Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Susan Cooper on the Mystery of the Creative Process

Susan Cooper on the mystery of the creative process:

Who knows where the ideas come from? Who knows what happens in that shadowy part of the mind, something between Plato’s cave and Maeterlinck’s Hall of Night, where the creative imagination hides? Who knows even where the words come from, the right rhythm and meaning and music all at once? Those of us who make books out of the words and ideas have less of an answer than anyone. All we know is that marvelous feeling that comes, sometimes, like a break of sunshine in a cloud-grey sky, when through all the research and concentration and slog—suddenly you are writing, fluently and fast, with every sense at high pitch and yet in a state almost like trance. Suddenly, for a time, the door is open, the magic is working; a channel exists between the page and that shadowy cave in the mind.

From Susan Cooper, “Seeing Around Corners” (1976); reproduced in Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children (1996).


Ella said...

I love the beginning of this: Who knows where ideas come from?

That's the kind of thing I start thinking about in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. Nice to know it IS a valid philosophical question.

bloglily said...

Kate -- What a great find. As I was reading this excerpt, I kept thinking, Susan Cooper, Susan Cooper, I know that name. And then it came to me -- The Dark is Rising! That was one terrific book, read when I was a pre-teen, in an atmosphere of uneasiness and anxiety, assuaged (I think) by seeing some of that reflected and worked through in this novel -- although for the life of me, I can't remember anything more than that!

This entire book of essays sounds well worth reading. Her description of what it feels like when things go well with writing is inspiring. Thanks, once again, for the great link!

bloglily said...

and a quick p.s. -- I just went over to amazon, ordered the essays, and the dark is rising series, and a few other Susan Cooper books I missed, because I grew up and stopped looking in that section of the library. My boys are going to love having these read to them this summer.

LK said...

So beautiful, but it makes me sad. I haven't had that feeling in several months!

P.S. I love Flannery O'Connor's "Mystery and Manners" and her comments on writing fiction.

Kate S. said...


The entire collection of essays is definitely worth reading. I don't think you'll regret that purchase. And I'm so pleased that the quotation propelled you back to some childhood favourites! The Dark is Rising series definitely held up to adult reading for me. The first volume isn't as strong as the others (Cooper herself says this in one of the essays), but the series as a whole remains magic. I hope your boys enjoy them!

I continue to read childhood favourites and also contemporary children's books as an adult. First, just because I enjoy them. Second, because I think reconnecting with that breathless childhood reading experience helps to attain that intense writing experience that Cooper describes in the quotation. There's a connection, as she makes clear further on in the essay, between the channel between the page and the writer's mind and that between the page and the reader's mind.

Kate S. said...


I think that the "where do the ideas come from" question is a fascinating one. You sometimes hear writers bemoaning the number of times readers ask them about this during public appearances as if it's a stupid question. I understand why they don't like being asked the general question "where do you get your ideas from" as it's virtually unanswerable. But I think that the specific question, "where did x idea come from" is a most interesting one and I think about it often, from the perspective of a reader and a writer.


It's been a while for me too since I had that sort of writing experience, though I suspect in my case it's because I just haven't been spending enough time at my desk, I've been so distracted by other things. I pledge to change that! I haven't read those O'Connor essays. Thanks for mentioning them. I've put a copy on hold at the library.