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✍️ How Not to Kill a Magical Idea
Or, What to Do When the Muses Barge in at the Wrong Time
Elizabeth Gilbert believes in magic. Unabashedly, unapologetically, and unmetaphorically. Not just that, but the Eat Pray Love author believes that ideas are magical beings with hopes and feelings.
“I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment, not entirely human in its origins,” Gilbert writes. “Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form.”
Their desire, according to Gilbert? “Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
Often, people are too busy or not in the right mindset and “miss the signal”, she says. So when the idea whispers, “Do you want to work with me?” we often don’t hear.
But when we do hear, we have two choices: to say yes or no. Saying no is fine, especially if it’s not a good idea (though it’s important, Gilbert says, to be polite when you decline). Saying yes on the other hand enters you into a contract with inspiration, and you have to see it through.
For the record (and for what it’s worth), I agree with everything Gilbert says – except that I don’t believe it unmetaphorically. I love the vision of ideas silently wandering the Earth, exploring lonely paths to find the right human partner. And I believe the notion of a magical spark that brings them to life is a perfect metaphor.
Okay check that – there is one other part where I disagree, and that is where she says that there are only two choices: yes or no.
I believe in the maybe.
Why “Maybe” Is a Powerful Mindset for Writers
After reading the last post on rituals vs. routine vs. habit, one of my friends and longtime readers (and whose writing I adore) mentioned that part of the whole process is identifying – and writing down – those little epiphanies we have throughout the day. (It was her comment that sparked the epiphany to write this post, so how’s that for meta?)
It occurred to me that I’ve talked in several posts now about how to attract the Muses to you when you’re ready. But what I haven’t talked about is what to do when the Muses come to you when you’re not ready.
Again, I like Gilbert’s notion here of being polite. I respect the ideas. Probably the way I’d put it personally is that I respect the Muses. You do not want to put them off or jinx it or in any way impede the Muses from coming to you. So you have to be careful.
But what happens when inspiration strikes while you’re in line for groceries? Or at the doctor’s with a sick kid? Or operating heavy machinery? With all due respect to the Muses, there are some things that demand immediate attention.
Here’s where it gets sticky. You’ll hear many creatives say, “If it’s a good enough idea, you’ll remember it.” Bullshit. And I know, because I used to be one of those people. I can’t tell you how many times I have desperately thought back to that grocery line or that doctor’s office or when I was hoisting steel beams to the top of that skyscraper (okay, not that one) trying to remember the great idea I had. To use Gilbert’s metaphor, the idea patiently waited, even stopped for a moment when I asked it to literally hold that thought, but eventually felt bored and restless and neglected, and went on to find a different human partner. The idea disappeared – as magically as it came.
But here’s how you can keep that magical idea interested in you.
Write it down.
Don’t Make a Bad Decision with a Good Idea
Writing down an idea that comes to you works every single time. Assuming you don’t lose the thing you wrote it on – the napkin, the copy of People magazine in the grocery line or doctor’s office, the dashboard of the crane’s operating cab – you’ll be able to go back to that idea and play with it some more later.
Sometimes you’ll find that it’s not as good an idea as you thought it was. Other times, you’ll explore it, flesh it out, and realize your vision – or a reasonable facsimile thereof. We’ve all heard about the books and movies that started out on the back of a napkin. I guarantee you, a large percentage of those good ideas never would have come to life if the author hadn’t written them down.
Or, to put it another way, imagine the books we didn’t read and movies we didn’t see because the writer didn’t write down the idea. It’s heartbreaking. Don’t be one of those writers. Write it down.
In our technological world, it’s easier than ever to write things down. (Which is good, because the traditional methods of napkins, matchbooks, and backs of envelopes are not nearly as common as they used to be…)
Here are four things you can do right now to ensure you never miss a good idea again:
Get a note-taking app for your phone – there are tons out there like Evernote (the one with the elephant head), Microsoft OneNote, and even just the notepad app that every phone has.
Email yourself – this is my go-to choice. I routinely jot down ideas in a quick email on my phone, then send them off to myself. That way, it’s in my inbox and easy to access from any device I’m on.
Record a note – most phones (probably all phones) have a voice recorder built in. If yours doesn’t, there are voice recorder apps out there.
Keep a small notebook and pencil in your pocket or bag – definitely old school, but effective.
Bonus tip: What do you do with all these notes you start collecting from the Muses? Igor Ranc at EightyFour put me onto Obsidian a few months ago, and I’m loving it for my latest novel. I’m using as an alternative to Scrivener, collecting all my research and notes in Obsidian while writing the novel in Word. But you can use this versatile software to collect, organize, and connect any type of notes and research. There’s a bit of a learning curve – especially with regards to connecting your notes – but it’s a powerful tool once you get the hang of it!
Key Takeaway: Ideas come magically, but they can also magically disappear. Write them down so that you can play with them later.
Now it’s your turn. How do you capture your ideas for later? Let us know in the comments below!
I’ll leave you with Gilbert’s TED Talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius” – an amazing talk from 2009, but still relevant for all who want to be creative. Just scroll down below.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!