The Onus of Creativity

First, let me again thank all of my new readers for reading as well as “Liking” my posts and “Following” my Blog. I very much appreciate it and it encourages me to keep writing on here: influencing me to believe I have things that are worth saying about what I do.

A question that writers almost always get asked at some point or another–so I’m told–is where do you get your inspiration from?

It’s a similar question to the infamous where do you get your ideas from, and I might get into that as this Blog entry unfolds a bit more. I can be a real smart-ass and say that I get my inspiration and my ideas from inside of the strange, convoluted thing that is my mind. I can even be literal and say that I get them from reading, from watching movies and television, from my time at school, from long walks talking to myself, and from basically experiencing life. I even say as much in this Blog: which was founded on those very principles.

There was a TED Lecture created by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert called On Genius in which she discusses the Western view of what an artist and a creator is. Specifically, Gilbert looks at the symbol of the tormented artist: of the person or “genius” who is the sole producer of all the art and knowledge and expression that comes to them. She contests the view that it is somehow “natural” for a creator to suffer from depression, alcoholism, to be genuinely unhappy a good portion of their lives.

Even though she tries to debunk this, there is something very … seductive about the idea. I mean, look at the very nature of a piece of literature for instance. There is no novel, or short story that doesn’t have a conflict of some kind inherent in the plot or the theme of the thing. Without conflict, there is no story. Not really. Utopias get very boring to talk about after a while, but we love to hear about how they go wrong. Just like nightmares can seem more compelling to write and read about than dreams. So if these traits existence in the makeup of fiction, why shouldn’t they be in the nature of its creators?

Sometimes unhappiness, or tremendous passions fuels a writer. And in some of my darker moments, I believe that true joy is finite, while unhappiness is limitless. Sometimes, I don’t even believe I’m wrong and it is no secret I tend to write about some dark, violent, and sad things. Imagine writing about a world around you that was perfect and always full of joy. Imagine just how hard that would be to hold anyone’s interest for longer than a few minutes. Neil Gaiman managed to do something like this in his run of Marvelman/Miracleman, but even then he had to bring human nature and its inherently conflictive nature towards a paradise that was imposed on it.

When I’m feeling really negative, I feel like my negativity is what makes my writing immensely powerful: hence my above statement. I also know it is not always the case. Passion and conflict are not necessarily inherently unhappy, but necessary things. If anything I’d venture to say that stasis is also a tremendous unhappiness because nothing grows in it. That can be a form of struggle itself for a writer: the struggle against stasis.

In her TED lecture, Gilbert attempts to look at how earlier cultures dealt with the concept of human genius. She talks about how the Greeks believed that each person occasionally meets a daimon–a spirit or muse–that gives them ideas outside of themselves. The Romans also adopted this notion and called this spirit a genius. It’s all a conceptual framework. If anything, I understand that one advantage to this paradigm is that it takes the personal onus or burden of creativity from inside the individual and places on something “outside” of them. Alan Moore, in his Voice of the Fire, even states that he placed the building of said novel on the town of Northampton which he was writing about in a mythological way.

I think that it is a question of cultural and personal attitude towards the creative process and your own life too. I know that I also have a responsibility to write and express myself, but my experiences and knowledge also informs that. Sometimes I do feel a strange energy in me when I write something. Even when I write something with personal emotion, it overlays a kind of calm as well as I feel myself “getting the job done.”

I will tell you now: I almost didn’t post this here because I thought it would potentially be too personal and I want to just make this about writing. At the same time, my writing is powered by my emotions and experiences. It is a dichotomy I have to navigate a lot.

I’d like to finish off this post by quoting from the last eight lines of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water,” in which she states:

Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

Despite what happened to Gwendolyn in her own life, and towards the end of her life these wise words are a gentle admonition to remember and I have to remember them everyday. If you haven’t, you should definitely check out Gilbert’s TED Lecture and the other TED Creativity Lectures as well. I hope that you can all find what suits and works for you as well.

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