The creative process

Whether in literature, engineering, information technology, or in love — the creative process, according to Paulo Coelho, follows the same pattern: the cycle of nature.

Paulo Coelho | October 2003 issue
Whether in literature, engineering or information technology – or, indeed, in love – the creative process follows the same pattern: the cycle of nature. Let us examine the various stages of this process.
Ploughing the field: as soon as the soil is turned over, oxygen penetrates into places it could not previously reach. The field puts on a new face, the earth that was on top is now underneath and what was underneath has become the surface. This process of internal revolution is crucial because, just as the new face of that field will see the light of the sun for the first time and be dazzled by it, so a reassessment of our own values will allow us to see life with innocent, ingenuous eyes. We will thus be prepared for the miracle of inspiration. A good creator must be constantly turning over his values and must never be contented with anything he thinks he understands.
Sowing: every work is the fruit of contact with life. The creative person cannot shut himself away in an ivory tower; he needs to be in touch with his fellow human beings and to share his human condition. He cannot know beforehand what things will be important in the future, and so the more intensely he lives his life, the more likely he is to find his own language. Le Corbusier said that ‘as long as man kept merely trying to imitate the birds, he got nowhere in his attempts to fly’. The same thing happens with the artist: although he is a translator of emotions, he does not have a complete grasp of the language he is translating, and if he tries to imitate or control inspiration, he will never reach his goal. He must allow life to sow the fertile ground of his unconscious.
Ripeness: there comes a time when the work writes itself, freely, in the depths of the author’s soul, and before the author has even dared to make that work manifest. In the case of literature, for example, the book is influencing the writer and vice versa. It is this moment that Carlos Drummond de Andrade talks about when he says that we should never try to recover the poems that are lost, because they did not deserve to see the light of day. I know people who, during the ripening process, compulsively take notes of everything that is going on in their heads, ignoring what is being written in their unconscious. The result is that the notes – the fruits of memory – get in the way of the fruits of inspiration. The creator must respect the gestation period, even though he knows that, like the farmer, he only has partial control over his field; he is subject to drought and to floods. But, if he knows how to wait, the strongest plant, the one that withstood the elements, will spring strongly into life.
Harvest: this is the moment when the creator brings to a conscious level everything that he sowed and allowed to ripen. If picked too early, the fruit is green, if picked too late, the fruit is rotten. Every artist knows that moment; although certain questions remain unresolved and certain ideas are still not crystal clear, they will sort themselves out as the work progresses. He knows he must labour day and night, fearlessly and in a disciplined manner, until the work is complete.
And what should one do with the fruits of the harvest? Again we must look to Mother Nature: she shares everything with everyone. An artist who wants to keep his work to himself is not dealing fairly with what he has received from the present moment and with what he inherited and learned from his ancestors. If we leave the grain stored in the granary, it will go rotten, even if we harvested it at the right moment. When the harvest is over, the moment comes when one must share one’s soul, without fear and without shame. That, however painful or glorious, is the artist’s mission.
 

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The creative process

Whether in literature, engineering, information technology, or in love — the creative process, according to Paulo Coelho, follows the same pattern: the cycle of nature.

Paulo Coelho | October 2003 issue
Whether in literature, engineering or information technology – or, indeed, in love – the creative process follows the same pattern: the cycle of nature. Let us examine the various stages of this process.
Ploughing the field: as soon as the soil is turned over, oxygen penetrates into places it could not previously reach. The field puts on a new face, the earth that was on top is now underneath and what was underneath has become the surface. This process of internal revolution is crucial because, just as the new face of that field will see the light of the sun for the first time and be dazzled by it, so a reassessment of our own values will allow us to see life with innocent, ingenuous eyes. We will thus be prepared for the miracle of inspiration. A good creator must be constantly turning over his values and must never be contented with anything he thinks he understands.
Sowing: every work is the fruit of contact with life. The creative person cannot shut himself away in an ivory tower; he needs to be in touch with his fellow human beings and to share his human condition. He cannot know beforehand what things will be important in the future, and so the more intensely he lives his life, the more likely he is to find his own language. Le Corbusier said that ‘as long as man kept merely trying to imitate the birds, he got nowhere in his attempts to fly’. The same thing happens with the artist: although he is a translator of emotions, he does not have a complete grasp of the language he is translating, and if he tries to imitate or control inspiration, he will never reach his goal. He must allow life to sow the fertile ground of his unconscious.
Ripeness: there comes a time when the work writes itself, freely, in the depths of the author’s soul, and before the author has even dared to make that work manifest. In the case of literature, for example, the book is influencing the writer and vice versa. It is this moment that Carlos Drummond de Andrade talks about when he says that we should never try to recover the poems that are lost, because they did not deserve to see the light of day. I know people who, during the ripening process, compulsively take notes of everything that is going on in their heads, ignoring what is being written in their unconscious. The result is that the notes – the fruits of memory – get in the way of the fruits of inspiration. The creator must respect the gestation period, even though he knows that, like the farmer, he only has partial control over his field; he is subject to drought and to floods. But, if he knows how to wait, the strongest plant, the one that withstood the elements, will spring strongly into life.
Harvest: this is the moment when the creator brings to a conscious level everything that he sowed and allowed to ripen. If picked too early, the fruit is green, if picked too late, the fruit is rotten. Every artist knows that moment; although certain questions remain unresolved and certain ideas are still not crystal clear, they will sort themselves out as the work progresses. He knows he must labour day and night, fearlessly and in a disciplined manner, until the work is complete.
And what should one do with the fruits of the harvest? Again we must look to Mother Nature: she shares everything with everyone. An artist who wants to keep his work to himself is not dealing fairly with what he has received from the present moment and with what he inherited and learned from his ancestors. If we leave the grain stored in the granary, it will go rotten, even if we harvested it at the right moment. When the harvest is over, the moment comes when one must share one’s soul, without fear and without shame. That, however painful or glorious, is the artist’s mission.
 

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