After a lifetime spent in the field of Human Resources, I’m now pursuing my dream of writing. I’ve done some freelancing, and my first novel, Dakota Blues, is almost ready to go. It’s about a woman who is forced to realize, as she turns fifty, that she’s been sleepwalking through her one precious life. You can find me at http://anyshinything.com
Hospital Stay Sparks Creativity
An Unexpected Gift from Post-Op
by Lynne Morgan Spreen
Some writers will do anything to improve their creativity. I recommend surgery.
Kidding! But let me explain. In the past five weeks I’ve been traveling a rough stretch. I’m back from the hospital now, but something strange and wonderful happened while I was hanging around in post-op.
I got creative.
Ideas poured into my head as easily as the saline from the IV drip. Ideas for characters, conflict, motivations, and story arcs appeared as if by magic. Some of it was inspired by the real people I met on my daily walks, as I dragged my IV tower up and down the hallway between Unit 9200 and Bariatric Medicine. But much of it was organic: original, whole characters, names and backgrounds sprang from somewhere in my subconscious and presented themselves to me as I drifted in and out of wakefulness. And I took notes, because I am such a dork that I brought my pen and tablet to the hospital with me. The name, age, vague appearance, general circumstances and motivations of a character would appear in my semi-conscious, and then when I was more alert, I would grab my pad and start writing, filling in the empty spaces.
Here was one of the most profound and enjoyable aspects of this behavior: you know when you’re first starting to write a work of fiction you develop a list of character attributes? In the past that has been such a chore for me because it seemed so arbitrary. Where did the character go to high school? What kind of car does she drive? Who cares?
But in the hospital, I found that I could sit with a character and let her tell me the deep stuff: the reasons why she does what she does. Why she’s starving for attention, even if it’s bad. How she copies the movements of her supervisor at a business luncheon, carefully folding her napkin just so, basking in the thinnest compliment. I was able to get to know my characters as if they were real people.
Was it the drugs? Maybe, but I wasn’t taking anything that exciting. I think it was the amount of sleeping I did, and the distance from my normal frenetic life. In other words, I rested. What a concept! With rest, creativity bloomed. With rest, humor and clarity surfaced.
Here’s why this should matter to creatives: we may unknowingly have deep reservoirs of creativity sitting inside us, inaccessible because we’re always speeding around. When there is too much noise up top, too many layers of “gotta hurry, gotta do” might prevent the beautiful, original thoughts from getting through.
I’m pretty excited about this discovery. It may be that I have a whole lot more creativity inside me than I ever guessed, and I intend to harvest it. Since I’ve returned home I’ve been taking it easy, because I need to heal, but I hope never to return to that frantic pace again. Even before my pace picks up again, I’ve been practicing the art of resting, and I plan to continue after normalcy returns. I WILL take ten minutes here or twenty there to sit in a comfortable chair and just listen. I’ll let my thoughts roam while I focus only on the sounds around me, and the only rule is that I cannot pursue any thoughts.
You’re too busy? I understand. Martha Beck, in a recent issue of O Magazine, offers a quick strategy for resting, here (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Strategies-for-Mental-Rest-and-Relaxation-Martha-Beck-Advice). Yes, it’s more than just going somewhere quiet and closing your eyes, although that may be enough.
Call it meditation, call it an awake-nap, it’s at the heart of mindfulness. If you can take ten minutes to awake-nap, I predict you’ll feel better. You may even see things more clearly. Even if it doesn’t enhance your creativity, it just might prevent you from sleepwalking through your one precious life.