Tuesday, July 12, 2011

the creative process


General observations:

* There are two modes of the creative process. Manic, where you work feverishly and don't clean the house, and depressive, where you're too tired to clean and don't care, anyway.

* Alternately, the creative process can be considered a little obsessive compulsive. You get obsessed with the idea, and then you're compelled to be obsessed with the idea a little more.

It works like this:

1. It all starts with the idea. I think of it like a seed. And like seeds, not all of the ideas go on to sprout and bear fruit. Most of them never germinate. They're like that nargly little black bean in the dead side of a peanut. But when you get the seed that does spread out little green tendrils, you focus all your energy on it, and you think about it all the time. The idea is the seed, and your BRAIN is the SUN.

2. This part of the process can be especially annoying to your loved ones, who find you staring off into space like a moron and ignoring questions like, "Why didn't you turn into our neighborhood? Where are you going?" and "What's for dinner? I ASKED WHAT WAS FOR DINNER. IT'S 8PM, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE CHILDREN ARE HUNGRY."

3. It's best if you meditate on the seed for a while and really let it blossom. Starting work too early often means your subconscious hasn't had time to fully vet the idea. If I start writing or painting before the seed has fully blossomed, I usually end up finding a fatal flaw, losing interest, and burning something. (Yes, I have scars to prove that.)

4. The next stage involves copious note-taking, especially for writing. Plot ideas, character names and descriptions, lines of dialog. These notes can be especially fun if taken during sleep hours. For example, see this page of my sleep notes.

5. Once your loved ones have given you up as hopeless and the dishes have piled up and you've completely forgotten to eat, you might finally be ready to start writing.

6. You will get a certain gleam in your eye. The sort of gleam that led Conquistadors to their alligatory deaths in Florida swamps looking for El Dorado. Now there's no stopping you. The seed has blossomed, and you are filled with madness, and the world will end if you don't write the story THAT WILL BE THE NEXT HARRY POTTER.

7. You will sit down to write four pages in a feverish frenzy at 1am.

8. These four pages will SUCK. They will SUCK HORRIBLY. And that's okay.

9. If you're really, really lucky, you will keep writing. You will neglect pretty much everything else you're supposed to do, including bathing and taking vitamins and flossing. You will be manic, obsessed, compelled, feverish, and UNSTOPPABLE.

10. Until you get to a stopping point and realize that YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHERE THIS IS GOING, and YOU ARE DOOMED.

11. You search your notes. You reinterpret your sleep notes. You lay awake at night, eyes watering, praying that something will come to you, because you have FIFTY UNBELIEVABLE PAGES.

12. The solution. It's simple. It's elegant. It comes to you while you're driving, or in the shower, or swimming in the pool, and suddenly everything is alright again. You grin like a moron, and people ask if you're on tranquilizers.

13. You go back into manic mode. You keep writing.

14. Eventually, you type the words THE END.

15. And then you learn the joys of THE EDIT CAVE.

I'm not sure, but I suspect it works the same way for other creative ventures. Music, entrepreneurship, clown school. It's this strange cycle of ups and downs that rules you as surely as the moon rules the tides. It's like the cycle grabs you in its blood-riddled teeth and shakes you like a possessed Corgi. Whatever that thing is-- you have to do it.

And there's a downside to the cycle, too. There's always the dark phase of the moon, when you fear that the muse will never return, that you are truly doomed. When there are no ideas, all the seeds turn black in the earth, and you fear that the rest of your life will be a yawning chasm of failure.

That's when I turn to reading or going through Seth Godin's blog to keep myself on track. And I remind myself that this, too, shall pass.

Wait. Screw all that. I'm going to go draw A FLOW CHART.

1 comment:

charissimo said...

What I love the most is when my characters start having conversations in my head. It makes me feel completely schizophrenic with joy.