Sunday, April 1, 2007

From the Bookshop..., April 2007

By Quillhill

Often writers are asked where they get their ideas. The usual reply is that ideas are not hard to find: they are everywhere if one only look, and see. What non-writers don't understand is that the difficulty comes in the actual writing, fleshing out the idea into a character, a story, a complete world. How does one put into words the vision one has so that others may likewise see it and understand it? The creative arts, according to Daniel Boorstin, must do nothing less than enlarge, embellish, fantasize, and filigree our experience.

What makes writing so difficult? There are diversions, such as the telephone. There are distractions, such as the television. When time comes to write, there often seems to be something more urgent that needs to be done, like composing a list for the market, or catching up on correspondence, or washing the dog. Some writers might even read or reorganize their desk and convince themselves these activities are in the service of their writing.

Some writers require deadlines in order to produce. For us, procrastination is a constant companion, but the pressure of a deadline tends to inhibit creativity. We want not to write about the first thing that comes to mind, such as the sounds that herald spring: the laughter of children, the songs of birds, the heavy panting of dogs, the pounding bass of cars with windows rolled down. What we write needs to have meaning, pierce us, enlighten us. As we contemplated our blank computer screen, wondering how to turn it into this month's column, all we found was empty loneliness. Nothing was forthcoming.

Many artists believe in a personal muse. The more earnest our pleas for help, the further our muse fades away. Some writers try to woo their muse, others feel they must capture it unawares. The wisest will feign indifference, turn their back and go forward, and find their muse hastening to catch up. Inspiration is the reward of daily practice.

What is the creative impulse? From where does it arise, and can it be harnessed? Is there a creativity gene, or as Arthur Koestler posits, is it more a function of one's ability to recognise the intersection of different matrices of knowledge? We often think of creativity as a public display, though it is talent which allows some people the opportunities to share their creativity with others. Everyone can be creative, whether preparing a meal or decorating a cake, planting a garden or painting a room, planning a holiday or dreaming of one. And even some of those people who lack talent now have a weblog that allows them to share with others, too.

There is a sensibility that to struggle with the creative process is necessary to the creation of art. A person must suffer for their art, bestowing upon their work nobility. One is left to wonder whether an author who publishes a new novel every month is really a writer, or merely a typist.

We sat in the bookshop on the day of the deadline, columnless, already given up the hope of creating anything new this month, when the muse snuck up and touched us. Quick, she announced, to the Notepad! Write as if our column depended upon it. When we are finished here we will have opportunity to demand, Where have you been, young Lady? Then, immediately repentant, we will beg her to stay.

Had the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe been a contributor to Estella's Revenge, he would not have produced such a column as this. His, perhaps, was the greater wisdom, for he sought not to understand a mystery like creativity:
"I, being an artist, regard this as of little moment. Indeed, I prefer that the principle from which and through which I work should be hidden from me. The more incommensurable and incomprehensible for the understanding a poetic creation may be, the better."

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