Sunday, August 26, 2007

About Creativity

Over the course of the years, and based mostly on my experience with the Indeterminacy blog I have developed several ideas about creativity and the creative process. At the very least, they seem to apply to me. This is what I've learned...

1) When you have an idea or inspiration, act on it immediately. Act on it five minutes later, and it will already be too late. Once I find my inspiration, the process of writing the rough draft goes rather quickly. But if I wait, the flair seems to go out of it. Photos have been a wonderful catalyst for immediate inspirations, usually some devious idea that I want to follow through to the end. However the more I do this, the more difficult it becomes to find a photo that stands out in ways that others before it have not. The first 100 or so stories went fairly well in this respect. Examples where the photo delivered strange and powerful associations might be Story #6 and Story #23.

2) Spontaneity plus afterthought is a powerful combination. On rare occasions a story will come out perfect the first time. Of all my stories, there were only a handful that were completely spontaneous. One example is Story #30 written in just about the amount of time it takes to read it. I didn't change one word of how it came out.

But usually, the result needs a little twisting and tweaking to add dimensions that bring it past the ordinary and into the extraordinary. During the period that I posted daily I would write the story on the train home from work (I carried a few potential images around in my head to ponder over during free moments) or at home in the late afternoon or early evening. The next morning I'd take the rough draft with me in the train, read through it again and again, fine tune and polish until I thought it was ready to post. At lunch I'd type in my edits and post. Most of the time my edits made something that I thought was boring into something that I was satisified with.

Story #19 was actually a complete rewrite of the original draft (which you can read in the comment section). Story #385 was one in which the initial version was written rather quickly, but which I polished quite a bit afterwards. The sequence with the "99 Bottles" song was something I put in quite late, as an afterthought.

3) If you write something good, it will seem better to other people than it will to you. You know what is coming, the others don't. They have the pleasure of watching something unknown unfold before them for the first time, whereas you can only read and wonder, will it work the way you intend it to. This is my conclusion from the positive comments I received about stories that to me were fairly ordinary. It's the only way I could explain it. Also I've read stories, posts, etc. by others and been truly impressed, whereas they in turn seemed surprised. I thought my Story #43 was rather simple, but I got some nice feedback from some people I showed it to.

4) If you are true to your art, the process of creating will become more and more difficult, the more you have created. I do not want to write the same stories over and over again, so I find myself discarding ideas because the intended story is too similar to something else I've written before, or is too similar to something I've read elsewhere. I want to create something completely new, but of course I'm aware that this is extremely difficult to do - some claim it's impossible.

To avoid repeating myself, I've allowed the stories to become more and more extravagant. In the beginning my ideal was the one paragraph short story. The first stories were probably more like synopses for what could later be written out in more detail. There was little or no dialogue, just densely packed plot description. Two earlier stories that broke out of this mold were Story #81 and Story #158.

A few other stories were new in the sense that I hadn't read anything like them before, not to say that something similar hasn't already been written and I just didn't know about it: Story #128 (Adam and Evelyn), Story #204 (Solomonic Wisdom) and Story #327 (Extreme Poetic Justice). In any event I strive to be original to the best of my knowledge.

5) Spontaneous creativity vs. planned creativity. Which is better? This could depend on the person. Or maybe it's a matter of taste. I think in general, a spontaneous basis for creativity will win out. In the stories beyond #200 and up to #360, when I stopped posting daily, I found myself having to stay up later and later to find the right idea. The best stories, I think, were written when I was very tired, and unable to reason clearly. Story #377 and Story #359 came into existence when I was half asleep and hardly knew what I was writing.

6) Read great works and allow yourself to be inspired by them. In other words, if you reach for the stars you may not reach them, but you'll reach higher than you might otherwise have been able to. For example, when I was in high school and college I used to read Stephen King. Somehow I got tired of him, but now, in that genre, authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Gustav Meyrink are my idols.

7) If you get stuck, take a break, watch a TV show, do something else, and then return to finish the writing. Many of my stories were written in two parts. I wrote a beginning, got stuck, watched a Dark Shadows episode, then went back to write the conclusion. One of my non-Indeterminacy stories, "A Fairytale for Elves and Clouds" was written over the period of several weeks. I wrote the first two paragraphs, got stuck, then came back later with a sudden idea of how it should continue. I think the break forces one out of the rut one might have been in, and allows a return with a fresh, completely unrelated idea.


I've probably learned more, but this was all I could put down on one Sunday afternoon. For the interested reader, I point out two pieces I've posted with advice about writing / blogging out of the mouths of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain.

Note: My muse has published her own statement about blogging, indepedent of this one, and I really like what she wrote. It's called "I am not a good blogger"

Note 2: Viruswitch has posted a piece "Write in concepts or write in pictures?" and Shtikl writes "You don’t need a plan, you need skills and a problem" - both posts have bearing on the creative process.

Now I remind myself that I still owe you Story #408. It seems I do put myself under pressure to write something that is better and different than anything I've written before. Wish me luck.


