Imagination Universe, Bipolar Bears, and Mind Gremlins by Craig


This post by Craig Snider

Have you ever heard an artist saying any of the following?

1. I only create when I feel the muse.

2. I wait for inspiration.

3. Write drunk, edit sober.

4. I have to be high to create.

5. I stopped taking my medication because it inhibited my creativity.

6. Monkeys made me do it.

Do as I say hairless monkey human!!

Okay, that last one is just me. But, I’m sure you’ve heard the gamut of these things before. There is a great lack of knowledge about where creativity comes from, and how to harness it. We’ve often heard that many of our favorite authors were troubled in some way, and that those troubles fueled their creativity somehow. Many writers feel they have to be drunk or high in order to reach some higher plane of creative ability. And, I’m sure that to some degree that may be true, but only because they don’t know any other way, or, just spit-ballin here, they’re an addict. Take your pick.

Many writers, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Earnest Hemingway, are suspected to have suffered from Bipolar Disorder, a condition characterized by chaotic mood swings, diminished inhibitions, hyper-sexuality, irrationality, depression, compulsions, attention deficit, memory problems, apathy, and many more wonderful things. Sounds amazing right?

There is scientific evidence to support the theory that many creative people may suffer from this, or some similar disorder, or that many people with bipolar tend to find themselves in creative fields.

“That’s so unfair,” you may be saying. “I don’t have bipolar, and I want to be a writer/painter/whatever.” Does this mean that some people are just genetically predisposed to being more creative than others? That’s ridiculous, right? I mean, it isn’t like there are people who have genetics that make them better at other stuff like sports or anything, right? Hmmm….

No, my point is not that Bipolar Bears rise up against the oppression of the sane and rational majority, taking over Hollywood as their twisted base of operations where they will put out a dizzying array of strange and somewhat intriguing movies that feature animals as the main characters. I’m not. Seriously. I’ve tried already. It just doesn’t work…

Here’s my point. I am a Bipolar Bear. I suffer from this disorder, and I wasn’t diagnosed until about five years ago. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve unknowingly dealt with the ups and downs (see what I did there??) of the mood swings and creative cycle. And, once diagnosed, and medicated, I could really tell the difference in my writing.

Uh, yeah, I’d totally love to rule all of humanity, if only I weren’t so sad…”

So, when I started my medication, it really dulled that edge. Though I felt more like a normal person, instead of a slightly less muscular Incredible Hulk, I had a hard time tapping into that universe again. In fact, it became really difficult to daydream. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is true. I don’t know the science, and if you guys do, feel free to let me know. But, something in the brain chemistry before my meds allowed me to actively tap into the creative side of my mind, and with that dulled, it was hard to engage the imagination.

Now, I had the challenge of how to find that universe again, unaided by my little mind gremlin. What I discovered was this. The imagination is like a muscle. It has to be flexed in order for it to grow stronger. Whatever the chemistry is in the minds of those with certain mental disorders, it allows them to do this intuitively, just like someone born with more muscle fibers, and longer tendon attachment sites will be naturally stronger than those who don’t. But, it is still possible to systematically increase that imaginative ability.

There are a lot of ways to do it. Meditation is a great way to control your mental state, allowing your mind to be open to random mental associations which can lead to imaginative breakthroughs. Another may be music. Studies have proven that listening to melodic music puts your brain into a more conducive state, and listening to jarring music will do the opposite. Another way is to do writing exercises that force you to think outside the box will help stretch those mind muscles a bit too.

Ohhhhmmm….ohhhmmmm…crap. My butt’s wet again.

Tapping into that creative vein is not always easy, but it can be done. The key is learning to allow your mind to free-associate. This is how our minds come up with innovations, by combining typically unassociated concepts together and seeing what arises from it. A good way to do this is to keep a dream journal, and an idea journal, and also a traditional journal. Idea journals are great for me. Any time you have an idea, no matter how ridiculous, write it down. That single idea may never germinate into a full-blown story, but that idea, combined with the one you write in a couple of weeks may be the perfect concoction for your sci-fi, mystery, alien abduction/bigfoot love story. Who knew?

Free writing is similar in this respect. You just begin writing without any thought of character, story, or theme. This is how Stephen King writes all the time, and it works for him (most of the time anyway. We won’t talk about Under the Dome…). There is a rule in improv comedy that says, “silence your inner critic.” We all try to edit what we write as we write it, but sometimes, you just have to let it pour out of you. And, the more you do it, the more you’ll realize your mind begins to free up those disparate associations. Sure, you’ll still have to go back and edit that mess eventually, but you should keep a free-writing journal as well, where all your mental gobbledegook can just get dumped onto the page/screen.

Speaking of improv. I’ve written before about this, and want to reiterate it again. Improv has helped me in all aspects of my life. And, thanks to my coach’s “Improve Your Writing” workshops, it has helped my writing as well. Opening your mind to the possibilities, and learning how to cultivate that process has more benefits than I can name.

