Friday, November 1, 2013

101 Thoughts on Self-Publishing -- 014: The Writer as Demiurge

I think a lot of writers have at least a suspicion that what they produce doesn't come from them, that it comes
from somewhere--something--else. Maybe it's just superstition, maybe it's a conceit that we engage in, but I've heard or read enough writers express this idea that I felt it was worth exploring.

We are all familiar with the idea of the muses: goddesses in Greek mythology who inspire humans to create great art. I find it interesting, however, that there were muses not only for the arts but for the sciences. Greek scientists may have believed that their discoveries were divinely inspired, discoveries that laid the groundwork for the advancement of science which, ultimately, would come to reject such superstition.

A lot of writers get asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" My stock answer is "Everywhere." Every experience I have, every person I meet, every book I read gets thrown into the stew of creative juices inside my head. Every once in a while I scoop out a ladel-ful, add some seasonings and turn it into a story.

So are the muses simply experience filtered through the mind? Do ideas seem to come from nowhere, from some divine source, because we cannot fully comprehend how memory works and so the end product seems somewhat more mystical in origin that we realize?

A Possible Depiction of the Gnostic
Demiurge (Source)
Or is there really some greater force at work? Are we essentially the literary equivalent of the Gnostic Demiurge, toiling away in ignorance and believing that the worlds we create truly are of our own making? Is there a true source for "ideas" upon which we all draw? Is there something that sets off the creative spark, just as some people believe a divine spark was required to turn simple organic compounds into life?

If you believe in a soul or in a creator, this idea is not so far-fetched. In fact, there may be evidence of such a thing occurring on a massive scale. Around 50,000 years ago, human beings were more or less physically identical to us. Technologically, however, they were indistinguishable from earlier hominids. But something remarkable seems to have happened. There was a rather rapid development of technology. Existing tools and weapons were improved upon. But something else appears in the archaeological record, something that had never before been seen on this scale: the development of art. Cave paintings, ornaments, sculptures. And before this, humans had lived in isolated groups. Now evidence of trade networks appears. Humans also begin to spread out into previously uninhabited areas. This is the emergence of what anthropologists call "behaviorally modern humans." In essence, it is the first time humans, Homo sapiens, began acting like humans rather than earlier hominids.

There is some evidence for human culture prior to this, but what explains the cognitive explosion that occurred? Why did humans--seemingly suddenly--develop this awareness? Was it simply the result of gradual cultural and biological change coming to a head? Has the archaeological evidence showing the slow development of culture simply not yet been found? Or was art--consciousness--given to us by some force beyond our comprehension?

In Christian Gnostic belief, the Demiurge, the creator god, was ignorant of the true god. He believed he was solely responsible for the creation of the Earth. Because of this ignorance, his creation was flawed. Because of it, evil was allowed to exist. Traditional Christians, the Gnostics believed, worshiped this false god. The Gnostics, however, had the knowledge, the gnosis, of the true god.

So is the writer a demiurge? Could we somehow tap into pure inspiration if we only knew the truth about where our ideas come from? Does our ego get in the way?

I can only answer the last question with any certainty: yes. Ego is the writer's greatest enemy. When we write to satisfy ego, when we serve it rather than the story, our craft suffers. Like the Demiurge, we let our ego flaw our creations. We worry about what others will think, we worry about marketability. We try to emulate the styles of popular writers, we follow literary formulas. None of these things are necessarily bad or wrong, but we must be aware of the fact that they get in between the inspiration and the story.

Wherever that inspiration comes from--whether from us or from some unknown source--be true to it. Write not only from the mind but from the heart. Honor the act of creation and recognize it for the miraculous event that it truly is.

Michael K. Rose


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