There are two books – both of which I’ve read several times over in the past few years – that have marked a major turning point in more fully embracing the esoteric aspects of my creative process as a non-fiction writer. One is Stephen Buhner’s Ensouling Language: On the Art of Non-Fiction and the Writer’s Life, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere, and plan to write about at length eventually. The other is Matt Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius. Many thanks to Henry Lauer, who originally recommended this book to me.
Both of these books are extraordinary. The latter, however, is not too well-known, and it richly deserves to be more widely appreciated, so I want to put in a good word for it. It is available in ebook form only, as a PDF via Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain.
“Where does creativity come from? Why do ideas and inspiration feel as if they come from “outside,” from an external source that’s separate from us but able to whisper ideas directly into the mind? Why have so many writers throughout history – and also composers, painters, philosophers, mystics, and scientists – spoken of being guided, accompanied, and even haunted by a force or presence that not only serves as the deep source of their creative work but exerts a kind of profound and inexorable gravitational pull on the shape of their lives? [...]
“Your unconscious mind is truly your “genius.” Befriending it as such, and interacting with it as if it really is a separate, collaborating presence, puts you in a position to receive its gifts, and it in the position to give them to you. This book…is my attempt to explain what this really entails for writers and artists, and how you can verify it for yourself.”
Cardin goes on to describe the daemon muse as “the spirit that inspires a person to do the work for which he or she is uniquely gifted and intended,” and he describes the word “demon” as carrying a host of meanings that have been largely lost to modern awareness.
The entire book is excellent, but I’m especially fond of the way Cardin writes about trusting the flow of the creative process, with its alternating stages of active effort and active waiting. His critique of the unexamined assumptions behind “the myth of constant output” and his discussion of George Wallas’ four-stage model have been so illuminating for me. “Not everybody can be a Charles Dickens or a Stephen King who produces a gargantuan body of work at a rapid pace…” he writes. Indeed!
The incubation stage, or fallow period, has been one of my biggest challenges as a writer. There is so much pressure to adopt a nose-to-the-grindstone approach. Whenever I have worked from that mindset, though, I have found that the quality of my writing suffers; the results are flat, and while the finished work may be good enough technically, it feels forced, and it remains painfully obvious to me that something vital has gone missing.
Intuitively I sense that even when I am not sitting in front of my computer and typing actively, work on the manuscript is still proceeding, albeit at a level of flow that is not readily accessible to my conscious awareness. On the surface, though, it appears that my progress is stalling, and it’s easy to fall into a pit of fear and doubt. After many years of untold frustration, I think I am finally developing the emotional skills necessary to trust this process and allow it to happen as it will. Much better than wasting energy comparing my own output to that of writers I admire and fearing I’ll never measure up because my creative process is different and the work I’m doing takes a great deal of time to manifest properly.
Whenever I am able to surrender to the dictates of the daemon muse and stop trying to do all the writing myself by dint of conscious effort and striving, my writing improves by leaps and bounds.
Thank you, Matt Cardin, for helping me learn how to mold myself into a vessel capable of channeling the daemon muse and allowing it to guide me as I write.