On Creativity

I once had a conversation about writing with Augusten Burroughs (EEE! I KNOW!). We agreed that there is an addictive rhythm to typing. When you’re completely immersed in the work, keys on a laptop are like piano keys – it’s not the words that are the expression, it’s the movement.

Laptops > notebooks, we agreed. Or at least, each serves a different purpose.

Words barely stick in my mind long enough to become affixed to an actual piece of paper. It would be like slathering the soggy, white Elmer’s glue I once used on my 4th grade science fair project all over my brain. I figure, that might be okay. So much of art is happenstance. My favorite of Robert Rauschenberg's paintings came from a stuffed goat head that he found on the side of the road. 

I have to admit that I resent Austin Kleon a little bit for pointing out that “there are too many opportunities to hit the delete key", but his book Steal Like an Artist has some great pointers around creativity. For example, working on a digital-to-analog loop - Augusten would probably dig that.

Really, the digital-analog loop has ended in some interesting work. Stephanie Barber copy/pasted a feed of YouTube comments from the music video “Night Moves”, which she then published as her own book. The comments have a beginning and an end - a physicality that removes the reader from an endless scroll.

Incorporating analog has the annoying affect of not being able to work just anywhere. Otherwise, I can write in an office, a car, coffee shop, classroom, airplane, park bench, you name it. And I still do. Other challenges arise too. Creativity is a whole extra person inside my body. She can be fickle, irritable, and totally introverted.

When I feel creative tunnel vision, I go to the bathroom. The easy explanations: 1.) small  2.) few distractions 3.) comfort without pants 4.) forces focus 5.) creativity is never interrupted by going to the bathroom. The deep explanations: it’s a place where no one else exists. After potty training, it's the one place that almost always promises solitude, promises relaxation, promises the safety to be my authentic self. The bathroom is my creative sanctuary. 

See Stephen King’s memoir On Writing: Not only does the door “close the rest of the world out,” he writes, “it also serves to close you in and keep you focused on the job at hand.”  

Sometimes creativity for creativity's sake is enough for me. 

Not always. In fact, not often.

I want validation, praise, someone to tell me, "You are so awesome. I know someone who would give you lots of money for that!" What actually occurs is fine tweezing. My professors used to say that critiques are the most important part of their courses. No matter what it is – a story, a painting, a project proposal, an ad campaign – two heads are better than just mine. Ten heads are better than two. The outsiders encourage that is often referred to as "killing the babies". Know when to keep. Know when to throw away. Kleon says it best in the last line of his book: “In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.” I've learned to love that. What I subtract in volume, I gain in clarity.