3 Things I Know About Creativity

by Elizabeth

I never thought I’d be a writer. I certainly never thought I’d be an editor. Yet here I am, as both a writer and an editor, loving both.

I love writing. I love typing out words and twirling them around on the screen. I love figuring out what my story means. I love speaking from the heart and being understood by others. I love the feeling of connectedness when others relate to my experiences. I love realizing that my words may have helped someone somewhere along the line.

And I love editing (or as I like to call it, collaboration). I love empowering people to tell their own stories. I love the privilege of peering into people’s souls and of being able to say, “I see you.” I love finding the gold and precious stones in their words and chipping away at the rough edges until the work shines just so, until we’re ready to present it to the world. And then, after we’ve finished working together, I love the thrill of watching a fellow writer be understood and accepted by their readers.

As I’ve practiced the art of writing over the last four years and, more recently, entered into the world of editing this year, I’ve come to realize three essential ingredients to creativity. There are perhaps more. I only know creativity has these three needs:

  • To live life. If I want to write, I have to go outside my door. I have to live life and collect some experiences. I can’t write about something I haven’t lived, and I can’t just stare at a screen all day. It’s not good for my neck and back muscles (or homeschooling, for that matter). I have to let my mind wander and my soul breathe. Usually it’s when I am having the most difficulty at a project that I most need to get up, shut the laptop, and do something else. A new arrangement of words and ideas generally comes while I clean the kitchen or take a shower.
  • To be alone. Art is created in solitude. I need time for both contemplation and the actual creating. If I want to write, I need quiet. Not silence – a life with four kids in Phnom Penh is never going to achieve that. But I need to get away by myself to write, even if it’s just another room (which is what it usually is). And I need to get away to talk to God. For me, writing only flows when I’m in communion with my own Creator and my soul is at peace. And I need time alone for that, too.
  • To be in community. Art may be created in solitude, but it’s refined in community. When we share our intimate thoughts and vulnerable moments with others, we need both encouragement and constructive feedback. We need feedback so we can tell our stories more clearly and more fully. More resonantly. And we need trusted people to take in our work and to affirm us. Community gives us the confidence that what we have to offer the world is good and valuable, and that in and of itself is good and valuable — and that is what I love about editing.

“Creativity does not truly come from the popularized image of the tormented artist, struggling with the muse. True creativity is born in community as men and women of God listen to each other and to Him: as we seek to understand each other’s woundedness and strengths.” –Michael Card

pottery-166797_640

What about all you other creators out there? Does your creativity need other ingredients?

Birth & Art {A Metaphor}

by Elizabeth

Writing is a birth, of sorts.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I wanted to give birth without medication. I was in love with the idea and informed my husband. He was enamored of the idea as well, and he bought books on the Bradley method of natural childbirth for us both to read. It was in those books that we learned about the emotional signposts of labor.

First, there’s excitement: Today’s the day! I’m having this baby today!

Then, there’s seriousness: Let’s get down to the business of birthing this baby. This is hard. I’m uncomfortable. I need to concentrate. And by the way, DON’T touch me.

Finally, there’s self-doubt: I’m done! I can’t do this anymore! This emotional signpost corresponds to transition. Transition is a nice-sounding word for the most difficult part of labor and signifies that birth is coming soon.

Even though I’d studied these signposts, the books still made birth seem easy, and I was confident I could give birth naturally. I was looking forward to it, in fact. The night my water broke, however, the contractions came hard and fast. I doubted whether I could handle the rest of labor. I did indeed survive my first labor, and I gave birth to a precious baby boy that night. But his birth wasn’t without pain.

Eleven months later, I became pregnant again. This time around, I wasn’t so confident. I’d been blissfully unaware of it during my first pregnancy, but during my second, I knew labor was going to hurt. I knew how bad the labor pains could get, and I wasn’t looking forward to the actual birth process. And I was right — it did hurt. Bad. I knew that I could give birth naturally, but I dreaded the pain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Writing is a birth of sorts, complete with all the emotional signposts.

First, there’s excitement: I have an (invariably brilliant) idea!

Then, I pitch the idea to someone, most often, my husband. It’s (usually) met with approval.

I’m still excited. Until I start typing, that is, and the words on the screen begin to look like nonsense. They don’t communicate what I want to communicate AT ALL.

That’s when I decide that my “brilliant idea” is total, complete, and utter trash.

I determine that either

          a) the idea itself is bad or

          b) I have no wordsmithing abilities whatsoever and

          c) I should just quit now.

asw

It’s at this self-doubt signpost that I’ve learned I need to close the laptop and put it away until tomorrow — a luxury not afforded one in active labor. Then I keep returning to it, day after day. This is the serious working phase, and requires concentration. I rearrange words, and rearrange them again, deleting whole sentences and even paragraphs, until I can read them out loud with relative satisfaction. Then, I birth it. I hit Publish and launch it out into the world. My hard work is done.

I used to forget this phenomenon between writing projects. I would forget how annoyingly hard the process is. They say Labor Amnesia is the reason people have second and third and fourth and even fifth babies. The pain of labor dissipates — we forget, and are willing to try again. Well, I had Writer’s Amnesia. Each time I attempted something new, I was surprised and frustrated by the difficulty of the task.

I worked hard each time, yet when I was finished, I still had new ideas I thought I could tackle with ease. (How very naïve.) But this same plotline has unfolded so many times now that I’ve come to accept it as part of the writing process. And I keep coming back to the craft because something inside me tells me there is more to be said, more to be written, more to be done.

Writing — and all art — is messy. It’s hard work, and it sometimes hurts. You might not know this ahead of time. The pain and heartache might take you by surprise, might sideswipe you. That is, until you’ve given birth to enough pieces that you can look back and see the pattern in your labors. Now, you know it will hurt. Now, you know the process is long and drawn-out. Now, you know you might regret your “brilliant” idea, and be tempted to give up. But by now, you’ll also know that you can’t give up, even when faced with the self-doubt signpost. Because something inside you propels you forward.

For the artist, for the creative person, conception of an idea is exciting. The gestation, however, is decidedly not. Your idea often grows much heavier than you expected it would. You reach the same emotional signposts each time you labor over an idea. But the beauty of it? Another day, you can birth another idea. And on a day after that, you can birth another idea. The emotions stay the same, but the ideas change. They are new. They are fresh.

They are invitations to create.