The Nature of Creativity

I’m currently reading This Shared Dream, by Kathleen Ann Goonan, the sequel to her marvelous science fiction novel In War Times. This Shared Dream proceeds more slowly than In War Times. It needs to, with many viewpoint characters and subplots, and especially because it gives the reader so much to think about.ThisSharedDream I was reading a section last night that got me thinking about why I write. There are many facile answers to the question of why one writes. The chapter of This Shared Dream I was reading was not about writing but about art, and about how the character allows her long-suppressed artistic talent to reawaken and through painting discovers hidden memories and parts of herself that had long been locked deep within her

It made me think about creativity in general and about freeing our creative self, whether it be through painting, sculpting, writing fiction, performing and/or composing music, or something else. There is such a wide range of creative activities that I firmly believe that everyone is creative in some way. The sad thing is that some people never discover and explore their creativity. That doesn’t mean that they don’t accomplish anything. They may be very successful in a career, may be active in community organizations, may lead productive lives. Nothing wrong with that. Many careers are built on creative endeavors. Many community activists are using their creativity in that work. But there are those who go through life never building on that spark of creativity that is hidden within them, begging to be let out but suppressed by all the “busyness” of daily life, always sensing that something is missing but never exploring deeply enough to discover what that something is and what to do about it.

Yet, as Goonan portrays in her novel, giving full rein to that creativity can unlock a hidden part of ourselves. When writers write, when artists paint, when composers produce beautiful melodies, they are drawing forth these things from a font deep within them. It’s somewhat akin to opening Pandora’s box. All sorts of things come out of it. All those crazy ideas that readers wonder how we got. Things that work when we play around with them and things that eventually get discarded as unworkable.

I write because I get a deep satisfaction from unlocking that box and letting the ideas flow out, to be put together in some sort of pleasing arrangement. I suspect that people whose area of creativity is very different from mine get that same sort of satisfaction, of drawing on the very depths of one’s being to produce a work of art of some sort.

This may be especially true of writers because we get to create worlds and populate them, to explore our characters’ psyches, to build bridges to other times and places, to depict horrors and plot paths to happiness.

Then again, I may be prejudiced because I’m a writer. I suspect that any creative person can talk about the ideas she derives from many sources but that sprout ultimately from the depth of her being.

People like Lynn Burr, who creates beautiful handcrafted Santas, collectibles that anyone would love to own.Santa doll-LynnBurr Visit her website, and you’ll see a wide assortment of Santa dolls, each one unique and all absolutely beautiful.

Or Nancy Ralston Strife, who sews gorgeous hand-sewn quilts of her own design. Don’t think for a moment that she doesn’t pour herself, her deepest being, into the crafting of these lovely quilts. Nancy's quilt

I could list many more among my personal acquaintances who express marvelous creativity in many different ways. Ultimately, I believe it doesn’t matter what it is that a person’s creativity produces, but how the creator latches on to that creativity to explore and structure his world. It takes courage, a willingness to expose at least to oneself things hidden deep within. The reward is great, not necessarily or even often in a monetary sense, but in the personal satisfaction one receives by finding completion as the creative process.


About E. Rose Sabin

Fantasy and science fiction author.
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6 Responses to The Nature of Creativity

  1. I’d like to believe all it takes is courage. That’s the easy part, frankly. For me, it takes reminding myself that I have goals. And that, in some sense, there are people counting on me to achieve them. Or at least people who would feel gratified if I succeeded.

    I read several years ago about a runner who was putting in 250 miles a week. It may have been Jeff Galloway–not sure. Anyway, a reporter reportedly asked him how that was possible. His response was something like this: “Almost anybody can do the running. The hard part is opening the door.”

    Right on, Jeff (or whoever)! It’s like that for me. The writing itself is fine, and fun. But some days it’s nearly impossible to sit down at my desk and get started. I don’t buy the notion that I’m supposed to be “driven” to do it…I’ve built two other careers and had exactly the same problem. If it’s a problem. So here’s my take: “being” creative is an easy copout. Doing the work means working, without a boss or social structure to keep you on track, to create a product for which you may or may not receive some form of long-delayed gratification.

    It’s good that the work itself is so enjoyable once I get going. Every day, a new leap of faith is required.

    In spite of that? Generally, most of the time, I’m having a ball with it. {8′>

    • Oh, yes, it isn’t easy. I didn’t mean to imply that it was. Quite the contrary. It takes work, it takes sticking to a goal, it takes pushing yourself to keep going when it seems that what you are working on will never work out. But I think one thing that prods us on through the hard part is the thrill of discovery and the joy when the writing or artwork or whatevever turns out to contain far more than we realized we were putting into it. As a writer I’m sure you must have had the experience of having readers find in your work ideas and meanings you never consciously put there, never realized they were there until a reader pointed them out.

  2. Carole L Esley says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, Elenora. I’ve thought about creativity ~ the hows and whys ~ often. A friend psychiatrist once told me that when we are focused on creative work, our brains go into a Zen – like state from which we emerge deeply refreshed, even though the body my be exhausted. I notice that when I am working in that state, I am not aware of the usual arthritic back pain. As to my own creativity, until I met my artist husband, I didn’t think I had a creative bone in my body. Thankfully, by association and his encouragement, I discovered I did. I too believe we all have that, we need only to have a situation/experience that nudges it out of us ~ whether like a bolt of lightening or a slow, unrelenting morphing. As you say, it is hard work and that flame requires tending. As best we can, we must organize our days and responsibilities so that we come to our work with energy ~ physical and spiritual ~ to give to our work. As to gratifications, I find that I must focus on pleasing myself ~ because if I don’t the joy dies …. and I become a mechanic. The high wire act is, when working on a commissioned photograph, to please the client and myself.
    Thanks for putting up this and starting the discussion.

  3. Nancy says:

    Thanks, Elenora, for this thoughtful post and for the kind mention. It is hard work and it does, as David says, take courage, courage to try and to continue when things aren’t working out the way you planned and courage to put your creations out there for the world to see. But ultimately, creating is thrilling as well.

    • Your quilts are so lovely, Nancy. And I, who can’t sew at all, am in awe of the beautiful and painstaking work. I never intended to imply that being creative doesn’t take work. It also requires learned skills, and it does also take the courage to put your work out there for the world to see and pass judgment on. But the need and desire to create is the foundation on which the hard work and the effort put into learning the appropriate skills rest.

  4. Elenora, your blog is wonderful. Reading it is as marvelous an experience as reading your novels. And thank you for mentioning This Shared Dream, and the re-awakening of Painting Woman in a character who has not painted in decades as she connects with her past. I agree that all of us are creative–it is one of the things that make us human. Even when one is a professional artist–perhaps, even more so–it is part of the territory to be judged; to feel judged; yet the time of creation must be judgment-free. Learning the cultural rules and limitations of an art form is important at some point, if only to realize that by breaking them will one stand out, but in the beginning, it is important to provide an unjudged space. All children, and adults, need time in which they are free to create, or to play, without rules.

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