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When Inspiration Strikes

Creative people do not always understand their own creative process.

Being intensely creative can be an intoxicating experience. Consequently, there is a tendency among creative individuals to conceptualize the process in ways that are not realistic. These false theories usually fall into one of two categories. In either case, the error gets in the way of developing a true (and therefore more useful) understanding of the creative process.

Mystics, poets, and artists of all kinds can sometimes come to believe that their creativity (or inspiration) is not their own. That is, the creative process can seem so remarkable and astonishing that ideas and impulses seem to come from somewhere else or from someone other than the creators themselves. These individuals modestly assume that they could not possibly have come up with such impressive results on their own. For some, the source feels in some way divine and is presumed to lie with “the Muses” or with God. For others, the origin must lie in a mystically enhanced version of the unconscious mind. Both scenarios place the origin of creativity outside the conscious ego. The creator is just a channel.

On the other hand, some creative individuals can be extremely egotistical. This group is more than willing to assume their creative powers are entirely of their own making. The tendency here is to enshrine ego as the ultimate source of the creative process, thus placing the origin of creativity inside the conscious ego. The creator is always in charge.

As it happens, creativity is not a separate “spirit,” like a Muse or a god. Nor is it exclusively a product of either the unconscious mind or the conscious ego. It is, in fact, an integral function of the mind, that is, a result of the conscious and unconscious minds working together in synergistic fashion. This is always true for strikingly original and creative people and remains the case whether or not ego recognizes the actual situation. Ego should not identify with the creative function because that would mean taking all the credit for something for which it is only partly responsible. To see the creative function as not our own is to make the same error only the other way round. Now ego is giving all the credit to the Muses, God, or the unconscious mind when ego is entitled to claim at least a portion for itself. The latter error is common among artists who have little understanding of their own process and who superstitiously fear they will lose their creative powers if they must take even partial responsibility for them.

A wise creator knows that creativity is an entirely human capability. While creativity can be extremely impressive, it is observably true that no one has miraculous or supernatural creative powers. A knowledgeable creator understands that, in the creative process, ego plays the essential role of critic, organizer, and reworker of material that has come largely from the unconscious mind. The most effective creators understand that superstition and mysticism are always and everywhere to be avoided.