Sources of Creativity: Creation vs Escapism

I woke up early today. The house is quiet, the sky is still dark. This is one of my favorite times of the day. Usually at night I’m so exhausted that I fight to keep my eyes open, which isn’t the best way to approach a writing session. The stillness of a dark house mixed with the energy of waking is a gift.

Maybe it’s the silence, but I always feel more introspective at these times. It made me think about something that’s been on my mind for a long time.

Why the heck do I like writing so much?

I know the answer, and the funny thing is that it’s changed dramatically from what it once was. And as it’s changed, so has the nature (and frankly, quality) of my work.

Once you can recognize where your writing is coming from, you can embrace the benefits of its source, and avoid the pitfalls.

Personal Struggles

Through every genre of creation – music, art, writing, poetry – personal struggle is a massive driving force. So many masterpieces were written because the creator felt too many things they could no longer silently contain. Emily Dickinson, for example, lived a reclusive life but wrote powerful poetry that holds to this day.

Writing from your personal struggles can lend your words another level of emotional connection. It’s like when you were sixteen, huddling on your bed listening to a song about a break-up and weeping into your pillow (they understand!). That type of emotion can be healing to yourself to write, and to your reader to connect with. When you recognize this is your source, don’t be afraid to explore those levels. Now is when you can really draw from depths you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

On the flipside of this, it’s easy to get into ‘woe is me’ mode. No one wants to read ‘woe is me’ mode. Especially you. When you can recognize that your words are getting mopey rather than cathartic, it’s time to pull back. Go eat some chocolate or a tub of ice cream or a pizza or something, then come back when your sugar coma ends to give it a fresh start. Remember, you’re ultimately doing this for you, so make those words something you want to read.

It’s also easy to fall into escapism when things are hard. Writing a novel gives you a tiny world in your palm that you alone control. That’s an appealing thing when the rest of the world is falling sideways. But this doesn’t help you in the end, and once your writing is done, you’ll be right where you started – trust me on this one.

Instead, try to use your words as the mirror they are, to learn a little more about yourself as you bring your characters to life. You might be surprised by how much it helps.

A world in your hands…

Creation

Writing for the joy of creation is something altogether different. Here, you write because you must. Because the story and the characters are beating down the inside of your head, demanding their place on paper.

Here is where the real experience of writing can shine through. The highs are so much higher, because you’re caught up in the epiphany. The lows are that much lower, because your struggles and pitfalls and plot walls are so much more frustrating, because you must… get… it… out.

When you’re writing out of passion for the craft, your story shines. It flows effortlessly, so take advantage of that. But don’t let the little things fall through in the process. Don’t get so hung up on the cool shit happening in your world that you forget to let your characters feel their way through them. This isn’t a problem for everyone, of course, but when you’re excited, it’s naturally easier to run to the finish line with a smile on your face.

There is also a danger here that shouldn’t be downplayed. It’s easy for this kind of project to take over, because you want it to take over. Like a drug, it just feels good. But like everything else, you need to keep balance. Don’t forget to spend time with your family. Don’t forget to remember that you also love cooking and baking bread. Not gonna lie, I’m a little guilty for this one. My mind constantly runs a little parallel to my own life, and I let things slip by that I shouldn’t. I’m working on this one.

There are certainly other sources of creativity – exploration, experience, interest. Anything that strikes you. But I think the two I mentioned are the most basic and polarized types of creativity, and most of the others can find a place in one of them.

As in anything else, balance and awareness are key. Recognizing what you’re doing and how you’re doing it (not to mention what you’re hoping to gain) lets you use every tool at your disposal and avoid some of the dangers.

So, take some time, look in the mirror for a little while. Figure out where your words are coming from. If you do, you’ll find opportunities you didn’t even realize were there.

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