Recently, I have the good fortune to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s upcoming book, Big Magic. I may not agree completely with all her views; but it still spoke to my heart. I thought her concept of ideas as free-floating energy life forms, looking for the right person to make them into reality was “cute.” Hey, that’s how she visualizes creativity, the Big Magic. And that’s how she explains why two people may come up with the same idea for a book. If one person gets the idea but says no to it, the idea will look for somebody who’s more receptive to it. Who am I to say that it’s right or wrong?
I think any creative person makes his/her own rationalizations as to how the process works. Mine is that whatever we experience, read, see, or hear about remains within us. I might have read an article about the discovery of an ancient mummy in Peru because first, it is news about my country, and second, I find ancient societies fascinating. That’s what drew me to that particular article among the many others on the screen. Once my need (curiosity) has been satisfied, I go on the next piece of news that catches my eye. I may think I have dismissed that article, but it is “filed away” until the day I’m in front of my laptop, perhaps, trying to get something written down, and suddenly, voilà!, my brain synapses make a fortunate connection and out comes a detail I had read on that article that will become the seed for a story, or complete a scene, or give a character a reason for action, or change the direction of a story for the better. In other words, a trivial piece of information ceases to be trivial and finds a place into my stream of creative consciousness.
To be creative, to make these connections among seemingly unrelated pieces then is to be able to see things from a different angle or under a different light, or even under a light that probably didn’t exist before. Creativity, for me, is not floating out there. It’s rather inside you. It’s inside the brain, and inside the heart and the soul, because it’s not just about facts, but also about feelings and experiences. If two people come to the same idea, I think it’s because we all have common experiences. We fall in love; we know about disappointments, and we have shared interests, or read the same books. It’s like what in computer lingo is called, hashing. When you create a computer password, it’s converted into zeros and ones and then chopped, scrambled, and transposed scores of times until you get a hash code. The funny thing is that in spite of the millions of combinations a computer can make, it’s still possible that different passwords may result in the same hash code (I just read about it recently. I’m not sure that I got it right, but I found it amazing). I think the same may happen with ideas. Out of our own collection of experiences and facts, we make combinations and once in a blue moon, two different people may come out with something very much alike.
Yes, my concept of where ideas are and how we come up with them is more computer-like and akin to Sherlock’s Mind Palace (although mine is rather a mind attic or a mind basement because, no, I don’t have everything cataloged in alphabetical order or in any order). But whether you go for ideas fluttering around us like butterflies or for our brains crunching out all kind of data, Ms. Gilbert is right about one thing. The thing that gets the ideas to land in your butterfly net or lit up your mind is that we have to be willing to be creative; in other words, we have to remain committed to being curious and open minded. The best way to get rewarded by it is by becoming a partner to our own creativity. In her book, Ms. Gilbert has a lot to say about how to go on accomplishing just that. From my own experience, I can say this: Relish it, nurture it, respect it, trust it, play with it, work hard for and with it, and just be grateful for this gift.