Originally published in The Creative Cafe.
You can never explain it to anyone.
Of course, you know other people have their equivalent moments. You know other people claim to feel the same, just in different situations. But secretly, selfishly, you like to think this is unique. No one gets quite what it’s like.
You know the moments I’m talking about.
When it’s 3am and you’re writing and writing and writing as if you’ll never stop. Chugging coffee every few lines. Drinking it cold because, in your reverie, you ignore the bitterness. Blasting some sci-fi film soundtrack in your ears. Letting repetitive classical music lull you into a trance.
The moments when it feels as if you could never be uninspired again. As if this magical fountain of words will never stop. As if you’re possessed by the muses the ancients talked about and dammit, maybe they were right.
When writing feels like flying, you get a rare sense that you’re utilising every fibre of your being. You stop feeling scared, ashamed, or self-critical. You’re there, in the moment, fully mindful.
Other people get that feeling in other ways, I’m sure. Riding a wave, speaking to a room full of people, negotiating a deal, churning out numbers. Whatever your poison is, you know it.
But writing is what I know and it’s the source of many of the happiest moments of my existence.
But 99% of everything sucks.
In every worthwhile endeavour, you endure heaps and heaps of snowdrift strangeness as you search for the moments when it all aligns.
You pursue those moments, shuffling through music playlists, trying different blends of coffee beans, sitting in different places, searching for the right headphones.
It’s all an attempt to lay the foundations. Those moments are rare. The rest of the time, you’re waiting, hopeful.
Sometimes you get scared that you’ll never experience it again. You wonder if it’s worth all this for something so fleeting.
And then it catches you off guard. On a train, as you pull out a notebook, start to scribble and feel your thoughts slot together.
Explaining the pure happiness of those moments is impossible. The world feels right. Creating feels right.
Even if you mock the idea of muses, passion, a calling or artisanship, it’s hard to be sceptical when you’re in a flow state.
For a start, it’s miles from the rest of your life. Most of your waking hours are boring, tiring or neutral. The days happen. You wake, you yawn, you shower, you feed the cat, you walk the same old streets, you get on trains, you talk, you sleep.
It’s beautiful because it’s life and life has its own poetry. But it’s so rare to feel 100% alive and present. Perhaps that’s why so many of us are willing to sacrifice so much for creative careers, or in our spare time (although there’s no such thing as spare time when you’re always dreaming up something else.)
On the surface, you can point to the benefits — money, recognition, accolades, followers, career advancement, promotions, opportunities to do this or that, whatever.
Those things are nice, except they can ever compare to the enjoyment of creating when it all goes right. The ends are an excuse for the means.
I recently watched a Netflix documentary (on a plane — I don’t otherwise watch TV) about illustrator Christoph Niemann. At one point, he advises creative people to be a careless artist and a ruthless editor.
That’s always the problem. You drop back to reality from the high of creating and survey the half-formed thing you bought into the world.
You think oh fuck, now I have to edit this. Now I have to turn it into something presentable. Now I have to accept that it’s not as good as the feeling of creating it.
You could, in theory, leave it half-formed. Sometimes that’s easier because you can hold onto the dream of perfection.
But you don’t want to. Unfinished drafts don’t exist. Either it’s good enough to finish or it’s bad enough to toss it in the recycle bin or trash can or whatever else they call the strange simulacra of computer icons these days.
You either progress with it or you’re defeated by it. Then you move on, chasing that flying feeling again. Lightning might strike again. And it will find you busy.