Until I experienced it first hand. I was writing the libretto for the opera “Camille Claudel” and abruptely Rose, Rodin’s wife, came into the scene. The scene is a fight between Camille and Rose, extremely confrontational and passionate on both sides.
As I was writing, I realized that my temperature was rising, I started sweating, my heartbeat increased considerably, my forehead filled with cold drops. My hands started to shake and yet I couldn’t stop.
I was fully focused but everything around me was blurred.
It happened again later on, while composing the opera and then again a couple of months ago, composing a song on a Baudelaire’s poem.
I must say, when it hits me and ultil it lasts, it feels great. It’s like your body is producing something you keep being high on. And when it’s not there anymore, your head is aching, your stomach is upside down and you just want to collapse on the bed.
Technically, it seems like creation’s fever and mental dissociation are very much alike. The difference lies in the fact that in the end (when you actually do get out of bed) the latter is a pathology while the former leaves you with plenty of satisfaction.
It deeply focuses the artist’s mind towards a specific point instead of being self-destructive, pouring all mental and phisycal energy into the writing. It manifests itself, at least for me, in a the form of a surplus of energy, an internal thrust that doesn’t leave me any choice but writing.
The difficult part is in between waves: creation, it seems, makes you exercise another art, patience. I take comfort in this by the fact that many other composers shared my same experience. Intuition, which can generate creative fever, is essential to art making. But the hard work that comes after is equally important. Patience is hard work too.
Stravinsky used to say: “I learnt to wait like an insect”. Nothing like a quote from a master to make you feel better.
PS: a good reading on creation process, offering a view from 25 american composers, is the book “The muse that sings” by Ann McCutchan.