Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The myth of the creative person


One of the reasons I came to writing relatively late in life is because I never thought of myself as a creative person, an idea I explore in my guide to writing a novel.

Whenever artists and writers are portrayed in movies and on TV, they're always moody and flighty and bold and wacky and adventurous. Unbound by societal norms and twitchy with creativity that might spring forth at any moment.

I don't know many writers that fit this stereotype. To be sure, I know plenty of wacky writers, many of us can be social misfits at times and, and on the whole, sure, maybe writing types are a little more moody and flighty and in our own heads than the general population.

But you don't have to be this type of a person to write a novel.

One of the things that stop people from writing books is that they think they'll never think of enough ideas. And sure, it can feel daunting to imagine filling a book with nothing but whatever your brain can invent. But I truly believe the vast majority of people have sufficient creativity to write a novel if they only put their mind to it.

The thing people should really be worried about is whether they have the willpower to write a novel. That is the hard part. The setting aside of time, powering through when it stops being fun, and getting the whole thing written and edited.

That's the true common factor that binds writers. They work ridiculously hard.

Edison said success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Sounds about right.

Have you seen this idea of the "creative" person? Do you think of yourself that way?

Art: Lord Byron by Unknown






31 comments:

beckylevine.com said...

I do get what you're saying, and--probably as a teen, when I was starting to write--I had a problem with it. Alone time, I could totally do, but dark rooms, no money, and no food...no way. For me, I have to split out the different kinds of creativity. Writing, totally. Drawing, not so much. Brainstorming, well, if it's a story idea, yep. A new machine design, no. I'm actually laughing here, because if someone asked me if I were a creative person, my initial response might be...not really. Except I've been writing stories since I can remember...Self-perception is such a weird thing.

I'm glad you have realized your own creativity.

Bryan Russell said...

I believe in creativity, but it only comes to fruition with hard work. There is inspiration, first, but I sometimes think that creativity is more the process of realizing that inspiration as something concrete. And concrete takes a lot of work.

Meghan Ward said...

I don't know that you came to writing that late in life. You're still so young and you have four books out already!

I don't know ANY writers like that. All of the writers I know are extremely disciplined and extremely hard-working. You have to be to write a book, revise it, revise it again, revise it a third, fourth and fifth time, then write a second book, revise it, revise it again ...

Christi said...

I completely agree -- creativity happens because you are disciplined, not the other way around. Some people are certainly more creative than others, but creativity is a muscle that you exercise by using it over and over, even when you're not feeling inspired. The only writers that will win this game are the ones with the discipline to do everything involved and the humility to know when to try a different strategy.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Anyone can write a novel? ANYONE?

Alright mister, your membership to the super secret lair of writer-type people has been revoked. It states very clearly in the charter that all writers are to put forth and publicize the idea that creativity is a substance slightly rarer than plutonium and red diamonds, and that like said substances, it can only be mined and utilized by those having been trained in the proper artistic milieus (<--'scuse me, that was a sneeze).

Sheesh. You keep saying things like this and soon we'll have babies writing books, and soccer moms writing books, and teachers sneaking in a few paragraphs while the kids are on the playground.

Then, next thing you know, there's real effort involved, books being finished, success...

Where will it end?

Bess said...

I didn't think I was a "real" writer for a long time. If the first thing I put down on paper wasn't genius, then I must not have it in me, right? I didn't realize that creative writing is a craft that can be learned over years of practice. I also felt left out of the club by other writers talking about hearing their characters voices in their heads. My characters have never spoken to me. But inspiration is an amorphous thing and strikes everyone differently. For me, it comes out of observation and wondering, and, yes, from simply writing and seeing what happens. But you do have to write and write and write in order to finish the darn thing, even, like Christi said, when you're not feeling inspired.

Shawn said...

Why am I ALWAYS the contrarian here? Sheesh. I'm like the designated a-hole.

I'm Ayn Randian on this topic. I believe there are MAKERS, there are REMAKERS, and there are PARTAKERS.

Along the lines of Ayn Rand, I maintain that there are precious few "real" Makers. Thought originists. How many artists on the Pop Top 40 have written the song that got them there? Written their first ten songs that charted?

There are no shortage of talented Remakers.

If you are lumping Makers and Remakers together, then yeah. It's not so special a deal. Not so unicorny. Same way if you're going to package the men who have walked on the moon with everybody who ever wore a branded NASA badge.

Politics aside (please), Orson Scott Card's short story "Unaccompanied Sonata" had a profound effect on me. It made me question whether I was creating my art or just aping others.

Laura W. said...

To reply to Shawn:

In the same way that all writing is rewriting, all creation is re-creation. Even when a woman is creating a baby, which is pretty much the fundamental act of human creation, it's not a new creature. A baby is composed of genes rematched and remade -- "remixed" if you will -- from two people. And from their parents, and their parents before them. Does that make the baby any less of a new person when it's born? It's still a new thing.

