How does creativity happen? What is its wellspring? How to harness it effectively and efficiently?
In short, and put more colourfully, how the hell do you capture the muse, strap her down to a chair so that she can do your bidding whenever the mood takes you?
My writer friends will recognise these questions if only subconsciously. I say subconsciously because people who are used to creating constantly and prolifically often don’t take the time to ask these questions. They just do what they do and on it goes, taking things for granted.
However, life will insist on slapping you around the chops every now and again. When that happens, it can feel like your creativity has been subsumed by a tsunami of anxiety, confusion and fear. Not the best emotional state to be in which to call forth creativity.
I’ve learnt that lesson at great cost during the last 18 months. Life turned around to give me a slap so hard that my hair fell out and I’m still suffering other effects of post traumatic stress. The process of trying to absorb the impact and let it settle in an appropriate area of my psyche so that it doesn’t define me has played fast and loose with my creativity. Sometimes it has felt like the urge, the hunger, the will to create has all but disappeared and I’m never going to get it back. If, like me, much of your life and sense of identity has been defined by your power to create, that’s a very scary state of affairs.
In order to get back to an even keel, I find it especially pertinent to ask the questions that opened this post. Understanding the provenance of creativity helps to quiet the sense of panic, helps to anchor me and enables me to feel that things are within my control.
So when I chanced on this wonderful and funny video by John Cleese on the nature of creativity, I was intensely curious about what he had to say. He sums it up beautifully.
He pretty much says the same thing – “the open and closed” modes of creative receptivity – as Dorothea Brande did when she wrote about “the conscious and subconscious” in her book Becoming a Writer in 1934. If you are any kind of artist, you should read this book!