Archives for May 2012

How learning your craft helps your creativity

The subconscious mind is pretty amazing–and not a little bit mysterious. On my way to work this morning, it rose up, tapped me on the metaphorical shoulder, and said, “You know you have a fundamental problem with your Work in Progress, don't you?”

Bolt of lightning time. Yeah, I'm working on a second draft/rewrite, but I realized the protagonist doesn't have a significant source of struggle within himself, and that's something I need/want. Of course there's an antagonist, but I'd like to see that, at the end of the novel, he's gained insight into himself.

I turned to research. I'm curious about this phenomenon of the subconscious mind. I found an interesting article, “Creativity, chance and the role of the unconscious in the creation of original literature and art,” that sheds some light on it. [Harle, Rob. 2011. “Creativity, chance and the role of the unconscious in the creation of original literature and art.” Technoetic Arts: A Journal Of Speculative Research 8, no. 3: 311-322. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed May 25, 2012).] In the process, I discovered yet another reason (and a scientifically based one!) why writers should thoroughly learn their craft.

Harle's point is that chance plays an important part in the creative process, and he explores this concept through analysis of Surrealist and computer-generated poetry. Fascinating stuff, really, but this section really grabbed my attention: “I contend that Breton and colleagues were doing nothing more or less than creative artists, writers and scientists have always done and continue to do today. That is, the technical aspect of the discpline is throughly learnt; then by relaxing the hold on the conscious mind, shifting down the scale from logic-high-focus to dreamy-low-focus and quelling premeditated ideas of what should be, inspirationis given a chance to manifest itself. Also, ‘chance association’ of disparate ideas (which is perhaps inspiration itself), like genetic mutations, sometimes results in new, deeply imaginative, unique creations.”

Learning to write, internalizing the process, frees up your subconscious to move on to the “dreamy-low-focus” that Harle describes as daydreaming. Creative solutions to problems, he says, occur at the opposite end of the spectrum from the alert and logical state. When I had this inspiration, I was driving to work, listening to a story on NPR. Not focused on logic, just taking in information and letting my mind wander.

I haven't addressed his concept of chance; log on to your local library and seek out this article if you're interested. The take-away from the article is that stressing over plot details isn't always the way to go. Your subconscious mind works it out for you. But the way to improve the associations your mind makes in the creative process are based on learning your craft.



The Solution to Procrastination

“Life is what happens when you’re not writing.” I don’t know if that’s a real quote or if I just made it up in my head. I hope it’s not a real quote because I don’t want to bash a perfectly good aphorism. It’s what popped into my head a bit ago while cleaning up after our old and intentionally incontinent cat (probably in protest for her two younger siblings, but I digress). I think the implication of such a statement is that life is somehow separate from writing, that we stand outside our writing.

I’ve been feeling really guilty lately that I haven’t worked on my Work in Progress in nigh on to two months. Actually that’s not entirely true. I profess not to believe in guilt. To be honest I’m annoyed I haven’t finished the rewrite of the book. Regardless, I’ve thought of a way to cut myself some slack.

I realized we don’t stand outside our writing. People say, “Writing is my life.” If that’s true, what you’re really saying is “My life is my writing.” Whatever comes out of us, out of our subconscious minds and deep hidden recesses, injected into the flesh of a notebook with the syringe that is the fountain pen or tattooed onto virtual skin through the action of manipulating keys, is based in our feelings and beliefs and experiences.

“Oh, Donna,” I hear you saying, “You are so amazingly profound to have discovered this secret eluding humankind for eons.”

I’m nodding sagely. What I acknowledged about my writing today is my psyche has been temporarily diverted to a decision I’m trying to make about my future—get a master’s degree or a certificate or certification classes, and in what field? (AKA What do I want to be when I grow up?) My writing self isn’t on hiatus, though. She’s taking notes. She’s doing research. She’s storing up these thoughts and emotions and processes and details for my future writing.

Obviously it won’t directly correlate. It’s not a one-to-one correspondence, like when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer to that one is, “Um, I live.” I don’t plan to write about a woman’s midlife crisis and journey of self-discovery. Although I suppose I could. But you just know (if you’ve read my books) she’d run into a sorcerer masquerading as her personal trainer who’s on the lam from a secret society of Cthulhu-worshipping Baptist preachers intent on subverting the foundations of the world as we know it.

What I’m saying to myself—and you, if you’re feeling guilty about not writing—is chalk it up to experience. Dry spells happen, events intervene. It’s all fodder for the creative mind. Don’t use it as an excuse to quit writing. Because you know you can’t ever stop. Not really.

Not if your life is your writing.