Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Free Yourself! Throw Out The Lists! Just Write!

....just don't ask me to read and applaud what you come up with. 

OK, let me backtrack a touch here, or none of this will make sense.

At this time of the year, it's a very popular thing to decide that one is going to "free" oneself to be "truly creative."  Sounds terrific, doesn't it? Free yourself. Quit standing in your own way. Quit telling yourself you "have" to do things a certain way for them to be "right."
All that stuff sounds truly enlightened. It sounds like an ideal way to create. Just sit down...and let yourself fly. What happens will be from the heart, and pure, and beautiful!!!!

If I've seen one expression of this sentiment, I've seen a dozen.
And every single one of them grates on my nerves like nails on a blackboard. (Or a plastic knife on Styrofoam, which is even worse. Trust me on this.)

Why is that?
It's because proclaiming that to the wrong audience is pure poppycock.
It's not only a lie...it's a lie that can devastate the very creativity it's trying to free.
At the very least, it encourages--yea, practically demands--mediocrity.
It baptizes it and calls it brilliant.
And it's a disgrace.

Now, this may puzzle you.
You may come away from that statement thinking I just don't believe in creativity.
That I find it threatening in some fashion that people are willing to toss away rules and just "fly." That somehow, because I make so much of my living on the other side of the desk, I've lost the joy of pure creation and want everyone to fit in a "box."

None of that is true, no matter what you might think at first.
As a matter of fact, I'm a great fan of creativity.
I'm just not a great fan of ignorant "creativity."
Of which we have so many examples in the publishing world now, it hurts to talk about them.

A word to the creatively wise--or those of you who would be--then, certainly seems in order.
What these sentiments don't tell you is the crux of the matter.
Which is that creativity, in order to be truly productive and to end with something worthwhile...
...needs a bit of structure.

Stop screaming. I promise, it's not gonna hurt as much as you think. 

The hard, grownup truth of the matter is that you are not creative despite the structure within which you work; you are, more often than not, more creative because of that same structure.

Michelangelo splattering paint in general patterns on the Sistine Chapel might have been creative. But it wouldn't have been awe-inspiring, edifying, and instructive--not to mention holy work--the way it came about when he planned out what he was going to do and was willing to spend those months on his back making it happen.

In other words...overall, for most creativity, a structure is a help, not a hindrance. In fact, most of the time, it's the only way that creativity gets channeled to bring about a successful  and truly beautiful result.

If you've been told otherwise, you've been lied to.
And I don't care how far up the creative ladder the person was who told you that.
Because they lied.

Deliberately? Nope. 
More than likely, they truly believe what they're telling you.
But many of these  brilliant, accomplished people are guilty of forgetting one thing: whom they're talking to. Because if you're a brilliant, accomplished person, and you're talking to newbies, you may forget that you're a long way from being in their shoes anymore.
And that's the problem.

Had someone told you, as a beginner, that you should just sit down, ignore all the structures and rules and potential labor-saving advice out there, and allow yourself to "fly"...you probably wouldn't have become a brilliant, successful, and accomplished member of your profession.
(Maybe you tried it, in fact, and discovered the hard way that it didn't work!)

That's why it pays to remember that  the ability to do what you do now, to use your creativity to its fullest extent, didn't just fall out of a tree and hit you in the head.
You had to seek it out. You had to learn it.
And, to a great extent, what you sought and had to master was the structure that would enable your work to see the greatest chances for success.

Think about it.
If you're a novelist, what's the best way for your story to see success?
Is it via 90,000 words of free verse?
Is it conveyed well in 300 pages of self-illustrated haiku?
Is it told in newspaper columns, Tweets, or Facebook posts?
Of course not.
It's in the form of a book. With chapters. With scenes. With conflict. With characters who show certain traits, talk a certain way, believe a certain way, and will portray your story in a certain way. For readers who read a certain way and like their stories to unfold a certain way.

In other words, folks...in a structure.
In a shape.
In a format.
Something that requires thought, not just raw emotion, unfettered "freedom," or counter-intuitive "brilliance."

So by all means, free yourself to do your  best work...whatever that takes, and however you can do it.  Don't be afraid to be creative. Don't be afraid to take a few risks.
But at least have respect for the lay of the land before you attempt to circumnavigate it.
And don't perpetuate this ignorant lie that creativity without thought or structure is somehow "purer" and "better" and more noble.

It's not. It's just self-delusion.
And the sooner you discard it as the counterfeit coin it is...

the sooner you'll be really creative this year.



Patty said...

I LOVE this post, Janny! Absolutely true!

Janny said...

Patty, you are so good for me. :-)