To draw from deconstructionism as a rebuttal to your Ayn Rand, looking for the "real" maker or the "real" origin is useless. There is no origin, because everything can only be defined by comparison to something else. How can you define a donut hole? It's the absence of something. Like origin and creation.

As humans, our entire experience is made up from combinations of genes handed down to us through an accident of birth, plus all the people, places, experiences, and sensations we absorb along the way. The only original thing in all of that is how we interpret it all to make meaning -- and even then, there are people who think like us or interpret things in similar ways.

So talking about a creation's "originality" is rather useless. Creativity comes from the *impulse* to create. Whether you're remaking, remixing, synthesizing, or what-have-you, you're still creating a new thing that wasn't there before. The originality of that creation, and of creative people, isn't what defines them. What defines creative people is the impulse and drive to create and make new things. You can judge the relative value of the creations of Stephanie Meyer vs. J.K. Rowling, but both women are still creators. Both works still came from the same place, the same impulse to make new things that weren't there before.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well, I like to think of myself as creative, certainly, but I don't think people tend to refer to me in the "she's just so creative" hushed-tones manner...perhaps because they're frequently saying "What is wrong with you?"

Gjillian said...

There's a blog post floating around the internet somewhere that talks about the inevitability of fiction being written by computers. I know a few editors and agents who might enjoy working with a computer––push a button crank out a book. But the article made me want to run out to a bar, get roaring drunk, fall off a bar stool, get in a fist fight and then stagger home and write a few chapters. It worked for Hemingway, pretty sure it won't work for me, though.

And I love the visual of Lord Byron on this post. He was once described as mad, bad and dangerous to know.

I dunno. I guess I'm just a romantic.

Gjillian said...

There's a blog post floating around the internet somewhere that talks about the inevitability of fiction being written by computers. I know a few editors and agents who might enjoy working with a computer––push a button crank out a book. But the article made me want to run out to a bar, get roaring drunk, fall off a bar stool, get in a fist fight and then stagger home and write a few chapters. It worked for Hemingway, pretty sure it won't work for me, though.

And I love the visual of Lord Byron on this post. He was once described as mad, bad and dangerous to know.

I dunno. I guess I'm just a romantic.

laughing, loving, living... LIS said...

This was so accurate! I am creative and artistic, yes, but I certainly don't fit the typical "artist" stereotype. I'm neurotic, organized and rather mellow. I recently went on a date with a man who confessed halfway through that he was "disappointed because he thought I would be the shy writer type." Anyone who knows me there is NOTHING about me that will lead you to believe I'm shy - I guess he just heard "writer" and filled in the blanks himself...

Lost Carlson Rhoads said...

When you are different, yup, different, of the Minds Eye, people will seek what you have, and know. Otherwise, they would have it, and, it wouldn't be different.

jennifermhartsock said...

It is a challenge to stay true to my personality and not try to act "artsy." I enjoy the persona of being "an artist," but it is insincere from time to time.

Jennifer

Bruce Bonafede said...

Having spent about 40 years in the business world, I know creativity is not restricted to somebody in "the arts." I know it's true for other professions as well - teaching, medicine, law - but also for fields that aren't normally thought of as intellectual. I've known creative construction workers and creative fishermen. I think of creativity as quality, not an identity. That said, you can't practice the kind of stereotypical behavior (I call it "artsy-fartsy" behavior) you describe and keep a job. So people who can't bend their behavior to fit in tend to end up in the arts.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

As a workaholic, I definitely agree that hard work is important. I wish I could say that I always discipline myself to work hard on my fiction writing, but other work gets in the way. But I've made a commitment this year to make time for writing rather than just wait until I have more time, because I'll probably never have "more time". I just have to make do with the time I've got.

Peter Occhiogrosso said...

If anything, you understate the role of hard work and determination. What Edison actually said was, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

cinthiaritchie.com said...

Love this: The thing people should really be worried about is whether they have the willpower to write a novel. That is the hard part."
Totally!
Also, I don't think I'm any moodier or creative than the average person, I just wear my moodiness and creativeness on the outside of my skin inside of tucking it inside.
Cheers and happy writing.

E. Peterman said...

I was a journalist for years, and writing on deadline taught me that it's all about the work and getting things finished under less than ideal circumstances. While I find fiction writing incredibly challenging, the will to power through and write even when I don't feel like often restores my creativity. It's what summons the muse, so to speak. The creativity is just the spark — a really cool and important spark, but it doesn't matter if I don't show up and type!

