Whither Creativity?


I’m part of a team of advance readers for Gabriela Pereira’s upcoming DIYMFA, a book in which she presents the essentials of creative writing that she learned while earning her MFA. So far, I’m enjoying her book, especially her concise way of presenting the various types of plot conflicts, with concrete examples. Look for DIYMFA this July. Check it out here:  http://diymfa.com/product/diy-mfa-book

This week, she’s asked us advance readers to comment on which of these myths about creativity we’ve fallen prey to.

  1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
  2. Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
  3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
  4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
  5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

Honestly, Gabriela, I haven’t stumbled over any of these. Am I unusual in that respect? I hope not. All of us are creative—creativity is a basic human drive. How we express our creativity varies greatly, of course: writing, dancing, making music, making visual art, building things, repairing things, designing things, growing things…

Looking back at my upbringing, I don’t recall any family members or teachers who tried to squash or belittle my creative efforts. My parents were at least patient with my many “projects,” and were supportive of my many performances. My sister, my friends and I were forever building forts, putting on shows, making witch’s brews of leaves and mud, excavating “jewels,” composing songs—on and on. Typical kid stuff, right? Mom did insist that we learn a musical instrument, though she promised we could quit after two years if we truly hated it. Neither my sister nor I quit.

A few special mentors helped me to see myself as especially creative. In the fourth grade, Mrs. Graham cast me as the Spanish dancer in our class “recreation” of a Spanish rancho during our California history unit. She noticed my love of dance and lent me her antique, embroidered shawl to whirl about, not even complaining when I accidentally stepped on the fringe.

I was blessed with an excellent band teacher and two demanding but nurturing drama teachers, all of whom gave me the chance to shine onstage. It was an honor to do the same for my drama students when I taught theater classes.

And writing has always come easily to me. As young as eight or nine, I’d lie awake at night, spinning stories in my head. I remember creating what would today be called “fan fiction,” new stories based on characters from TV’s Batman and Star Trek. I recall a Catwoman-esque character who fought on the side of good, climbing buildings at night to protect Gotham City from nefarious types, like the nasty boy down the street.

So, where do the ideas come from? I dunno—they just come. Doesn’t everyone slide into daydreams about “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” or “Wouldn’t it be ironic if…” or “What if I found a dead body in those bushes over there?”

Of course, a surplus of ideas doesn’t equal a publication-ready story. That’s the hard part. And lots of readers wouldn’t agree with me about what constitutes an interesting story. But there’s no doubt that I’m a creative type. I have no doubt that you are too.

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