Lorena's Blogbilingüe said...

Good luck, Indie!! Now I need to go back and read all those stories you mentioned, since I just found you a short time ago.
For me, creativity always has some kind of a stimulus, or muse if you will. The photos you have posted inspired me to come up with ideas I wouldn't otherwise have thought of. I compose songs in Spanish these days, and once I have the lyrics, the music just flows out. It's amazing, no lyrics, no music. If I sit down at the piano with the lyrics, it feels as if the music comes from somewhere else and simply flows through me to the keys. Many songs seem to write themselves. I don't know if this makes sense, but anyway, it's a little hard to describe with words. Words are good but they have their limitations. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so long winded.
Can't wait to read your next story.

By the way, I read "Blue Tigers" by Borges, (in Spanish). It's quite captivating and I see the parallel to my faces in the stone. I'm not sure I understand Borges totally though. Oh well, that's okay.
I'd love to read some of your "answers" to my blog entry dated August 25th...when you have a chance.

Take care,


Cooper said...

I wish you lick Inde. I do not envy writers, as I think the type of creativity, yet attention to detail, required by a writer is something very few people come by easily.

You do a spectacular job and have for
many moons now.

Enjoy the pressure, just don't let it
get to you.

Tom & Icy said...

Good luck if luck has anything to do with it. More likely your skill and talent. it seems that the more you think and worry about the how's the harder it gets to do. If it feels good, do it.

Indeterminacy said...

Lorena: In a way - my visitors have a much more difficult task than I do. I am able to select the photo, which is quite an advantage. So I am always impressed at how fast all of you are. I'll be by to answer your questions. Great that you found the story. Sad that I can't read Borges in the original Spanish. Many of his stories are enigmas.

Cooper: Thank's for the lick, but with my luck it's just a typo. ;-)
Thanks also for the kind words. Of course not all writers have a good sense of detail. I read a work once by Thomas Mann and was impressed by how meticulous he was with the details. There was not one loose or unexplained detail in the entire story. Everything fit together. I believe the book was called "Königliche Hoheit" (Royal Highness).

Tom&Icy: It probably seeps through in what I wrote - I really miss the early days when the ideas flowed so easily. But I always want to top myself, and that gets in the way. With so many people watching now I feel that every story has to be brilliant, so I start to worry about writing something boring. But if I start to repeat the same themes over and over the stories will start to become cliches of themselves, and that would not be nice either. I guess I just have to close my eyes and use The Force.

Anonymous said...

Illuminating as always. Thanks, Indie.
I agree that creativity should start as an impulse, but I have found that some impulses peter out and also that impulses can be generated by slogging away at what turn out to be dead ends (eventually something better, often using the earlier material, emerges). Also, as a mom, I cannot always act on my impulses right away, but if they are really good they will be enriched, not destroyed, by delay.

Indeterminacy said...

Your own observations are very good. As for illuminating, I actually wanted to post a photo of a light bulb along with this text, but I couldn't find one. I suppose I might have photographed one, but last night one of our light bulbs actually burned out.

Yes, it is true that inspirations/impulses can peter out. The sly advantage to applying them to ultrashort stories is that the story is likely to end before the inspiration fades. Once I "know" what the story will be, I can write it from beginning to end. My self-critic of my own writing is that the longer the story is, the more likely that I will mess it up somehow, that it will somehow lose power. I admire, but cannot understand the writers who can sit down at a certain time each day, and write for an hour, and it comes out brilliant. I don't have this discipline.

Lorena's Blogbilingüe said...

I have one more thing to say. You said you are worried about repeating yourself with your stories. Let me just say that the great playwright, August Wilson wrote many plays, and basically they all dealt with the same themes, they were just expressed in a slightly different way. Have you ever watched a tennis match? Billy Jean King said once that the ball never goes over the net the same way twice. "Repeating yourself" isn't necessarily boring. Is the sunset boring? It happens every day. :-) Just something to think about. I don't think your stories can be boring. I say forge ahead and enjoy the next step.

admin said...

Very interesting! It impressed me when you said that your best stories were written when you were too tired to reason clearly.

A few days ago I was having some similar (and yet different) thoughts on writting

Unknown said...

Good luck! That was a thoughtful post about thinking posts and it was fun to revisit old posts and visit for the first time posts from before I got here. The only thing I've figured out is that not writing does not lead to better or easier writing for me. I get a little panicky.

Indeterminacy said...

Lorena: I would probably start repeating myself in the worst way - not saying the same things differently but the same things the same way. But I will keep your thoughts with me and think positive.

Viruswitch: Thanks for sharing the link with me - I ponder these issue continually but never can work them out.

Doug: I left out an important point, which you mention. I used to keep a dream journal, and once in the habit, woke up every morning, or in the middle of the night, with the dream still vivid in my mind, for writing down. But once I stopped keeping the journal, the memory of the dreams also left me. I think it was this way with writing, for me, too. I got out of the daily habit, and anything else is too difficult.

Lorena's Blogbilingüe said...

