The Spark

Where does creativity come from? Earlier this week I was driving my kids into school, when bang! the idea for a book series dropped, fully formed, into my head. I opened my mouth and the title of the book came out. I knew, at that precise moment, what the story would be about. This was not an idea I had been pondering for ages; it literally fell out of the sky. I swear I heard it hit the roof of the car. When I picked the kids up later that day, the first thing they wanted to know was: Have you written the first chapter yet? (Well, yeah, but if I’m honest it wrote itself.)

You can’t force inspiration to happen. It strikes when you least expect it. There are conditions in which it seems more likely to hit. A backdrop of experiences, knowledge and technique. A series of sensations or emotions. Looking for a long time at an object or a view. Throw lots of bits and pieces into a pot and let it simmer, without trying to decide what you are cooking. Let it arrive when it’s ready. Get involved in a ‘working meditation’ – gardening, cleaning, driving. Filter out the white noise of the world. Or just play. Get focused. Then bang! (People who know about these things tell me that creativity is neural pathways firing in my brain. This is amazing. How lucky are we?)

A hot night in the Alto Minho, August 2013. There’s a shard of glass, discarded on the roadside. It’s close to the house where we are staying. The bushes all around are dry, and brittle and full of natural oils. The sun hits it at just the right angle, there’s a crackling sound, and the scent of eucalyptus drifts into the air. Within minutes the land is ablaze. The view from our window is apocalyptic and we make a swift exit to let it pass by. The conditions were perfect for the spark. The fire swept across the mountain, cleaning it, letting it write itself anew: terrifying, but part of the natural cycle of the land. The burnt vegetation will fall onto the ground and feed it, just as it has done for endless centuries. The winter rains will come and refresh the soil. Green shoots will poke their heads out. Bang! A new world has been created.

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13 Responses to The Spark

  1. manyanaed says:

    Nice writing. Brain scans show that far from being a bang from nothing, when subjects report a creative idea, their frontal lobe has already been activated. The thinking part of the brain has been active before what you describe as the bang.


  2. suecowley says:

    Thanks. How do you catch (replicate?) that moment on a brain scan? It’s not exactly frequent.


  3. Love this Sue!
    I came up with the idea for my new logo, when emptying the dish-washer! I have been creative when looking at an object or picture. Listening to music, etc.



  4. Alan says:

    Response 2 Manyanaed’s post 09 Nov. In my humble opinion. There’s a very fine line between creativity and thinking.


  5. suecowley says:

    They seem quite opposite to me. It’s when I *stop* thinking that the creative spark usually hits. The thinking bit comes when I’m working on the actual text of a book, and in the editing process too.


  6. manyanaed says:

    You might consciously stop thinking but your brain will still be processing. Something will trigger the thing you then call a creative solution. While you are thinking you are running well trodden pathways in your brain so you are unlikely to come up with a novel solution.


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  8. suecowley says:

    I guess if my brain had stopped processing I’d be dead 🙂
    This is very interesting – do we have to filter out the white noise and focus on one thought/activity (a bit like meditation) to allow brain to spark the creative idea?


  9. The EXTENT of a ‘quantum’ of creativity fascinates me. I’m thinking of Elgar composing a whole score cycling on Malvern Hills, going home and writing it down; of Coleridge’s interrupted writing down of the fully dreamed “Kubla Khan”; of Piers Plowman’s vision as he slept on Malvern Hills AND some songs/pieces of music that seem so perfect it feels as if they always existed – the composer encounters them fully formed. For me it is the human propensity for abstraction, prolonged residence in a wholly imagined world. Watch an enthralled theatre audience (they are creating)…or read the simile lesson posted by @Gwenelope – humans love the oak in the acorn. We are fertile ground for the tiniest seed.


  10. suecowley says:

    I love that line Ray: “so perfect it feels as if they always existed”.

    That is what you strive for once the spark has hit and the hard work of carving begins. There is this odd sense of feeling something is already fully formed, waiting to be found. It’s not a problem to solve, but an answer that is already there – you just have to filter out the white noise of the world so that you can see it.


  11. annadelconte says:

    You are such a bright spark! Sorry for the pun … Love your title and the pictures you painted. Having lived through bush fires your descriptions conjured up emotions as well as images for me.
    I am at my most creative early in the morning. I can be pondering and trying to put pieces together in my mind for days with nothing happening and then similarly to you, I can be driving along to work or in the shower and it all just comes to me and it can be quite different to what I was thinking I would write or say.


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