Creativity – Part Three – Distillations

In the past two days, see part one and two, I’ve given my definition of creativity and talked about whether it’s inborn, and questioned the assumed link between creativity and madness or at least disorganization. Now I’d like to deal with some questions on a smaller scale, about the process itself. Is creativity linked to intuition? Is it a regurgitation of things seen, read or experienced? How is this something-from-nothing thing done anyway?

First, let’s define our terms–okay, I say that a lot, but it’s a good thing. Intuition is frequently a vague and fluffy word used to express some feminine mystique, or some new-age understanding of equally vague and fluffy universal truths. But what it really means is your mind putting together knowledge you weren’t consciously aware that you had. When the number of clues reaches a certain threshold, you get a Eureka moment and come to a conclusion that might look like magically revealed knowledge from the outside. So, for example, your wife tells you her friend’s cheating on her husband, and looks at you funny when you ask how she knows. It’s not because her friend told her. It’s a thousand little things she picked up on but didn’t really notice, until they came together in her mind.

Strangely, the process of writing is often like this, at least for me. But it’s like intuition in an active way… not a progression toward a conclusion, but a constant flow of intuition. I usually express it by saying the characters arrive in my head and tell me their story. I usually don’t know what is going to happen beyond a certain distance, like walking a twisty path–you can only see the next few steps, and what’s around the corner is a surprise. But of course that can’t really be what’s happening; I am the path, the walker and the forest surrounding, all three. What’s going to happen in the story must be somewhere in my head… right?

Writers are often accused of having their characters all be versions of themselves, or a gestalt of people they know. Write what you know is our curse, as well as our blessing. I think that like every other assumption in this three-part series, this one is part of the story, but not the whole. I think writers do put people they know, or at least parts of them, into the writing. If you think about it, how could it be otherwise? Would characters be realistic if you stripped them of every facet that arose from a real person? They wouldn’t be anything at all.

Events, as well as people, must be digested and brought forth in a new form. (It’s hard to describe any of this without getting disgustingly metabolic.) But we are human beings. The writing is being done by and for human beings. It’s human things and human ways and human personalities that must come through–even if the characters are actually green insectoids from Altair 9–if communication is to happen.

And that’s what it’s really all about.

Creativity is making art come from ‘nowhere’–from what’s inside us. It’s meant to reach out and spark something in another human being. It’s an absolute necessity for me, and writing is the art form that runs in my bones. Come, let me show you things. Let me touch you.

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