On Creativity

I participated in a writing workshop a few years back. One of the ice-breaker activities was the assignment: think about creativity. Specifically, we considered these three questions:

  1. In your own words, define creativity.
  2. Where does it come from?
  3. How does it work?

I found this exercise deceptive in it’s simplicity. At first, I figured it would be just some quick answers: a few ham-handed words and done. But the more I mulled over these three questions, the more expansive my answers became. Thoughts percolated as I wrote. They came faster than my sluggish hands could record them. I was in the moment. I was in “the flow.” When I came back to my sense, here’s what I had:

1. In your own words, define creativity

Creativity is the ability to access the inaccessible portions of our consciousness and our subconscious…which together form the huge sandbox in which creativity plays. Creativity synthesizes seemingly unrelated concepts/constructs/ideas into new and cohesive creations which are greater than the sum of their parts.

2. Where does it come from?

Creativity originates in the elusive center of sentience. It comes from one’s awareness of the world (existence) and one’s place within it (individuality). Once this awareness is manifest, creativity is born of the fundamental drive to fashion meaning and order out of the myriad dissociative moments and events that make up the everyday world. As creativity exposes meaning, it flows from the desire to not only shape the world, but also to change it in a unique and meaningful way. It is no wonder that when humans construct myths and religions, one of the most important and fundamental activities of any deity is that of creation.

3. How does it work?

Creativity works by allowing us to see in a way that exists outside of reality. If we think about it, being a creative person means dancing upon that spider web of a line between reality and illusion, between sanity and madness. Taken at its very basic nature, inventing stories is tantamount to imagining a world that doesn’t exist…and then proclaiming it does. In some circles, one might be called “crazy” for saying such a thing. But how do we conjur in such a way? How does creativity allow us dance upon that web? In all its mystery, creativity works by granting us access to the part of our being/essence/mind/spirit (insert your metaphysical construct of choice here) which is normally inaccessible: the part of us that possesses the ability to conceive beyond mundane (read: sentient) perception.

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So there they are, my snap-shot opinions. Your results may vary. In fact, why not try to see just how varied your results could be? Have a go at working on your own answers to these deceptively simple questions. Once you start unravelling your thoughts, you may be surprised at where they take you.

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."

The Word-Nursery

Being a part of the Inked Voices world means being part of a community. The myriad opportunities offered through the website are valuable and engaging. But the most valuable asset is the people. At the core, a writing community- whether online or “in the real world”- is driven by the people who participate. The connections we make, the effort we give, and the trust we establish with other writers all conspire to drive our growth as authors.

As writers, we spend a lot of time alone in our heads. We think. We write. We edit. But for all this alone time, we benefit from sharing our words with others. Enter the critique groups. Critique groups are the nursery for our creative growth, a place where our nascent ideas flourish and where we help others usher their bourgeoning thoughts into creative maturity.

I believe in the power of critiques, both for the critiquer and the critique-ee. When we share our work and let it take those first few tentative steps into the world, we change it. By sharing our evolving work we embark upon an important step. Critiques are an essential tool in allowing our work to flourish. We ask for feedback and opinions. We transform our solitary endeavor into a social one. Through critiques we discover the impact and shortcomings of our budding words. The beauty of a critique group is the wide ranging opinions we receive. And the key word here is “opinions.” One of the missteps of a writer new to critique groups is taking every bit of feedback as law. The feedback is meant as a guide, not a hard edit. We need to read through all the thoughts and suggestions and use what feels right, what makes sense. We expand our repertoire from the inside out.

Alternately, giving a critique is a valuable endeavor. When we read someone else’s work with a critical eye, we simultaneously hone our writing skills. By recognizing plot holes, weak characterizations, and clunky writing in other works we are better able to begin seeing them in our own. We get a feel for new writing styles, approaches, and visions. We expand our repertoire from the outside in.

As members of Inked Voices–or any critique group–we have an amazing resource at our disposal: community. But that resource only works if we use it. So by all means, join a group. Join a few. But once you’ve joined, participate. Submit your work for critiques. Read what other writers feel about your words. Learn from them. But just as important, take the time and effort to read and critique other stories. Take advantage of the word-nursery and allow your stories–and others’–to grow, flourish, and mature.

John Caruso
For as long as John can remember, creativity has bubbled through his life. From his days as a young boy recording off-the-cuff "radio plays" on an old Sears portable cassette recorder to starting his own photography business to playing tin whistle in a Pogues/Waterboys cover band to writing two novels in search of a publisher, John has been delighted by all endeavors creative. Even a 20+ year detour into the nine-to-five world of not-for-profit education and outreach couldn't deter him from seeing the beauty in everyday moments and easily-overlooked details. Finding art in the mundane is his daily quest, and one which can produce some extraordinary truths.
Currently, John is teaching creative writing to elementary and high school students, editing a daily newsletter for employees of a major pet food company, and writing his weekly ImPROMPTu posts for the Inked Voices' group of the same name. He's photographing both for art's sake and for commercial ends. He's shooting a second cookbook. And somewhere in the moments in between he's writing a book on "everyday creativity."