Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Creative Urge

Word Count: 132,743 (have I really done no work this week?)

It's occurred to me that while other bloggers are debating BIG STUFF, I generally witter on about diets and house sales. So today I am going to talk about more worthy things...

Creativity. It's been giving me pause for thought lately, partly because it's a word that's bandied around all the time (at the BBC where I work, one of our long term stated aims is to become 'the most creative organisation in the world: see here for the kind of document that's being written to try to achieve it. Hmmm.) and mainly because it's the broad theme of the workshop I've offered to run at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference in two weeks' time.

It's also something that's been cropping up a lot in conversation and blogs - the writer Jacqui Lofthouse, whose website I chose as my Lovely Link the other day, has posted a fascinating account of where she has found her ideas and why she thinks art might be the inspiration for her in future…

Apart from making me feel incredibly uncultured (visual art, with the exception of photography, mainly leaves me cold, and though I love books, I generally prefer to be entertained rather than challenged) I was interested by the idea of 'Artist's Dates', which I gather is a Julia Cameron way of getting you to seek inspiration in new locations. On another messageboard I visit, there's been discussion about trying to avoid feeling guilty if you can't write all day long - and the fact that going to the café or the pub or even shopping can provoke new ideas. It is absolutely true - though banishing that guilt is tricky. A brand new statue, The Writer, a 22ft high table with chair, quite empty of paper or laptop, has just been erected in Hampstead Heath and the writer Deborah Moggach put it very well in her review in the Guardian:

Because that's its problem for us writers. I walk the dog on the heath every
day. It's one of my many avoidance routines, along with cleaning out the hens,
deleting Nigerian spam and downloading dream properties in the Cotswolds.
Escaping into the greenery, the last thing I want to see is six tonnes of steel
and wood, 30-foot high, rebuking me for not working. Maybe it's a cunning plan
by the Corporation of London, which runs the heath, to rid the place of writers
which, like ragwort, pop up everywhere when the sun comes out. As one of its
officials observes, "it'll remind lazy authors to get back to their garden sheds
and finish the year's greatest novel before someone else beats them to it."

So where am I going with this? Beyond a little random musing on inspiration, I'm thinking about whether creativity can be taught, or stimulated, or increased - or whether it is pretty much a 'have or have not', like having good spatial awareness or being able to sing in tune (I don't have the former, but can do the latter).

My nurturing, encouraging side says that creativity is not a 'holy grail' that is the sole preserve of artsy types; that anyone can have great ideas; that even the most straight-jacketed thinkers can be encouraged to (stand by for some jargon): think outside the box, push the envelope, do blue sky thinking. Certainly it's true that people on the full spectrum of 'creativity' from madcap 'let's do the show right here' types, through to 'that won't work, it's against the rules' individuals, can work together to come up with great ideas: I've seen it at work, where we run endless brainstorms for new programmes. There is nothing like the buzz when a roomful of invidivuals, with very different approaches and often a profound scepticism about brainstorming, somehow create the energy to build a new idea or to improve someone else's...

BUT that collective brainstorm approach doesn't work for everyone, and sometimes it doesn't work at all: the ideas can be derivative and they may frustrate the person who had that initial 'spark' because it moves so far away from what they had in mind.

It's also, arguably, a more relevant process for ideas that are based on a collective creation process - eg TV programmes, which involve big teams - than for novels, say, that are predominantly written alone.

So what about individual creativity? Can that be improved? Again, I would say that most people have a fundamental 'creativity' in their make-up but it may be expressed very differently. The numerous different personality/working style theories tend to be restrictive but Belbin's theories (that we all tend to take different roles in a team depending on our own personal preferences: Completer Finisher, Coordinator, Implementer, Monitor Evaluator, Plant, Resource Instigator, Shaper, Team Worker) may be useful here. His idea is that some people naturally prefer throwing out ideas - the Plant is the most extreme here and probably the role I take most often:

The Plant is creative and innovative. They are responsible for the production of ingenious new ideas and novel strategies. They are very bright; their ideas may often be radical and practical constraints may sometimes be overlooked.
The Plant's preferred approach is to work independently, thinking intensively, and following up his own schemes. Plants tend to be introverted and is easily offended, but responds well to discerning praise. The Plant's behaviour towards other team
members can be off-hand and critical. However, if the Plant is handled well, the
benefits are great. 'Handling well' involves recognising the Plant's potential
and giving them the space to realise this potential whilst also controlling
their direction so as to avoid the pursuit of fruitless schemes.

Apart from the 'very bright' bit I recognise most of this in myself - the good and bad bits. Compare that to the Monitor Evaluator:

Though not creative themselves, the Monitor-Evaluator is very good at
weighing up the facts, carefully considering the pros and cons of each option,
and finally coming to a well considered decision. This will be an objective
process free from influence of emotional factors. The Monitor-Evaluator shows
little enthusiasm or personal commitment; they are no achiever but their
judgement is sound. In many ways the lack of commitment to team goals
facilitates the task of the Monitor-Evaluator because this enables them to be
impartial in decision-making. Though rather dry and critical, the
Monitor-Evaluator fits comfortably into the team,- especially if their role is
recognised for what it is, both by themselves and by the other team members.

(for more on this, and to see which category you recognise, look at this great explanation - it seems to be a Christian website, but is suitable whatever your beliefs)

Now, I'd argue that the Monitor Evaluator is 'creative' in the broadest sense, but they may not feel comfortable with the kind of uncertainty that most traditionally creative endeavour (fiction writing, sculpture, composing music) involves. It is scary and uncertain and at the beginning of a project you're starting, no-one knows the answer but you - and often you don't know it yet...

At which point, I'll leave it for today. Bit of a cop-out I know, but I am a bear of little brain and therefore I will come back soon with some thoughts about how to make the most of your creativity...

In the mean time, normal service (ie talking about fake tans and diets) will be resumed.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Try Creativity for Life if you want some tips (though the site itself is rather visually limited) or this site, Enchanted Mind, is a bit prettier though possibly too new agey for some...


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