Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Creative Natures By Buffy Greentree

There are so many places in the writing journey that we can get caught up and come undone. There are also various strategies we can put in place to combat these obstacles. However, today I want to look at just one simple idea which has saved me numerous times from problems in both the drafting and editing stages.


Your creative nature is not singular. 

The sooner you realise this, the sooner you will know exactly which door to knock on when you need help. So let's look at some of our options.

The Muse:

People talk of a creative spirit or urge, calling it a genius or muse interchangeably as if there were one unknown part of us that performs the creation. As a Christian, we really should acknowledge at least two, our side and God's. Those who have experienced a true creative flow, or have written a work that is so beyond what they thought they knew, must acknowledge that God inspires and helps form anything that we allow him to help on. How can we view anything except God as our 'muse'? Is not the creator himself the thing that inspires all further creation?

For me, the Holy Spirit directly and God's creation indirectly fulfill the ancient role of creative muse. It is the thing external to myself which inspires and encourages my creative work. This is a wonderful realisation, and constantly keeps me on my knees as I write. However, God does not do all the work. There is then the unconscious and conscious work that I must do in the creation of the piece.

The Genius:

A lot of my creation happens unconsciously. I may stare at a computer screen for hours on end, then finally get up and have a bath. Halfway through the bath, while humming along to some tune, a piece of dialogue suddenly jumps out of nowhere that is the perfect answer to my problem. Or I will wake up from sleep, and my character will be there, ready and waiting to tell me what happens next.

While some of this comes from inspiration, there is also the part of me that processes it all. This part I consider my genius. It is not external to me, as the muse is, but it is also not under my control. I cannot force my genius to write when I want to write. He is most secretive. I feed him scraps and ideas, and then leave him alone to digest it all. When he is ready, he will then open up a trap door and hand back out the diamonds he has created.

There are many things that you can do to encourage your creative genius, from the types of food you can feed him to the recreation that best allows him to process. I have found that when in doubt, give him a good meal of problems to solve and juicy words to mull over, then leave him in silence (ie. find a wordless activity to distract yourself with), and see what he churns out.

But your genius is really for when you get stuck. He is not something you can rely on for a steady flow of words. He does not write drafts, he only helps out a bit with the design. For drafting and editing you need your two conscious creative natures.

The Youth and The Elder:

These two aspects of our creative nature were first outlined to me in the wonderful book On Being A Writer by Dorothea Brande (if you haven't read it, it's out of copyright so you can download it for free, which I highly recommend you do right after you finish reading this). She argues that we have two natures that can either work together or against each other, very much like brothers.

First is the youth. He is the creative spark. He loves telling tall tales and playing with words. He is cheeky and a bit irresponsible. He doesn't care about grammar or spelling, and is easily distracted. If you let him have too much control, he will jump from one story to the next, leaving a mess behind him each time. On the other hand, if you restrain him too much, he becomes sullen and won't say a thing. He's a bit of a sulk that way. Without him you will never get through your first draft, but with only him, you will never get a complete book.

Second is his elder brother. He is much more interested in order and control, and he is fantastic at editing. He takes time over word choice, making sure that it is perfect. Then he considers the sentence structure. Did you break any important rules? He's big into rules. He's also pretty good at making sure his little brother sits down and stays on the same story all the way through to the end. Without him, your youth is likely to get overexcited and run off after butterflies. The elder, however, can make sure he stays in his chair until he is finished.

However, the elder can very quickly become overbearing. If you let him off the lead too much in the first draft, he will be watching over his little brother's shoulder, trying to correct the small mistakes or pausing his brother to find a better word. Under this sort of tyranny, any little brother would jack up and hide away.

So you need to balance these two as is appropriate to your stage in the writing process. If you feel you are being stifled or coming up dry in the first draft, it is generally because you are letting your elder creative nature crush your youth. But if you find you have lots of wonderful ideas but never get through them all, you might need to build up and encourage your elder a little, not let him be bossed around so much by his younger brother. Your youth needs to be disciplined just enough to get through to the end of the first draft. Then the elder can take over and brush up in the editing process. 

