29 May 2012, 7:24am
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Creativity Project, part 5

Has it really been nearly a month since part 4? Man, I need to suck less.

Quick recap: I’m using this article: Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking as a springboard to talk about my own creative processes. What’s more, I’ve decided to wrap it up in this last post, since 9 & 10 are pretty thin.

9. There is no such thing as failure.

I hate this one because it’s bullshit and it has nothing to do with creativity. Yeah, you can learn from failure, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t failed. The trick is to not be afraid of failing, not to spackle over it as though it never happened and never will.


10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.

I’d have to say that asserting our own experiences as neutral until we give them meaning is pretty silly, but it’s a clumsy way to make a half-decent point. Every individual has unique experiences and those experiences create filters that profoundly affect our creative choices. Should we write a fight scene as a rousing show of strength or as a tragic outcome of human folly? Our own experiences directs those decisions and helps us create work that’s uniquely our own.

11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.

This part of the article is a little incoherent, but let’s gloss that over.

When I face a problem that needs a creative solution, I will often try to imagine how a more successful writer would fix it. How would a best-seller set up this scene? How would a pro handle this dialog? (I did the same thing with my social life for many years–how would a self-confident person behave? was my inner dialog on many a Saturday night.)

The article writer talks about this in general terms but gets it wrong. Don’t try to imagine the work being done by random people or amateurs. Imagine it being done by skillful pros capable of surprising choices.

12. Learn to think unconventionally

The subject header here is okay but the text in the article is wrong. Yes, we will need to push beyond the so-called “normal” thinking that will lead people to the usual solutions to basic problems. No we do not have to teach ourselves to make random associations or whatever. That’s now how it works.

This one is important: Creative solutions come from going beyond the normal, but that can be done in a methodical way. Many folks think writing jokes is about a lightning-in-a-bottle talent for inspiration, but in fact joke writers will often start with long lists of possible subjects, potential angles, and likely punchlines. They’re constructed like furniture.

For me, creativity works the same way. I don’t solve creative problems (and that’s what books are–narratives that can only be advanced through creative solutions) through some mystical skill of pulling together random things. In fact, I make long lists of possible choices, including the boring, stale ideas that have become cliche. I cross off the dull ones, then I cross off the ones that don’t work, then I keep adding to the list.

Telling me I should look for useful patterns in unrelated work is like telling me I should crave salty foods: I do that all the time anyway. What I need to be reminded to do is consume information from a wide variety of sources.

The basic point is that creative solutions don’t come from a different channel than the boring, cliche ones: they come after you’ve gone beyond the cliche.

And that’s the end of this particular blog project. I’m a little disappointed in it, mainly because the original article didn’t spur me to genuinely interesting insights. Besides, there’s been a sudden flux of new pop-non-fic about creativity and I feel as though I’m stuck in the mud while others are going farther and seeing new things. Hopefully, I can revisit the subject at another time.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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