Recruiting Your Genius

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love … sell a jillion books) spoke about the ancient Greeks’ and Romans’ concepts of genius. That is, that unlike the post-Renaissance concept of artist as genius, the ancients believed that creativity was a gift – divinely inspired, and external to self.

I found this fascinating, as I have always considered my writing to be what I call “pass-through.” That is, I have never myself written something I like. Certainly, there are works with my name on them that I like, and a few, like my book, I even love. However, I have rarely felt the words belong to me.

Now this isn’t meant to sound like some pretentious ass telling you how “God wrote” his stupid book. Rather, it’s my being honest, and saying that when the words flow, I don’t feel like they come from me. I close my eyes, I see the scene, or I hear their voices in my head. I , simply, try to accurately take dictation, and stay out of the way. I can always tell when my “genius” was with me, and when they were not. When it’s just Bill, it kind of sucks. However, like Ms. Gilbert, I sit, patiently, and do the work, and hope my genius shows up for a paragraph or two.

I don’t pretend to understand how this works. I don’t even know if it’s fact, or schizophrenia. What I do know is that it is always a delight to stumble across things you don’t remember writing. Like the poem below.

The point isn’t whether the writing demonstrates genius, or the ability to crap on a computer. The point is, rather, that I have no idea how it got on my computer. Or chapter twenty-three of Awakening. I’m guessing I wrote it, since I’m the only one who knows my password.

Still, I wish the external force would drop me an email when s/he’s going to show up. It would be nice to be near a computer, and not lying in bed, like I normally am.


Eyes due west to the setting sun.
Shadows that elongate on rippled sand.
Her colors bright, belie the shadows.
Headdress a cold blue, like the ocean ahead
from which emerges the quiet moon.
She watches, unflinching, the drowning sun.
It bubbles and moans beneath waves of burning sand.
It is night, the long, cold, night.

Her lips are free, though his hands still felt.
Eyes no longer watch for shadows.
The world is loud with shadows
screaming the blood songs of night.
The day has died and must be mourned.

Young mother stares unblinking into darkness.
Daring the shadows to near,
to touch her son’s sallow cheeks,
to wrack his brittle bones,
or taste his breath, bitter with soured milk.

She no longer fears shadows.
Husband’s hot touch is memory,
his control broken.
She will not blink at the threats of death.
For he is known, and they are free.
Though he chases, she will not wither, though
she watches through the shadows to the dawn.

He is still there, in the shadows.
A small voice cries in fitful slumber.
She is vigilant, will be strong, for him.

When I do my best writing, my eyes are closed, and there are tears, irrespective of the emotion of the piece. I cannot feel the emotion, but it passes through, hopefully, to the page. We as writers must make ourselves available, do the work, and learn to get out of the way.