Please check out my blog entry for today. What else can we do?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the not thinking clearly and good writing, especially. I think it just lets the ideas flow better, and you don't get time to think, "that's too out there." I've written many a short story based on a dream, and one of them I was never truly able to finish in a good way because the story never spun out in a way that seemed to fit- I was interrupted by a certain alarm clock before the dream could end.

Anonymous said...

Hi Indie. I was inspired by #23 and left a response there.

Unknown said...

Creativity is both a blessing and a curse. I prefer creating (crap, I'm so tired I can't even think of the word--not simultaneous, but since I mostly work with a co-author I do that a lot) SPONTANEOUSLY (there we go!) but because of all my other commitments, that rarely happens. Right now I'm at least trying to do the research on a chapter. I fear that if I actually tried writing it at this point it would turn out like crap. But who knows--maybe I do my best work when I'm half asleep!

Indeterminacy said...

Talespin: Don't give up on the unfinihed story - I have one story I began in January, got stuck, and finished in December.

Mrs. Weirsdo: It was a great inspiration. Thanks for sharing it.

Lorena: I hope San will be back to share his creativity with us.

Lily Strange: Good luck with your writing and inspirations! Often when I read the next day what I'd written the night before, I'm truly surprised, and can't even believe I had written it.

Anonymous said...

Creativity has a physical aspect. If I haven't been writing well or anything at all, it's probably because I haven't had the chance to go on a really long bike ride in a while. As soon as I get out and riding, the head clears and thoughts seem to flow.

Mindful Mimi said...

Somestimes when I have no inspiration or do not feel creative at all, I just start writing. Something, whatever pops up in my head. Sometimes it's bin material but sometimes a little gem seemed to have been hidden in my subconscious and needed to get out without any thought or help.
I do agree with 'letters' and going on a walk, hike, bikeride or jog and clearing your mind helps. THe mind does never get completely empty but the cleared space is room for the important stuff - like the noise the corn field makes in the wind or the way the clouds are shaped that day.
Keep writing.
MindFul MiMi

KHM said...

Hi Indie: this is a nice view on your approach to writing and I identify with a good bit of it. In particular you say that some of the best stories were written when you were tired and not reasoning well... this is for me the jumping off point.

As a reader I wish for the author to lead me through a tale; I do not wish to directed in judging the events or to have every motivation explicated--nor do I wish for everything to tie up neatly in one particular package---I want room to bring my own experience of life to balance against whatever plot is unfolding---this is to me what makes literature superior to film (although I do love film)--it allows freedom for the author to weave loosely so that the reader may also bring creativity to the interpretation.

I'm looking forward to browsing over the stories you point out here. I hope that you are very pleased with the body of work you've accumulated here---its quite impressive.

Finally, as for concern of repeating yourself, I think its prudent to avoid writing the same story over again but indeed, do we not recognize artists' works by the common themes running through their works?

masterymistery said...

Indie, strongly identify with your seven principles, especially no. 4: 4) If you are true to your art, the process of creating will become more and more difficult, the more you have created.

I think part of the answer lies in the art of creating without creating, ie, avoid thinking about the process and focus on the outcomes.

Speed helps... i try and write without thinking about the content --- real stream of consciousness stuff, just baash it out, edit later... and sometimes, if not most times, i find editing detracts from the raw energy/emotion. Too much polishing makes for emotional retardation. And yet, and yet, I often find my inspiration in language itself, puns and palindromes, acronyms and double entendres. For example switching "wander" and "wonder"

By the way, this is a really cool concept --- the photo and the one minute story, I'll be back for more.

I've added Synchronicity to my blogrolls at wicked and sick and
very short stories.

Perhaps you might link back to the above...


roachz said...

Hi Indie... I totally agree with no. 4.

Indeterminacy said...

Very late, my answers to the above comments, but I have to start somewhere with catching up...

Letters: I can see your point - there's probably a catharsis of some kind through the activity. No wonder your blog posts are all so great. I know you ride the bike a lot.

Mindful Mimi: I think this "brute force" method takes a special kind of writer. I have trouble forcing myself to write, but I have to find the courage to do so.

Kathy: Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. Some of the opinions I wrote down sway from time to time, especially number 4 - I think for some people writing becomes easier the more they write. I would love to discover the secret. Also, we have similar ideas about the kind of stories we like. I suppose there's a controversy about John Irving. You either love him or you hate him. I found that I hate him. His style is dogmatic, it dictates the interpretation, at least in what I've read of his works, which isn't much, because the style turned me off immediately. But I love the open films of Kieslowski or Jacques Rivette, films/stories that excite the viewer's/reader's imagination.

Mistery: That's a good insight. If you think too much about what you are doing, you become paralyzed. Just do it. It's a bit like what Mimi said. Just start writing. Thank you for the links, and sorry for my delay in answering you. Of course I'd be happy to link back to you. You have a couple of great sites.

ROachz: Everyone agrees with 4, and with your vote, I'll just have to elevate it to an eternal truth of creativity.