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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.