The Tao of Creativity
I was asked recently to describe my creative process. Surprisingly, I found it easier than I thought it would be, mainly because I used the process to write this piece. Let me begin with, if you were to ask fifty different writers the same question, you would get fifty different ideas on the same subject. Each one would provide the process that works for that individual, and each would be equally right for that person. Each of us has a life of diverse experiences and influences that fuel our creativity, however, having said that, I believe that there are three main principles that all of us follow.
Here are some thoughts:
Tune in to your process. In Hamlet, Polonius’ advice to Laertes, “This above all else to thine own self be true…” The context of the statement has a variety of meanings, some of which are lost by void of generation gaps, but at the heart of it is the concept that you are the best judge of yourself, you know what works for you. Each of us has a different method for generating ideas. Sometimes it is talking to others and thinking out loud; sometimes it is visiting the world of art – either through books or by spending time in your favorite museum; or perhaps your medium is listening to music. Identify your creative space and take deliberate action to go there. If you don’t understand what fuels your creative process, pay attention to your habits and when you tend to have the most innovative thoughts. Pay close attention to the times when you are dialed in and the ideas are flowing. Figure out how you can repeat that cycle. Carve out time from your schedule to follow your process and capture the moment.
Personally, it begins with white space – no electronic media, I walk on a nature trail and allow my brain to uncouple itself from the bombardment of priorities, responsibilities, and deadlines. I can’t live in white space, but I can sure as heck visit. After I’ve let go of all the drama of day to day life, I can create. I allow my brain to create; I start by asking myself the question: what should happen next? And then I allow my intrinsic brain the time and opportunity it needs to answer – I don’t force it.
Your subconscious cannot ignore a question. When the thought comes forward, I’m ready to jot down quick ideas to reconstruct the thought later. Taking an idea and putting pen to paper changes the intangible thought into a spoken word.
Define your narrative.
As I begin to write, my small ideas could be described as fireflies on a warm summer night – random winks of light against a thick blackness. As I sit down and begin to write, I stitch together those luminaries into something that resembles a logical order. When you make a pan of biscuits, you pour milk into a bowl of flour to make the biscuits, but anyone who makes biscuits can tell you, it’s together, but not quite ready. You have to stir and mix. When I have assembled my thoughts into a logical sequence, I begin to refine the mix. I was privileged to hear the American poet, Robert Morgan, lecture at a writer’s convention. What he said resonated with me. We use language because we love to hear the way the words sound to us. It is easy to write, “The leaves shook on the tree in the early spring breeze.” While functional, it doesn’t paint the scene the way we would like our readers to experience. Whereas, if we were to describe the same scene as, “The tender young leaves of the dogwood swayed in a gentle breeze sheltering the delicate pink blooms from the chill of a spring that arrived much too soon.” This allows your reader to pull from a multitude of senses and memories.
Slay your dragons. In the Fourth grade and then again in my Senior year in high school, two separate teachers read short stories I wrote as a class assignment and admonished me for what I wrote. In Fourth grade, my teacher went so far as to tell me I should be ashamed. The context of that story was a mouse was in love with a housewife, and her husband caught them having tea. In the 1970’s, my teachers set the tone for what I believed about myself – I was not capable of writing a good story. The consequence of that was I told myself for many years I was not someone capable of writing creatively, much less being published as an author. After my mother’s extended illness and passing in 2001, I began to walk in a local park to regain my health. The monotony of walking seven miles led me to daydream and make up stories to pass the time as I walked. As I continued to walk, the stories began to take shape into a narrative. I reached a point where I was driven to write the stories. It was both therapeutic and liberating. As I finished my first manuscript and was accepted by a publisher, I realized that my internal script was wrong. At that point I slew my dragon. It is time to face your dragons. In the Hero’s journey, the hero of the story must cross a threshold, whether it is the border to another land, another planet, or an actual doorway, the hero must move beyond the boundaries that limit the hero from accomplishing the mission. Think of yourself as that hero. Try to understand what your boundary is and move beyond it. And as you do, ask yourself, what was I afraid of?
I wish the best for you in all that you do.
Darren Swart is the author of WHISPER PARK LANE