I find relying on these four aspects of my creative nature, identifying which one has been starved and which I might be trying to rely too strongly on, will get me through most problems. Though, I will admit it is an on going process to build them up and learn how to support them all. But that is part of the fun of being a writer.







Buffy Greentree was brought up in Melbourne, has lived in Japan and the UK, and now calls Brisbane home. She has a B.A. (Hons) in Classics and Archaeology, a Master of Divinity, and a Grad Cert in Business Management. Yes, she spent way too long at Uni. 
She now writes by day, and works as a boarding house supervisor corrupting young minds by night. So, life is pretty good. 
For a further discussion on creative natures and other ways to overcome your fears of writing, see her first book The Five Day Writer's Retreat, available on Amazon and other online retailers. Or follow her at her writing blog: www.100firstdrafts.com.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Buffy - What a great post. So much food for thought there. I like the idea of God being our muse. There are definitely times when I know He has prompted me to write something or has given me an idea to solve a plot problem. A few times, He's given me the first line or refrain of a poem or story and then I've run with it. I also really like your analogy of the balance between the youth and the elder. That's a great way of looking at it. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for the opportunity to share. It is wonderful to be able to speak openly and freely about God's influence on the writing process. Though, a whole series wouldn't do justice to the topic.

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  2. Really enjoyed this post, Buffy--thanks so much. Totally agree with your thoughts about the Muse and can also relate to the Genius and the youth/elder brother concepts. Many times, when I have been stuck in preparing a sermon or talk or unsure how to proceed with my writing, the problem has resolved as I have stood in the shower, letting that water flow over me. Is this linked to the Holy Spirit's flowing? Or is it that I am just more relaxed and my 'genius' can surface more? Whichever way, it's all of God, don't you think? God bless--I remember meeting you at the writing conference in Brisbane.

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    1. Hi Jo-Anne, becoming part of Christian Writers Downunder has been fun, it's like being back at the conference again!
      And I'm sure that water does have a particularly refreshing quality to the creative spirit, which is all part of God's plan.

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  3. This is a great post. When I am writing and get stuck, I often wake in the middle of the night with the perfect solution - and need to jot it down so that I don't forget. I need to trust the process and relax and let this happen a bit more, I think. I love the other concepts too. Yes, I couldn't write without God, my muse.

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    1. I always have brilliant ideas just as I'm falling off to sleep, and then have the dilemma of whether to wake myself up to write them down and then possibly not get back to sleep for ages, or potentially lose them as I sleep. I try to tell myself that I will remember the good ones, but I can't say I have any actual evidence for this.

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  4. Hi Buffy,
    Thanks for the post. I like the idea of the youth and the older brother. I've taught workshops calling them the creative and critical partners, but you've presented something I'm sure many people will be able to latch onto maybe even easier. The muse and the genius offer lots of food for thought too. I've read a writing craft by Dorothea Brande in the past, but I'm not sure if it was that one.

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    1. Ah, I've just realised that I said 'On Being A Writer' when it is actually 'Becoming A Writer' (I thought I was confusing it with the Jane Austin movie, Becoming Jane, but obviously I wasn't).
      As far as I know, she has only two common books: 'Becoming A Writer', and 'Wake Up And Live', which is more of a general self-help book (though great. Her main premise is what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Well, go do it.) Highly recommend them both.

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  5. Hi Buffy. Thanks for your post. It's great to think a bit more about the creative process. Like Paula I've called the youth and the elder by different names - the creative side and the inner critic and the need to get the right balance between both.

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    1. I do sometimes fall into the trap of reinventing the wheel, but hopefully renaming common concepts will help others see it afresh. I am glad you got something from it.

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  6. Great post, Buffy. I love the way you've given an identity to each of the various energy, effort and thought streams that power our creativity. I can identify with all that you have said. I'm quite a visual thinker, and I love the mental image you've provided with the youth and the elder - I'm already giving them faces! Looking forward to hearing more from you in future posts.

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    1. I did wonder if it said anything about me that I picture my creative natures as boys.

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