Dragons, Writing, and the Good Hydra of Inspiration

Dragons are a powerful part of our symbolic toolbox. From miserly greed to lust to pride to vengefulness, dragons and their power in stories often represent our unacknowledged and unresolved issues. To slay our dragons, we frequently have to go through some kind of descent into the underworld (some students of Karl Jung would call that the unconscious mind), whether it’s represented by a Lonely Mountain, a Chamber of Secrets, or something else.

In the legend of Hercules’s twelve great labors, the hero comes face to face with the hydra. In case you’ve only heard of Hydra from Marvel movies (hail Hydra), let’s read a selection from the story:

“The second labor of Hercules was to kill the Lernean Hydra. From the murky waters of the swamps near a place called Lerna, the hydra would rise up and terrorize the countryside. A monstrous serpent with nine heads, the hydra attacked with poisonous venom. Nor was this beast easy prey, for one of the nine heads was immortal and therefore indestructible…

With his club, Hercules attacked the many heads of the hydra, but as soon as he smashed one head, two more would burst forth in its place!”

The Twelve Labors of Hercules 

As you can imagine, slaying a creature that regrows its own heads is rather difficult. The ultimate solution is burning the hydra’s neck tendons so that no head can regrow. Not exactly intuitive, but it’s a good thing for Hercules that he figured that part out.

In case you need a more visceral experience of hydra action, you can of course watch the Disney version:

Slaying the Dragon of Creative Resistance

This many-headed, self-regenerative monster stands in as a powerful symbol for many of the problems of life. When we solve one problem, two more take the first problem’s place. When that happens, we usually know to rethink the way we’re addressing our problem. Usually. Some of us are bone-headed enough to keep trying until we have 27-head hydras.

One of the most powerful ways we can really solve problems – particularly the problems of unacknowledged fear, greed, lust, disempowerment, laziness, lust for power, etc – is through creativity. When we make our values and ideas real in the world, we remove the main blocks which allow us to ignore the need for self-knowledge and integrity in how we live (I wrote more about how writing does this in a recent post). When we write, we are either slaying dragons or preventing new dragons from being born.

Writing is the main way I and a lot of other humans do that self-healing creative work. So why do so many of us fail to do it consistently? Why do we put it off?

One reason we often give is the classic “lack of inspiration.” This is another expression of Resistance – that invisible “force” which gives you great reasons to do anything but write, all while you know that writing is exactly what you should be doing.

The end result of listening to this reason is never writing, or writing seldom and when the mood catches us.

I’d suggest that we’ve gotten things backward, and, like Hercules we’d better figure out what we’re doing before we have even more hydra heads on our hands.

The Good Hydra Effect of Creativity

After only 12 days of consistent daily writing and publishing in my current month-long daily writing project, I’ve learning a bit more about how inspiration works. And while writing some days has felt like fighting off a dragon, I’ve seen something else: consistent creativity yields what we could call the Good Hydra Effect

When Hercules cut off one of the hydra’s heads, he’d find two more in its place ready to eat his face off. In the Good Hydra Effect, the hydra is Inspiration or Idea. When you cut off one of Inspiration Hydra’s heads by writing it down and making it real, you’ll often find two more grow to replace it. And they’re usually better ideas than the first one. Rather than being a negative downward spiral, fighting resistance and battling with inspiration creates a positive upward spiral. Rather than being a mean, nasty, dragonish hydra, the Hydra of Inspiration becomes much like a very chill, happy pet snake.

Did you write a blog post about dragons? Ah, now you can write about commonalities among dragon myths in different cultures. From there you can write about dragon myths have been expressed in 21st century art. You can write a review of the band Imagine Dragons and their new album. Every unanswered question in one blog post is a topic for a new blog post. The chain goes on and on, as far as you want to take it.

This has been my experience, and I now have more blog post ideas than I can possibly use in this month. Before I started this month-long challenge, I had worried that I wouldn’t have the inspiration to write as often as this. I was wrong.

It seems we’ve gotten creativity and inspiration backwards. If you want to be inspired to create, you must begin by creating with anything and everything you have. You’ll realize only once you commit to publishing how much you have that is worthy of the light of day.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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