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Image from Pixabay“I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work.”

Ray Bradbury

I have in anterior posts (of which this is but the most recent instance) attempted to shed some light on that most mysterious and wonderful process by which creative acts such as writing and composing are effected.

I say ‘attempted’ – of course – because beyond simply reporting anecdotally my own experiences I am no more able to explain the phenomenon than is anyone else. Should you doubt that any such examination is more than likely to fall short you might care to Google the phrase “How does the creative process work?“. You will discover – as did I – that the first page of results alone contains the following ‘definitive’ responses:

  • The four stages of creativity” – preparation, incubation, illumination, verification – (apparently!)
  • The five stages of the creative process” – preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration – (some crossover at least)
  • The creative process – six working phasesinspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation – (hmmm!)
  • The ten stages of the creative process” – the hunch, talk about it, the sponge, build, confusion, just step away, the love sandwich(!), the premature breakthrough, revisit your notes, know when you’re done – (blimey! That’s…er… different!)

I stopped at this point for what are probably pretty obvious reasons.

And yet… and yet… None of these earnest theses comes close to elucidating an experience that I seem to encounter with increasing frequency – one in which I start out with a firm idea in my mind only to find that the act of creation takes on a life of its own and I end up with something almost entirely antithetical to that which I had originally intended. At the risk of boring the gentle reader I should like to share the latest such instance.

I am currently working on a couple of songs that are intended to complete a brief collection whose inspiration – or motivation, should you prefer – has been my recent exodus from the country of my birth. I had been making good progress on one such of these with the notion in the back of my head that it might turn out to be a gently whimsical look at the love of the island life – the which is of course shared both by many Brits and by those who live on Vancouver Island or in the Gulf Islands.

When it came time to concentrate on the lyric I turned – as is my habit – to the InterWebNet to pursue some lines of research of relevance to the subject. A busy day of chasing leads suggested that the following (amongst others) might be significant:

  • Shakespeare – ‘Richard II’,’The Tempest’
  • Tennyson – ‘Ulysses’
  • Rabbie Burns – ‘To a Louse’
  • Churchill – ‘The Island Race’

An article by Open University senior lecturer, Nigel Clark, entitled ‘An Island Race?‘ – chimed with my initial intention of focusing on the creative tension implicit in living on an island surrounded by the seas – the which afford both a powerful means of defence from attack but simultaneously the path by which such a nation might venture forth to explore (and mayhap¬† to ‘conquer’) the rest of the world.

It was another article, however – “Is England too Good for the English?“, by Oxford University’s Austen Saunders – that changed the tenor of my song. Saunders exploration of the illustrious ‘John of Gaunt’ speech from ‘Richard II’ majors on John’s view that the English – as a result of Richard’s politicking and fiscal mismanagement – are no longer worthy of the “other Eden” that is ‘England’ itself. It is impossible not to recognise an immense resonance between this somewhat melancholy conclusion and the state in which the United Kingdom finds itself today. The song that eventually emerged from my subconscious thus turned out to be a lament for this sorry state of affairs rather than the amiable whimsy that I had intended.

Should the gentle reader be one of those who does not view the current situation in which Great Britain – and in particular, England – finds itself to be as dire as I have described – then I wish you well.

I hope that you still feel the same way in five year’s time…


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imageIn the early days of these scribblings I ‘penned’ a piece on the mysteries of creativity. That I feel moved now to add something to that disquisition can only be seen as an indication of the continuing surprise and delight that the whole business affords me – as certainly must also be the case for anyone else who ventures into the realms of self-expression.

Thomas Edison famously declared that genius was “One percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration” (though other accounts give the figures as ‘ten’ and ‘ninety’ percent respectively. I don’t suppose that it really matters much either way – the point is made!). The same could certainly be said of practically all forms of creativity.

A prominent playwright – sadly I forget which – opined that the art of writing might more properly be called ‘re-writing’. His point being, of course, that writing a play (or anything else for that matter) not only comprises the two basic elements (the inspirational phase in which ideas and musings are recorded as quickly as possible as they occur to the author/composer, and – following a suitable period of reflection – an extensive process of editing) but also – in order that the the piece might be rendered ready for ‘public’ appraisal – it will inevitably have gone through a considerable number of re-writes before anyone else is allowed to see it.

Much of this process is – of course – ‘craft’, and relatively few are sufficiently competent at it to be able to make a living therefrom. Inspiration is something else and the mysteries thereof are still not readily understood – especially by me!

The story of Paul McCartney waking one morning with the score for ‘Yesterday’ fully formed in his head might be thought apocryphal, were it not that it is attested to by the great man himself. Anyone who has experienced anything remotely similar will identify with McCartney as he – believing at first that he must have heard the song elsewhere – quizzed friends and colleagues as to what it might be.

My own recent experience was considerably more prosaic.

A few posts back I referred to a brief wave of melancholy that passed over me during the first few days of March, brought on by recollections of my Mother whose birthday would have been around that time. I felt moved to compose a song in an appropriately thoughtful vein. My Mother had slipped into dementia in the last year of her life and I felt the need to try to capture something of that elegiac mood. Sitting at the keyboard I rapidly found an interesting harmonic progression around which I started to experiment. An image came to mind – of a bonfire on a dark night. The dying embers swirling up into the night sky before fading into the blackness seemed to offer a possible metaphor for a mind slowly floating apart and a personality fading away.

It was at this point – however – that the subconscious part of the imagination took over. The more I worked the theme the more it seemed determined to evolve into something else entirely. I ended up with something that sounded more celebratory than melancholy. There is only one thing to do in such circumstances – and that is to give the imagination its head. Within a couple of days I had recorded all of the components of what had turned out to be a rather uplifting piece. Further – the image of the fire in the darkness had remained but had itself evolved and become a beacon fire lit on a hilltop to celebrate the end of winter. The song had changed from a lament over something lost to a celebration of something gained – in this case my recent recognition of my significance here.

That such a creative act is possible – and in such a brief period of time (a song can take me months to complete!) – is to me a thing of wonder and amazement and I am massively grateful that such occurrences still take place. Those of a spiritual or metaphysical bent might muse that perhaps this was a gift to me from my Mother. Maybe so.

I am content simply to enjoy the mystery.

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