Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“The Creative Problem”

Working on a small piece about creativity and was just wondering if you could give me a word, phrase or sentence on what you think about when you hear the term "the creative problem."
Last night I began reading, for the first time, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. In the preface to the second edition she touches on this very issue:
“Everything must have a beginning… and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.… Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested by it.”
In her case, a dream, or perhaps better a nightmare. In my case, sometimes a dream; sometimes a deliberate plan.

The creative problem, if there is one, must be individual; different folks have different problems. Virgil Thomson used to say, sit down at your writing-desk every morning at the appointed hour. If your Muse doesn't show up, it's her fault; you've discharged your end of the agreement.

I find it's better to say Three hours every day, or whatever, rather than Nine to noon every day, or whatever. If the latter, then when nine o'clock has gone by and I haven't gone to work, I tend to say Oh well, I'll sit down at nine o'clock tomorrow. Whereas if the former, even if by now it's one o'clock in the afternoon, there are still three hours left somewhere in the day, better get to work.

But there are also general creative problems, and one of them is historical: the problem of creating Something New. This isn't really a problem, because it has no solution: it's impossible to create something new (see Shelley, above). That was a Modernist injunction conceived out of rebellion against history; it was continued as a marketing device.

Another general creative problem: the amount of distraction today, far worse I think than formerly. You really do almost need A Room of One's Own, as Virginia Woolf said. Without telephone, though I find Wikipedia a useful desk tool when I'm writing.

My own creative tools, or methods — things I do to get started, or re-started:
Tell a story.
Make a map.
Arrange a few objects.
Re-read my journal.
Look at a random sentence in a random book.
Listen to a random phrase in a random recording.
In my case, it doesn't often help to look at photos, pictures, out the window; that generally distracts me rather than inspires me. But of course if I'm writing about travels that's another matter.

Of course there come times when for weeks on end you're simply too busy with other things, or mundane things, to be “creative,” which is why even The Eastside View falls silent for weeks at a time. Doesn't mean I'm not thinking, or listening, or looking, or lurking.