Some neat thoughts on inspired creativity drawn from Lewis Hyde and Stephen King, and presented by Terri Windling, whose editorial and authorial contributions to modern fantasy and speculative fiction have been so very valuable:
As Hyde explained in his book, The Gift (1983):
“The task of setting free one’s gifts was a recognized labor in the ancient world. The Romans called a person’s tuletary spirit his genius. In Greece it was called a daemon. Ancient authors tell us that Socrates, for example, had a daemon who would speak up when he was about to do something that did not accord with his true nature. It was believed that each man had his idios daemon, his personal spirit which could be cultivated and developed. . . . According to Apuleius,” he continues, “if a man cultivated his genius through such a sacrifice, it would become a lar, a protective household god, when he died. But if a man ignored his genius, it became a larva or a lemur when he died, a troublesome, restless spook that preys on the living. The genius or daemon comes to us at birth. It carries with us the fullness of our undeveloped powers. These it offers to us as we grow, and we choose whether or not to accept, which means we choose whether or not to labor in its service. For the genius has need of us. . . .
Stephen King takes a more irreverent approach to daemons and muses in “The Writing Life” (2006):
“There is indeed a half-wild beast that lives in the thickets of each writer’s imagination. It gorges on a half-cooked stew of suppositions, superstitions and half-finished stories. It’s drawn by the stink of the image-making stills writers paint in their heads. The place one calls one’s study or writing room is really no more than a clearing in the woods where one trains the beast (insofar as it can be trained) to come. One doesn’t call it; that doesn’t work. One just goes there and picks up the handiest writing implement (or turns it on) and then waits. It usually comes, drawn by the entrancing odor of hopeful ideas. Some days it only comes as far as the edge of the clearing, relieves itself and disappears again. Other days it darts across to the waiting writer, bites him and then turns tail.”
“On the care and feeding of daemons and muses,” October 13, 2015
N.B. I refer to the same sources in A Course in Demonic Creativity, and even include a portion of Hyde’s quoted words above as one of the book’s opening epigraphs.
In a 2011 interview for The New York Times‘ ArtsBeat site, John Williams, the man who has provided the glorious musical soundtrack for an enormous portion of the world’s collective cinematic experience for the past four decades, talked about his creative process and the way he deals with incipient block by trusting his impulses and diving into the act of work itself. And he says it in words that directly invokes the idea of higher guidance from the muses. He also mentions the necessity of the artist’s “getting out the way.”
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever get blocked?
WILLIAMS: I never experienced anything like a block. For me if I’m ever blocked or I feel like I don’t quite know where to go at the next turn, the best thing for me is to keep writing, to write something. It could be absolute nonsense, but it will project me into the next phase of thinking. And I think if we ourselves as writers get out of the way and let the flow happen and not get uptight about it, so to speak, the muses will carry us along.
The wonderful thing about music is it never seems to be exhausted. Every little idea germinates another one. Things are constantly transforming themselves in musical terms. So that the few notes we have, 7, 8 or 12 notes, can be morphed into endless variations, and it’s never quite over, so I think the idea of a block is something we need to work through.
— James C. McKinley, Jr., “John Williams Lets His Muses Carry Him Along,” ArtsBeat, The New York Times, August 19, 2011
For more on the same theme, see my A Course in Demonic Creativity. Also note that the book contains another direct parallel with a point that Williams illustrates from his own experience. In Chapter Five, titled “The Practice of Inner Collaboration,” I talk about the necessity of divining your muse or daemon’s working preferences in very specific terms if you want to achieve a state of creative flow and inspiration, right down to the tiniest, nitpicking details of working methods and materials. Each of our creative selves or sensibilities seems to be imbued with an innate desire to work in certain ways, at a certain pace, with certain materials, and in a certain environment, as with the example of Rudyard Kipling and his famous statement about his creative daemon’s demand that he should write with “the blackest ink.” Williams, for his part, describes his necessary attachment to working with the “antique tools” of pen and paper in a world where the act of music composition has mostly moved on to digital tools:
INTERVIEWER:And you work with pen and paper?
WILLIAMS: Antique tools. Not even a pen these days. Pencil and paper. In the film work I look at the film a lot. There is a cutting room, a viewing room so to speak, within the building I work in, and I can look at a scene I am working on for two or three days and see it as often as I need to see it. I can write a few bars, then go look at it. People who have computers and work at synthesizers have that in front of them all the time. I don’t have a synthesizer or computer. I haven’t been educated in that technology. When I was studying and learning music, these things didn’t exist and I’ve actually been too busy in the intervening years to retool and learn it all. And I find that at least for me pencil and paper introduces a process of working that’s as much part of it, it becomes part of the conceptual routine or process of working. It’s tangible. It feels good to hold a pen or pencil in your hand and dirty up paper. I suppose it must seem to young composers a completely antediluvian or old-fashioned way of doing it.
Old-fashioned? Perhaps. But Williams is, as he is perfectly aware, wise for adhering to this practice, because he would be stepping right out of his own flow if he tried to “modernize” his methods. Kipling’s famous words about the proper way to behave whenever the creative flow is occurring can aptly be invoked here (as well as in any other situation involving creative work): “When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey.”
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