A friend’s posting on Facebook lingered with me. It was a quote by Maya Angelou. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” As I read, I could hear the words come alive. I’d heard Angelou in person at the University of California/Irvine and had never forgotten her rich, resonating voice.
I was familiar with sayings such as, “the more you write, the better you get/or the easier it gets” and “as a writer you must keep writing.” I usually applied these ideas to writer’s craft, not creative process. Maya Angelou’s statements made me wonder. Does creativity grow like craft?
After I thought about it, her words made sense. The more you work with plot and character and story – the more you create – the more creative you can become. That through the process of writing a story and then more stories, you discover more angles, more shifts to plot, and more character quirks. You find inventive ways to make the reader feel and identify with a character. You’re more observant and sharper with your story. Your curiosity is set in motion as to motivations, causes and effects. The why, the how. Your skill with words and the way you weave them grows.
These concepts blend with building your craft and using the techniques in Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. (See my “Writing” page for September 1st and 15th.) Cleaver’s message is to always check yourself – especially if you get stuck – to make sure your story or novel has conflict (want and obstacle), action, resolution, emotion (character’s worries, hopes, fears) and that you’re showing more than telling. (The acronym CARES is a good mnemonic for this checklist.) You’re applying craft as you’re creating plot and characters. The two go together. As to which comes first? To me, they’re partners.
CRaft + CReativity = Story … or … CReativity + CRaft = Story
Sometimes the story we are writing rolls out of us and other times we plod. Creativity is a combination of inspiration and perspiration, and as long as we are willing to work, something can happen. So we work, we worry, we get sad, we get happy.
Another quote by Maya Angelou about writing also made me think. “… When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'”
One of the nine muses dropping by with inspiration is one way to look at creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, offers up an idea from the ancient Romans. Her words, paraphrased, “There’s a genius out there who is assigned to me at birth and if I show up for work, so will he.”
Having a genius is different from being a genius. I like the thought of having a creative partner, a genius, who is always there. I agree with Gilbert. I have to keep my part of the bargain and report for work. If I don’t report, he won’t … or … he might report and I’ll miss whatever he was offering.
If you haven’t heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on creativity and genius, just click here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA
Whether, as you write, you want a muse or a genius partner or a hot, strong cup of coffee … or symbolically tie yourself to your chair with a scarf as author Aimee Bender does so she’s sure to be there … it’s reassuring to know you can’t use up your creativity. It will keep peeking out or jumping out. Occasionally, you might have to tug at it. “The more you use, the more you have.”
I also can’t help thinking that creativity is a precious commodity. I’m reminded of the motto on the wall of the gym I used to go to. “Use it or lose it.” My genius partner might just drift off. I’d better keep him engaged.
Bill Watterson offers this cartoon on creativity in “Calvin and Hobbes.” We’ve probably all been here a few times:
I’m planning on giving my genius partner a name. Any suggestions?