What Is Creativity?

creativityI’m going to shut up for this post.

I know.  Can I even find it possible?

I’m going to let others speak.  And then I’ll pick up the train of thought next time.

“It is a commonplace among artists that masterpieces are made in passing, not by the focused attempt to create one.  That very attempt often skewers the spontaneous internal process, the inspired hunch or ‘fine madness’, that makes great art a happy accident that seems inevitable only in retrospect.”Julia Cameron, Chicago Tribune, 1986.

“You don’t have to be a believer to recognize a moment of grace.  By grace I mean those precious, rare times when exactly what you were expecting gives way to something utterly different, when patterns of thought and behavior we have grown accustomed to and at times despaired of, suddenly cede to something new and marvelous.  It may be the moment when a warrior unexpectedly lays down his weapon, when the sternest disciplinarian breaks into a smile, when an ideologue admits error, when a criminal seeks forgiveness, or when an addict hits bottom and finally sees a future.  Grace is the proof that hope is not groundless.”Andrew Stillman, “Untier of Knots”, 12/17/13.

“I don’t just use bad writing excerpts as prompts for workshops.  I also produce a tremendous amount of bad writing myself.   In fact, if some poor graduate student were assigned to do an audit of my entire literary output over the past twenty years, this person—before killing themselves—would find that about 70 percent of what I write is dreck.

“And I know I’m not alone.  If you go visit the archives of your favorite writer, as I did with Kurt Vonnegut several years ago, you will find a treasure trove of unpublished work.  And, if you’re anything like me, you will be heartened by this discovery.  It’s a great relief to realize that all those published writers we idolize aren’t cranking out epic prose every day at the keyboard.  Sometimes, they’re stinking it up, just like we do. …..My basic theory is that most pieces of failed writing—whether stories, poems, or novels—are usually attempts to tell a story that the author simply wasn’t ready to tell yet.

“This is why so much of my bad poetry is clogged with overwrought language, because I’m stonewalling basically, trying to sound profound and beautiful rather than telling the truth. …..My own belief is that writing is too intimate and arduous an activity ever to perfect.  We need to stop viewing our task as the production of transcendent work. Instead, we should emphasize the process as a gradual reduction of our (necessary and inevitable) imperfections.

“I realize how frustrating it can feel to produce weak work.  Believe me.  But I’ve also come to accept that bad writing doesn’t just mark a creative dead end.  It’s a necessary station on the path to good writing.”Steve Almond, Blog Post on AWP Website, Feb. 2014.

“Fine writing is never one to one, never a matter of devising the exact number of events necessary to fill a story, then penciling dialogue.  Creativity is five to one, perhaps ten or twenty to one.  The craft demands the invention of far more material than you can possibly use, then the astute selection from this quantity of quality events, moments of originality that are true to character and true to world.  When actors compliment each other, for example, they often say, “I like your choices.”  They know that if a colleague has arrived at a beautiful moment, it’s because in rehearsal the actor tried it twenty different ways, then chose the one perfect moment.  The same is true for us.

“Finally, it’s important to realize that whatever inspires the writing need not stay in the writing.  A Premise is not precious.  As long as it contributes to the growth of story, keep it, but should the telling take a left turn, abandon the original inspiration to follow the evolving story.  The problem is not to start writing, but to keep writing and renewing inspiration.  We rarely know where we’re going:  writing is discovery.”Robert McKee, Story, 1997.

A few thoughts from John Cleese:

“…the most creative professionals always played with a problem for much longer before they tried to resolve it.  Because they were prepared to tolerate that slight discomfort and anxiety that we all experience when we haven’t solved a problem.”

“Now, the people I find it hardest to be creative with are the people who need, all the time, to project an image of themselves as decisive.  And they feel that, to create this image, they need to decide everything very quickly, and with a great show of confidence.  Well, this behaviour, I suggest sincerely, is the most effective way of strangling creativity at birth.”

“And if while you’re pondering, somebody accuses you of indecision, say:  ‘Look, babycakes, I don’t have to decide until Tuesday, and I’m not chickening out of my creative discomfort by taking a snap decision before then, that’s too easy.‘  So, to summarise, the third factor that facilitates creativity is time.  Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.”

And I’ll leave the final words to Thomas Edison:

“Negative results are just what I want.  They’re just as valuable to me as positive results.  I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.” 

To read What If I’m Not Creative?, go here.  To read How On Earth Can I Be Creative As an Actor?, go here.  To read John Cleese on Creativity, go here.



One thought on “What Is Creativity?

  1. Pingback: What If I’m Not Creative? | Spacious Acting

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