At the beginning of the week, I had the idea to post a humorous article about Columbus Day, both as an experiment and because I felt like being silly for a moment. The experiment, in terms of quality writing, didn’t produce the result I’d hoped. I would like to discuss this experience as part of the ongoing series on Creativity.
I posted my ridiculous article, ‘Interludium’, to see what the public reaction would be to a change in style and presentation. Written in the ‘factual but ridiculously presented’ style, done so well by the writer Will Cuppy, and the concert comedienne Anna Russell, I offered some silly thoughts about Christopher Columbus, and included a possibly off-colour statement about his three girlfriends, Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria (who may or may not have been a nun). I suggested his weakest subject in school had been geography, because he docked in the Bahamas, called the place San Salvador, then told Queen Isabella of Spain he’d discovered a new way to India.
Ridiculous, as I said.
I withdrew the article six hours after posting it. Only three or four people had read it, and no one had commented on it, which relieved my discomfort somewhat. I’m not uncomfortable writing nonsense—my book, ‘Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic biographies of Directors Errant’ is full of nonsense, as I meant it to be. I was uncomfortable about ‘Interludium’ because I knew it wasn’t well written, and the style in which I had written it was neither well developed nor original. The whole project had been done with little care for quality. It was an experiment with an unexpected result.
It told me something about myself as a person who is a writer—I take writing seriously, I have standards, limits, and integrity about my work. I can’t just dash off an article or story, I have to take time. Although I have always known these things, the experiment emphasized qualities I might have begun to take for granted. For me, this was a reminder not to be complacent or arrogant about what I do.
Sometimes we do a thing so frequently or repetitively that we create on ‘autopilot’. We go from ‘creating’ to ‘mass-producing’ our work. For some (and this has been often observed in entertainers), success is the beginning of failure because having succeeded, they need no longer make an effort. Flexibility and the willingness to try new approaches and new styles keep the creative spirit, and the creation, alive. Complacency kills it. Some popular writers lose their readership after a number of books because the stories have become formulaic—you know what’s going to happen, and when. There are no surprises.
Experimentation is important if a creative person is to grow through his/her work. Not every experiment is ‘successful’—some can be flat-out embarrassing—but each is rich in information. You may find that a particular style of writing, painting, or comedy, is generally popular and works for someone else, but it may not be right for you. Perhaps it simply isn’t right at the moment. You may discover you haven’t found a suitable way to present your new idea to a receptive public. You might even learn that although the style and presentation are right, you have the wrong audience.
None of this is to suggest you shouldn’t try, or that you shouldn’t set out with confidence.
Before committing time and resources to a new project, a metal smith or a painter spends considerable time making study sketches—maybe hundreds! The composer, the poet, the novelist, fills notebooks with new ideas and their many elaborations. Much of this work is often discarded as junk. The artist must be convinced the idea is sound, workable, appealing, and within reach. S/he can comfortably and confidently proceed when there has been a marriage of restraint and disinhibition, and a balance struck between daring and recklessness.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Alexander Pope (1709)
If you enjoyed reading this, please take a look at my eBooks on Amazon.com:
Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell: http://amzn.to/1iGMFUp
Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic Biographies of Directors Errant: http://amzn.to/1nPvqoc
The Inn of Souls: http://amzn.to/1lD7xjJ