Archives for July, 2012
"You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story." Writer Anne Lamott continues, "You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. "But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.” From her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Creativity researcher R. Keith Sawyer, PhD describes one kind of "beads" Lamott uses: "She takes index cards everywhere, knowing that small bits and pieces of dialogue or character traits or events might come to her at any time.
Actor, playwright, and screenwriter Zoe Kazan was inspired in part to write her movie "Ruby Sparks" by the story which became the play and movie musical "My Fair Lady." "I've always really been interested in the Pygmalion myth and both what it has to say about creativity and what it has to say about relationships between men and women," Kazan said in an interview. "I'd been thinking about what I would want to do with that if I was going to write on that theme, and one morning I woke up and Calvin and Ruby were in my head. So, like Calvin, I woke up with a dream, and wrote it down." The basic story, as noted by reviewer Roger Ebert, is that a novelist named Calvin (played by the dynamic Paul Dano) "had the misfortune to write, in his late teens, a book that was loved and treasured by just about everyone. He's been blocked ever since." But then he has a series of dreams about a young woman, Ruby, starts writing about her, and she magically shows up in his life in the flesh, as the saying goes.
"People often avoid the uncomfortable uncertainty of novel solutions regardless of potential benefit." That quote comes from the Forbes magazine article Managing The Psychological Bias Against Creativity by Todd Essig, who notes the situation where "You come up with a great new idea at work, or at home. "Or a political leader actually tries something 'new and different' when faced with a previously intractable problem. But then, rather than grateful acceptance, or even a fair hearing, the idea is squashed, ridiculed, or otherwise ignored." New research, he says, "empirically documents how our resistance to uncertainty makes the 'old ways' far stickier than they should be given the practical benefits of creative, new solutions. "Once again, the biases built into our minds leave us simultaneously moving in opposite directions; we like creativity but avoid creative ideas because creative ideas are too, in a word, creative."
Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi declared creative people, based on his extensive studies, are "Both extroverted and introverted, needing people and solitude equally." [From my earlier post The Complexity of the Creative Personality.] I'm not so sure how widely that applies. As an introvert myself, I don't experience much urge to be extroverted. And, I have been drawn to read and quote from the interviews of actors and other artists who say they are introverted, but they don't generally indicate they are also extroverted. But many actors, for example, say they are introverted or shy or sensitive - or these qualities are ascribed to them by reporters - and it isn't clear how much of a distinction they are making between these traits.
Critics and reviewers can help us find more art to enjoy, and better appreciate the creative process behind it. But some critics also discount and disparage forms of creative expression that do not match their personal tastes and values. One critic I have really appreciated is Sister Wendy Beckett, known mostly as Sister Wendy, a nun from a British monastery, who shared her art history erudition in the PBS program Sister Wendy's American Collection, and was a pleasure to watch for her passion and wealth of art related stories. When I want to know if a movie is worth seeing, I often read a review by my favorite film critic Roger Ebert, who is generally literate and sensible. But in a post of hers, author G. Willow Wilson notes that Ebert's "vehement disdain for video-games is well-documented."
Do we need to invest exceptional levels of time and attention in becoming experts before we can make significant creative contributions? One of the key ideas of author Malcolm Gladwell is that “outliers” on the upper end of intelligence, ability and achievement have engaged in about 10,000 concentrated hours of practice and study in a specific knowledge area. From my post Outliers and developing exceptional abilities. Malcolm Gladwell is author of Outliers: The Story of Success. But a new article by entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain, the founder of World Innovation Institute (among other credits) writes that while this may be "an interesting thesis" and perhaps true earlier, it may not apply "in today’s world of growing exponential technologies."
Creative thinking is a vital element in healthy and growing people and cultures. As The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity puts it, "We live in a society where those who do not creatively innovate risk failure in any of several domains of life." The book adds that "Legendary thinkers throughout time, from Aristotle to Einstein, have pondered what it means to be creative. "There are still debates, after more than six decades of intensive research, on how to measure, utilize, and improve it." One of the most widely used evaluations of creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which includes scores on four scales:
Do you ever find yourself waylaid or compromised in your creative work on account of disrupting trains of thought and anxieties? It happens to most of us. Author and journalist Daniel Smith notes in an interview about his new book "Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety" that he has been writing professionally for more than a decade but has "always found the process to be singularly painful." He added, "Writing this book had its crappy moments, too (there are always crappy moments with writing), but overall I had a great deal of fun." [From Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Jeff Glor, CBS News.] In his interview for NPR, Smith makes an interesting distinction that fear "is an appraisal of danger, whereas anxiety is a feeling state that's evoked when fear is stimulated.
“To begin…To begin…How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. So I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana nut. That’s a good muffin.” That is fictional writer 'Charlie Kaufman' [played by Nicolas Cage] in the movie "Adaptation" by the real screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It's a great film about the kinds of insecurities, anxieties and distractions that can so often affect us as creative people. What is going on with procrastination? We feel inspired and passionate about creating something, so why do we procrastinate and distract ourselves away from doing our creative work? Creativity coach Lisa A. Riley describes a common scene for many creative people facing a blank screen or page or canvas: "So you’ve decided to get an early start, wake before the rest of the world begins their day and be productive. ... You sit down in front of the computer facing the stark emptiness of your blank screen.