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Musings on Creativity

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

All of us are skilled in something. All of us are talented in something. There is a difference. Skilled is achieved through thousands of hours. Talented is innate, how our brains are designed.

All of us, however, are not creative, or “a creative,” a new term. We value, honor, even adore the creatives, as if they are a class of people. From ancient times they were seen this way. They either had special gifting, a muse that whispered to them, or a spirit than came upon them, or a form of insanity. Today we honor them but are also at times fearful of them. The noncreatives set the creatives apart. Some of us aspire to be a creative. Some of us distrust the creatives.As such we Christians lack a theology of creativity. This article from Christianity Today addresses that, or at least adds to a conversation about it.

Even after writing eight novels and several plays, I don’t know if I really fit into the category of a “creative.” I can map out a 300-page novel in my head and execute it; whether it’s really good is another matter. I learn with each new one. I also try new things. I began my current Work in Progress last fall and sort of wrote myself into a corner; I set it aside to pursue a new idea for NaNoWriMo in November and eventually finished it in July.

By the way, NaNoWriMo is great for word dumps, something we need and that works for me. NaNoWriMo is not great for creating readable, elegant prose and compelling stories of 80,000 words or so (publishers’ desired novel length). That takes about a year to do, in my experience, if not longer. Now I’m trying to write myself out of that corner; that means focus and mapping and outlining and trial and error.

Creativity disguises itself as a rush of inspiration, a manic flurry of the pen or brush (or fingers on a keyboard, musical or digital), a series of epiphanies, a flash of output, a euphoria. What it really looks like, and is: long hours by oneself, depressions and discouragement, odd looks from friends, turned down invitations, craving a room of one’s own, failure, rare successes, lack of profits from one’s work, and a compulsion to keep writing or painting or composing even when you feel like you’re just choking the world with one more book or composition (Annie Dillard’s phrasing).

Now, to be more specific. Creativity can be thought of us divergent and convergent. Divergent: coming up with ideas. Convergent: making the ideas work, or applying them, or finding solutions. I just ran across a site with top interview questions to share with my students. One of them: How would you weigh a plane without a scale? Oh, my. My first answer is to weigh its parts, or know the weight of its parts, and add them together. So I looked it up, and found out that it’s a physics question and would require some calculations about air pressure or thrust, etc., and I’m not skilled in that. In other words, I’m not as good at the convergent as the divergent, or so I think.

In the classic book on creativity, Flow, the writer also says creativity is dependent on how one is accepted by the audience or public. Something can be creative but just not appreciated, which is also the argument of Derek Thompson in Hitmakers; a work must be familiar enough to be accepted but unique enough to be seen as novel. A fine balance, I would say.

In the end, I think it is fruitless to ruminate on whether one is creative or not. The Nike cliche: Just do it, applies here. If one is gifted, return the gift in service to God and for the good of others: their edification or at least their enjoyment (a gift in itself) or both.

Don’t get me wrong; fiction is not for direct edification; fiction that tries to be will more than likely end up as pretty bad fiction. Any edifying (by that I mean morally challenging, raising questions to ponder, opening doors to human empathy and understanding) by fiction should be indirect or a by-product.

To Kill a Mockingbird would be the best popular example I can think of here. We embrace the story of three unsupervised children in a sleepy, segregated Southern town during the Depression. We confront ourselves and our prejudices and lack of concern for others in the events that swirl around them. Focus on the story and characters, and the edification will take care of itself.

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