Creativity Redux

Recently I came across a quotation by Mary Papas: Writer’s block is when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. I thought it was very clever and very insightful, and I wish I had said it myself.  In effect, it is quite true.

It led me to think about the creative process. I’m the only author I know. Beyond what I may have read about what other authors say about writing practice (which is usually distilled to a squiblet suitable for Google quotes), I don’t really know what other writers do. Some fields of writing probably aren’t susceptible to the same techniques as creative writing, although I think it would be interesting to see.

I talk to myself. I have conversations as if I were one of my characters, and I do it out loud, because for me, the flow of words carries the momentum of creativity. Conversation is spontaneous and we say the most surprising and amusing things when we can be spontaneous. In my book ‘Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell’, the chapter Be Still and Know That I Am God is practically a transcript of a conversation I had as one of the characters in that story the morning I wrote it. A single thought, and a goofy one at that, taken out for an airing, turned itself into a very funny and poignant tale. It took thirty minutes to have the conversation and about ninety minutes to remember how it went and write it down. You can listen to this chapter being read on YouTube, at:

As I thought about Mary Papas’ quote, I realized that my method works for me, but anyone seeing me in action would think I’m nuts. You couldn’t use it, for example, for legal writing unless you like being held for contempt of court, and I don’t think scientific writing will know much joy either, witnessing a conversation between two protons, call them Pat and Mike. Still, the points those types of writing make might be the product of imagination and a lack of conventionality. The Earth really does revolve around the Sun. I’ve seen its passport.

Creativity is about being a little crazy and colouring outside the lines. From an early age we’ve been encouraged to conform, to think like others, to stay within the lines or face the kindergarten teacher’s glare of concern. If we are too inventive, our friends may take exception, so what Henri Matisse said about creativity takes courage is quite true. To be creative we want to explore within, yes, and be prepared to be ridiculous, and to let that be okay, even if others say it isn’t.

When I’ve written about creativity in the past, I’ve quoted people renowned for their creative spirit. They talk about expanding limits, searching deep inside, giving up standard ideas, etc. The only quotation about Creativity that ever made sense was attributed to Albert Einstein: Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun.

A creative person, whether a painter, writer, or musician, can’t ignore the painful aspects of the past, but the life in his or her creation will come from being a little nuts, having a lot of fun, doing the unexpected, and colouring outside the lines. This applies to just about anything we do—raising children, who grow bored with routine, working a 9-5 job, which is dreadfully routine, or maintaining relationships, which often perish from the routine.

I admit, it’s fun to be unconventional—life is full of surprises. I see the effect it has on those around me. The people who work in reception in this motel (dreadfully routine job, despite the guests) have a good laugh when someone says does something unexpected: I couldn’t say this to you this morning, and I’m certainly not going to say this to you this evening, so I might as well say this to you now! Good afternoon!

However, my joy for to-day was to tell the young woman from housekeeping, who has just come by to swap out the towels and empty the rubbish that I admire her and her hard work so much that I have spent the weekend creating quality trash for her, and I have put in this top-quality plastic container, just for her.

If you listen closely, you can still hear her snickering.

Paul TN Chapman
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