…and how you can avoid it.
The other evening, I was reading a book that inspired intense epiphanies in me, and I felt the urge to stop reading and write them down.
Do you know what I did? I kept reading. I figured I’d remember these epiphanies later, and could write about them when the timing was more convenient. After all, it was the end of the day, I was already comfortable in bed. The writing could wait until tomorrow.
You know how this ends, right? I never did write those epiphanies. By the time the morning came, all my inspired thoughts had scattered, and I was left regretful that I hadn’t captured them.
All I had to do was take a few minutes to jot down those notes, but instead I chose convenience over creativity, and the muse passed me by.
One of my favorite stories about a situation like this was told by Elizabeth Gilbert who, in her famous Ted Talk, relayed a conversation she’d held with the late American poet, Ruth Stone.
She would run like hell toward the house, the poem at her heels as she ran.
Ruth described how there were times when she’d be working the fields, and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She would actually feel the earth shake, and she knew she needed to get to a pen and a piece of paper as fast as she could before the poem thundered through her. She would, in her words, “run like hell” toward the house, the poem at her heels as she ran.
Often, she’d make it, and was able to collect the words as they moved through her and write them on the page. But other times, the poem would barrel through her before she got to the paper, and then would continue over the landscape, looking for another poet. And sometimes she would almost miss it, feeling it go through her just before she got to the paper. At the very last second, she’d grab the pencil with one hand and the end of the poem with the other. She would then pull the poem back through her, transcribing as she did, so that the poem would be written from ending to beginning, completely backwards on the paper.
Writing isn’t always convenient. And the muse is only persistent for so long.
So this is my message to you (and to myself, too): Keep your notebook (or notes app) handy. Put down everything when inspiration strikes. As soon as you feel that familiar rumble of inspiration, stop what you’re doing and attend to it.
Otherwise, the muse will pass you by in search of a writer who’s listening.