Creative Compulsion

In my first posts I’m sure that Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” will come up a few times. I mean, it’s possible that this will be the last time, but I think that those letters are very important to any writer when starting something new.

One of my favorite lines from the first letter (in my opinion, the most important of them—and that, perhaps, because I rarely get to its end without a dumbfounded, oblique look on my face) goes something like:

You are a writer if writing, for you, is a compulsion, if it is something you do without thinking, without effort, without end.

Not an exact quote. And I had to make an effort not to use the Nike slogan in there. But the idea to me is exacting and vital.

No passion is about want. I want to be a professional baseball player every time Spring rolls around and I smell grass that has been cut for the first time of the new season, but every time I pick up a Louisville slugger (125) I realize how impossible that want really is.

Wanting to do something has nothing to do with its power in your life.

Many times, I don’t want to write. I sit down and think to myself that it is pointless, voiceless, a pale mimicry of great writers. I finish a piece with no clue about where it should be displayed or who in their right mind would desire to display it. A lot of times, it feels like there is nothing in it for me. Then it happens.

It starts again. I’m hardly present. It’s as if I get mentally checked out by my subconscious so that some new thing can be put to paper, so some idea won’t rot at me from inside, so that the compulsion to do this thing that I’ve done with little definition may continue unimpeded by my dumb mind.

There is something to be said in this about ideas that pop into our heads and need written down immediately on cocktail napkins, pant legs, forearms, smart phones or whatever. But the essential idea here goes deeper.

The compulsion Rilke is talking about is seeded deep in our selves. It is impossible to discern its beginning from the beginning of the life itself.

I could say that my drive to write came after Mrs. H’s 8th grade English class when I started journaling, but that would suggest the need hadn’t been dormant in me all along. I could say that it started when a hot air balloon landed in my drive way while my Mom and I (at 10 or so years old) re-shelved a bookcase by a front window, but that would ignore what had already brought me to an afiinity for that bookshelf or what had come at the beginning of universal expansion or before that!

No, I think creative compulsion begins somewhere totally unseen and unheard of. I think it begins closer to the creation of the universe, before all matter & motion began the course which we currently find it (ourselves) slipping along.

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