So, the next time you are envying that madman in the corner of the coffee shop, the one with the drool coming out of his mouth, smelling a bit like mouthwash, and dishing out page after page of wonderfully imaginative prose, remember that he probably just needs a hug, a smile, and a good dose of anti-psyhcotics. He’s no better a writer than you. He just has a mind gremlin.


22 thoughts on “Imagination Universe, Bipolar Bears, and Mind Gremlins by Craig

  1. Interesting Post! And very informative. Your transparency re your bi-polar disorder and relating how you dealt with the change medication brings to your thinking and emotions, and giving ideas on how your adaptations can be helpful to all writers–bipolar bears or not–is very helpful and encouraging. Way to go and thanks for the ideas.


  2. Intriguing post, Craig. For myself, I just start writing — and sometimes initially the effort stalls, but if I keep at it for a bit the spigot turns on and the metaphors and paragraphs you just know are good… they start appearing on the page.


    1. Hey Mike, I’m the same way. I honestly get too bored to sit and try to outline everything. I love organic writing. It may require more editing in the end, but it is worth it to me to keep the process engaging. Thanks for reading!


  3. Reblogged this on L.LEANDER BOOKS and commented:
    This is such an important post I want to share it with everyone. Today’s post on Writing Wranglers and Warriors is written by author Craig Snider. While both witty and informative, it touches on the difference by “normal” people and those with mental illness who are authors. Great read!


  4. Craig, I especially enjoyed this post and have reblogged it on my own website. My response to Bipolar meds has been a bit difficult in that I seem to have lost my creative edge. I’ve been forcing myself to at least try to write, but sometimes it’s almost impossible. While the meds make me feel much better, I still long for those Bipolar highs when I could write for hours, had great ideas and was invincible. Your post is so full of information and I appreciate your description of how you have coped. It gives me much hope and inspiration to know that there is really no line between “normal” people and those of us with Bipolar Disorder. I’ve always just begun writing with no thought of where I’d end up, but since I’m trying to write a book in a series it is a little more difficult because I have to weave the past story line in. I too have heard of many great people who were or are Bipolar and they manage just like anyone else. I love your twist on words and the Bipolar Bear is my favorite! Thanks so much for such an informative and interesting post!


    1. Thanks for reblogging! I’m glad it gave you hope. I really had an identity crisis when I started the meds because much of what I considered to be “me” was gone. But, I’ve discovered it is all about perception and state of mind. Though it isn’t as easy for me to write now, the work itself really is much better, more mature, and more consistent. Before, the writing was vivid and alive, but all over the place.

      And, though those artists whose work was exceptional, when they were finally able to do it, they suffered far too much for it, and typically died broke and alone. I’d much rather achieve a moderate amount of success now, surrounded by family and friends, than be considered a misunderstood genius years after my death. But, to each their own I suppose!

      Keep at it Leander. And good luck on your series! I don’t have the organizational skills for such an endeavor. And, as I tell my good friend who also has bipolar, we Bipolar Bears need to stick together. 🙂


  5. Brilliant! I myself have found my writing output and quality have improved considerably since joining a weekly improv writing group. You are correct, use those muscles. Thanks! Doris


      1. Members take turns bringing ‘prompts’ for three rounds of writing. The lovely thing about this group, we all have to read what we write. It does wonders and allows us to hear how others respond. What a learning experience. Doris


  6. Great post, Craig! I love the “Bipolar Bear” too. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your wit and wisdom with us. I find walking helpful for generating ideas. Somehow that frees my mind to wander–as well as meditation. I need to get better about taking notes on the various ideas and images that show up though. It is pretty amazing what can appear on the page if we just let the defenses down and let the words pour out.


    1. Thanks for reading! Oh, I agree, walking is a wonderful idea generator. And, I think taking notes is probably one of the more important parts of a writer’s life. There have been so many times where I have a thought and say, “I’ll definitely remember that one!” The minute I see a taco commercial, then I’m hungry, and totally forgotten my idea…


  7. Craig, I understand the effect medication can have on a person. I am on Lexapro (which I got on during the Big Change), and it’s very calming. There are ups and downs. I find I can not cry, no matter how sad or how happy, it just doesn’t happen. I’ve never been much of a crier, but I miss it. For the first time, last week, a nearly finished story came to be during the night. I worked on it in my mind and then grabbed my cell phone and wrote it all down while I was still in bed. It will probably never happen again, but it was awesome. Cher’ley


    1. I know what you mean. My meds put me into an emotional limbo, which was great for keeping the extremes away, but left me in the hazy “meh” world.

      Glad to hear inspiration struck! It is really important to catch those gems, isn’t it?


  8. Great post. My mind gremlins don’t pop out regularly and like you said, Craig, they need to be coaxed. For some authors, they talk about being in the zone and then the words flow out. Interruptions to that are a pain but we know how often life can get in the ‘writing’ way. You sound like you’re handling all of the knowledge above very well!


    1. Nancy, exactly! I think it better to train your mind gremlins to come out when you want them to because life does get in the way. But, I think the most successful creative people have very tight reigns on their mind gremlins. That isn’t to say they don’t let them run free when they feel the need!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s