“When we sit down each day and do our work… The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight… we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings.”
– Steven Pressfield
Creativity is a mysterious process, much like spirituality. We seek to quantify creativity with modern science, yet there are still processes within the brain that we simply do not understand.
Inspiration comes in a flash, triggered by a small portion of the brain in the right hemisphere. But how do we regularly trigger those sections of the brain to grant us the creative bursts we need?
To many people, creativity is seen as a mysterious force that grants its “blessings” to those it favors. In fact, in older times, people believed that the Muse or the Muses were external, supernatural forces that would come and give individuals creativity for the arts and philosophy.
It sounds like a spiritual experience as much as a cognitive experience.
This weekend is an important time in two major religions. Passover begins in Judaism, and Easter is this Sunday for Christianity. Both events are central to their respective religions, and they are steeped in history. They are events of transcendent intervention in a world gone astray.
The purpose of these events sounds like the purpose of the Muses of old.
“O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”
In fact, creativity and spirituality share many common traits.
- Creativity and spirituality both seek to add beauty to the world.
- They seek to give the world some sort of framework so that we can better understand it.
- Both give an individual a sense of purpose and belonging.
- Both pursuits are deeply personal.
- Creativity and spirituality are also both easily misunderstood.
The pursuits in your life that seek to give beauty and meaning can just as easily create conflict.
Characters’ Deeper Needs
Spirituality and religions of all kinds are parts of the human experience. Even if you aren’t a spiritual person, the characters in the story you’re writing might be. You don’t want all of your characters to think and act exactly like you, or the story is going to get boring pretty quickly.
As writers, we are able to better articulate the emotions and struggles of our characters when we are able to better understand ourselves and those around us. In order to study how a character from a particular region of the world would talk, the most effective way to understand the cadence of people’s speech patterns would be to surround yourself with people from that region.
In order to understand the life needs of your characters, you need to consider your own. You need to think about the needs of people you know.
You’ve probably seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow proposed that everyone needs the basic securities of life like food and shelter, but the needs become more abstract as you move up the hierarchy. In the category of self-actualization, you begin to talk about characteristics that lead to happiness and purpose.
These are real needs in your life.
These are real needs in your characters’ lives.
How will your protagonists fill his or her needs?
How will you fill yours?
A Writing Exercise
Normally, I like to give a quick writing exercise that can be accomplished in a few minutes, but I feel like this subject takes a little more introspection.
This weekend, take some time for reflection. Consider the roles that creativity and spirituality play in your life. Are they essential elements of your life? Are you happy with the amount of time you are able to spend in each pursuit? Write about it.
If you feel creativity and spirituality are core tenets in your life, then you need to find a way to focus on them more. How can you more fully incorporate these ideas to create a healthy lifestyle? (Focusing on these ideals to the exclusion of the rest of life is not healthy, either.)
Once you’ve had time to think about your needs, consider the needs of your characters in the story you’re working on now. Do your characters have a similar depth of need in their lives?
Take a look at the needs chart above. Are the basic needs of your story’s heroes being met? If they’re running for their lives, they may not have time to more fully incorporate creativity in their lives.