Lessons from a Russian doctor: Let language carry you

Good writing requires a special spark. That’s why I love the following passage from Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago; here, Pasternak describes the elusive flame of artistic inspiration, in which words take on a life of their own, language flexes its formidable muscle, and the (excited) author merely hangs on for the ride.

(Context: Yuri Zhivago, the novel’s protagonist, is working to record the poems that have grown within him for years.) 

After two or three stanzas and several images by which [Yuri] himself was struck, his words took possession of him and he felt the approach of what is called inspiration. At such moments the relation of the forces that determine artistic creation is, as it were, reversed. The dominant thing is no longer the state of mind the artist seeks to express but the language in which he wants to express it. Language, the home and receptacle of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in terms of sonority but in terms of the impetuousness and power of its inward flow. Then, like the current of a mighty river polishing stones and turning wheels by its very movement, the flow of speech creates in passing, by virtue of its own laws, meter and rhythm and countless other relationships, which are even more important, but which are as yet unexplored, insufficiently recognized, and unnamed.

This is a beautiful description of the magic of artistic creation, and if you are a writer or an artist of any kind, I think you’ll understand what Pasternak is saying. In other words: sometimes the creative energy just flows from within you. You enter “the zone,” and everything inside and outside of you seems to move in synch, to hum along in easy, seamless harmony, allowing you to produce a beautiful piece of art or composition, the final product simply flowing out of you with nary a thought or concern on your part. It’s an extraordinary feeling, when you experience it, but such moments are rare — which is why we artists tend to run with that special momentum when it hits us!

I wish you such inspired artistic energy in whatever field of creation you pursue.

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