because everything has a story

On Creativity

Frankly, the notion of creativity makes me a little grumpy. I’ve always preferred logic, science, things that can be explained. Things that can be quantified. So I started Nano this month with the notion that if I sat down at my laptop every day and worked hard, that would be enough. So I sat down. I put my fingers to the keyboard. You know what came out? Crap. Uninspired crap. I’d like to think that I am occasionally capable of communicating stories in a way that might resonate on the page, but I sat and I wrote and wrote. Words filled up the page, yes, but there was nothing in them.

So I got up. I put music on. I curled up on the couch. I tried writing in the morning with coffee. I tried writing in the evening with wine. I went to coffee shops, and bars, and joined write-ins. I found certain places that made words flow, instead of being forced out, painfully scraped from my head. I have found one cafe where any time I sit down at their table, I just disappear into the story. I wake up hours later, apologizing that I’ve monopolized their table for three hours and five coffee refills.

There is something to this creativity thing, something that I don’t understand. But I accept it, now. I go to my cafe and I wear my special knit cap that makes me feel both cozy and writerly. Someone told me once that Neal Stephenson writes his novels longhand, with a fountain pen, by candlelight. While I’m not sure that is entirely accurate, I’d understand if it were. Sometimes it’s odd little things that make writing turn from muck to magic.

That said, my mind can’t help but approach creativity a bit more systematically. I’m always tracking various factors and trying to correlate them with how the days writing goes. The most important factor I’ve found is what I eat. I’ve been trying to get my diet back on track (just in time for the holidays, I know…) and I find on the days when I cave and eat something terrible I can barely get a word out. My brain feels sluggish and useless and I struggle to get out five hundred decent words. So no pasta, no pizza, no sugar. Sigh. I’m eating celery as we speak and feeling thoroughly morose about it. But I’ve found a diet that works for me and if I stick to it I find that my head remains clear and the quality of my writing improves.

Something I’ve found that is a little more ethereal is that I need motion to write. I can’t seem to get anything out in the morning until I’ve gotten up and gone somewhere. That might be biking to the grocery store and coming back, taking the bus to a coffee shop, or taking Ned to the dog park then stopping by a cafe on the way home. There’s something about the way my thoughts change while I am between places. Maybe it’s my restless nature, maybe it’s the inspiration of seeing people and things flowing past. I don’t know, but it makes a difference.

One element that I’m sure will comes as no surprise to anyone is that my best writing days involve coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I know this is no revelation. Coffee has been part of the intellectual and creative process for a very long time, dating back at least as far as the 17th century during the rise of the English coffee house. Coffee is often given a role in the rise of the enlightenment, and those are some serious credentials. It’s funny though, the enlightenment saw the rise of reasoning over other sources of knowledge. I’m not sure which of those categories creativity falls into. To me, it’s outside of the world of reasoning. You can’t argue with inspiration, it just comes or it doesn’t.

I do want to say that none of this is intended to diminish the importance of hard work. When professional authors say that nothing is more important than working hard, I believe them. There’s no substitute for sitting yourself down in front of that keyboard (or fountain pen) every damn day. I’ve just come to believe that the little rituals you place around this time, they matter too. Not everything can be explained. Some things you just have to accept.



1 Comment

  1. Nice post. Somewhere I read Harry Crews say that the most valuable asset a writer has is time. Using it well is the key. That might mean going back to a piece over and over before we get it moving or see where it should be going. Keep writing.

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