I know it’s predictable to say thoughts come to us from “out of the air”, but sometimes this can happen. In a Ted Talk about the creative process, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her conversation with Ruth Stone on writing poetry.
“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, ‘run like hell’ to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would ‘continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.’
And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
I love that story. For me, Stone captures the fleeting power of the creative process. How do ideas come to you? How do you remember or receive them? What do you do with them?
Whatever your process of recording, whether you use a journal, a small notebook, your phone, grocery receipts, or memory, (I often find it helpful to repeat the lines or ideas aloud several times. Somehow the makes the remembering easier.), these moments or bursts of ideas need to be cherished and floated, salvaged and treasured.
I like Ruth Stone’s idea of the playful, sometimes frightening, frustrating nature of the creative process – one that's tied to the place, to the doing, and yet, existing for itself. Her story makes me feel grateful if I can write anything worthy at all.
I find my poems and stories in the places I find fruitful for the creative process – Virginia fields, French vineyards, my Maryland garden, local bakeshops, beaches, groceries, and bookstores – waiting, floating, or "barreling" in for some writer to catch.