Creative Catalyst: Imagine My Surprise…

“Red Balloon” copyright 2012 by Janet Riehl

Art must take reality by surprise.—Francoise Sagan (French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter)

Surprise lives in the realm of inspiration. You can shock surprise into being, or you can follow it when it peeks around the corner. I want to talk about the second kind.

Surprise happens when we are working. Creative people in any field know this. In the flow of our work—lightly aware of our process—surprise visits us. It’s how we respond to the surprise that matters. Think of everything from Newton’s apple (Ah, gravity!) to plastic to penicillin to silly putty.

What we do with surprise determines not only the direction of our art, but its quality. We must: 1) be in the moment to recognize the surprise and not let it flit by; 2) welcome it; 3) get to know it; 4) shape it. What does this mean for us as writers?

1)      Notice: Hey, how are you?

2)      Welcome: Sit down and take the load off your feet.

3)      Inquire: What’s on your mind?

4)      Shape: What are you?

I’m toiling at my desk writing about surprise whilst breaking pencil points and crumpling up pieces of paper. (I’m Old School.) Here comes Surprise peeking around the corner.

CC: Hey, how are you?

Surprise: My dogs are really tired.

CC: Sit down and take the load off. I’m glad you stopped by. Would you like some tea?

Surprise: Sure. Oh, oops! It just slipped, honest. I’m sorry.

CC: Oh, think nothing of it. What’s on your mind?

Surprise: A clock striking midnight, a bluebird with a worm in her beak, a chocolate éclair, velvet on concrete, belly dancing…

CC: Oh! What now? What if…?


12 clangs in the dark from the cathedral

I dance the bluebird with a worm in her beak

Nestlings stick out their necks

Velvet slippers snag bumps in the concrete.

My arms sweep the air above my head

I lay down my veil

And lick chocolate off my éclair.

Surprise: Not bad! Get a little rest and look at it in the morning.

CC: Thanks! You’ll be back?

Surprise: Why not? You’re a good hostess.


Are you a creative catalyst? Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future themes; and join in the dialog in our comments section.

Learn more about my audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.” Become a Riehlife villager.(A 2011 SCN Star Blog)


10 responses to “Creative Catalyst: Imagine My Surprise…

  1. I love this, I love your post, your ideas, your words, the way you played with them, juxtaposing them until they melded together to create something new, something surprising!

  2. Edith says it well, perfectly surprising!

  3. Thank you, Janet.

    Being surprised by your own art is a gift.

    In writing, don’t ignore the detours because those paths are the original you.

  4. Thanks Edith, Eden, and Arletta!

    It took the afternoon to write. I toyed with topics and ways to slant them. Wrote and deleted. Changed files. Looked stuff up on the web. Kept writing starts and re-arranging text. Then, I got to the point where Surprise was going to come visit, and I thought, “What the heck!” let it visit for real. So, came up with some images and onto the poem. A satisfying piece to write.

  5. What a fun post! Made me grin and hope that Surprise (the good kind) will come visit me in the near future. Now, if only I had some of those chocolate eclairs to serve when she arrived…

  6. Wonderful work Janet. I discovered that surprise is our inner voice yearning for a part in our physical play.

  7. Thank you, Janet. I love the sense of play and freedom in your poem and in your blog post.

  8. Do Love the playful air to all of this creativity élan……spirited. Fun….

    Is the ballon from your doodle art collection…..very nice. Also love the poem as it captivates me line by line with its surprising imagery. Love anything about dance and also poems that surprise me with what comes next. Bravo, Charlotte

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