enough cos I remembered how annoyed I can be when I am not allowed to learn at my own pace and own way. I want to explore everything, even the unseen. I’m Albert Camus’ cousin, I “always go too far”. It’s dangerous but it was worth it and truth is they were existential emergencies, I either finished whatever was in my plate, authentically, or never know my mind again. Quite an experience! Wonder what’s next.

    I was just now thinking if our experiences are the neuropsychospiritual analogs of epilepsy. I came up with these interesting perspectives:
    1. Perhaps, it comes down to the most favored attribute. Thus a man who favors art and imagination gets our kind of experience with lower level motor stimulation while a man who favors real-life gets epilepsy with lower level visions and other mixed perceptions. In Jungian terms, it’ll be Intuition v.s. Sensation.
    2. Maybe it has to do with similar stimulation of different sectors of the brain.

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