E. Peterman said...

I was a journalist for years, and writing on deadline taught me that it's all about the work and getting things finished under less than ideal circumstances. While I find fiction writing incredibly challenging, the will to power through and write even when I don't feel like it is what fuels and restores my creativity. The creativity is just the spark — a really cool and important spark, but it doesn't matter if I don't show up and start typing!

Melinda Friesen said...

I totally disagree with you. Those of us who dance along the "normal" line are simply well trained. As Dexter's father trained him to function within a rigid set of guidelines, so have creatives been trained to be "normal." I'm with you; I used to make the comment, "I don't have a creative bone in my body." Now I know that wasn't true. I just never had a way of sharing what was going on in my head without feeling like a freak. I understand now the years and years of shallow and short term relationships because it's a lot of work to always be "on."

Lost Carlson Rhoads said...

Why did that neuron, go that way , instead of this way? Dunno, just did.
It's no myth, it went that way, instead of this way.
Not special, of course not.
Why did the the impressionists go to the bistro?
To speak with like kind? ( Ok, the Absinthe, wasn't bad either)
It's no myth, Madame Curie could light up a room, when she walked in. It was the figuring out, the testing and being there, that made the difference.
It all has to come from somewhere?
What about the fourteen year old boy that found a nice and easy way to test for certain types of cancer. ( those neurons?)
The myth, isn't in the figuring out of, its in the how, it was figured out.
Yes, it's all about showing up, every day at five AM, to figure it out, before the "real" work day begins.
Sixty five years, and counting? Thats, a hell of a lot of figuring out, gotta be good for something. My teacher, doctor, engineer friends are good company, and the figuring out, is just good fun.

Nora Lester Murad in Palestine said...

I have developed my intellectual and analytical side my whole life. I never thought about myself as creative. Now, when writing, I find myself approaching it as a technical task, which some aspects are. I have begun to realize that allowing writing to be creative is allowing myself to be creative, and that's about making myself whole. Deep stuff.

consumedbyhimblog said...

I never thought I'd be able to write full-time; at least not until I retired and had nothing else to do. I thought I'd go crazy from it.
But now I'm 22 and I'm kinda resenting having to go to my (part-time)job because I just want to sit at home and write. :)
People change.

Lori Schafer said...

If there's anything the modern era has taught us, it's that a writer needs to be as much a businessperson as an artist. Maybe creativity and hard work were enough at one time - they're not anymore.

For me personally - I never thought of myself as "creative" as it is usually defined. I was always just as much mathematician as linguist, and I certainly enjoy the concrete as well as the abstract. Does it matter? Do we have to self-identify as "artistic" types in order to create work worth reading?

Honestly, I think it's time we stop trying to pigeonhole ourselves and other people into these narrowly defined categories of who is artistic and creative and who is not. These don't have to be either/or characteristics. It is - simply put - stereotyping, and we, as writers, should be more than usually sensitive to the dangers of envisioning people as such one-dimensional characters.

Meg Wolfe said...

The Edison quote is usually "genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." From this we can infer that one doesn't have to rely on creativity if one is willing to do the work.

And it IS work, if it's any good. All the creativity in the world is meaningless without command of the craft needed to express it. Craft takes work: reining in the restless mind, learning how to plot, develop characters, build the story arc, edit, and now various forms of formatting and marketing.

All the creativity in the world is also useless unless one has something to say--an opinion, a point of view, a philosophy. Those things come to different people at different times of their lives.

Re the myth: one doesn't have to be quirky or "out there" to be creative, but being creative increases the likelihood of being quirky. It would be nice to see creative characters portrayed as completely normal, though, because there are surely plenty of them in real life.

Joe Moody said...

Self-discipline is the key but a novelist needs to tap into the creative right brain to truly succeed. Edison himself had a technique to tap his right brain for new inventions. The same technique can be used to effortlessly dissolve writer's block and form plot twists. For anyone interested, it's here.

Karen clayton said...

Yes, I always say that I am a creative person trapped in talentless body. I desperately try to sing, dance, and draw, but nope can't do that. At least not well. Now when it comes to acting and writing I'm okay. So yeah, I'm creative and I work really hard - but when it comes to talent in some areas I'm seriously lacking, but that's okay. At church, when I was growing up, we had a saying, "If God gave you a good voice, then sing loudly to show him how thankful you were and if God gave you a bad voice, then sing louder to punish Him for giving you a bad one. I always did like that quote. So, good ahead and stink it up if you have to - just have fun and do the best you can.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fruitloop, so I'm not sure if that counts but...yeah...I think a lot of writers can be animated people with grand ideas, quiet people with reserved contemplation or just regular people with ONE common trait: they are all good story tellers. If you can tell a story well...well, why bother about the personality?

Anonymous said...

Great post. Just one thing. Late in life? You're are still a young writer. I mean that as a compliment. And a very talented young writer. I've read your books and you know what you're doing.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, anon!

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