Exercising imagination

BAYLOR

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#62
I've spoken to several artists who say they too get some version of 'artist's block'. One was quite indignant - nearly angry, I'd say - that writers think this applies only to them.

*shrugs*
The block occurs because they're trying to hard. Force stymies creativity.
 

sknox

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#65
So, how about a contrary proposition: plenty of other trades get "blocks" as well. Programming comes to mind, but maybe also coming up with a business plan, designing furniture, ... any activity that involves coming up with stuff, whether that stuff be solving a problem or making something. Everybody gets stuck, they just don't give a special name to it the way writers have done. And if such a wide range of human activity involves these elements, is creativity really something so special to art? Or have we simply romanticized it into being something unique to us? Maybe what I do and what a chef does isn't all that different. Maybe interior decorators and welders have their muse, too.
 

Biskit

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#67
So, how about a contrary proposition: plenty of other trades get "blocks" as well.
When I was a working scientist there were definitely days (on end?) of doing the 'routine' stuff, very different from the point where you have to stand back and make sense of all the data. Likewise, as a software developer, there were days for figuring out the 'clever stuff' and days for more mechanical exercises.

Everybody gets stuck, they just don't give a special name to it the way writers have done.
Yup. I think it's just writerly pretension, drawing upon generations of writerly pretension. Routine is (relatively) easy, doing something new takes time and effort, and the right frame of mind. Perhaps the other side of this writerly pretension is expecting to do something new, day after day, rather than having moments of insight from time to time amongst the routine.
 

The Big Peat

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#68
I've spoken to several artists who say they too get some version of 'artist's block'. One was quite indignant - nearly angry, I'd say - that writers think this applies only to them.

*shrugs*
This. I'd say pretty much every enterprise that has an element of creation will have times when the person gets burnt out, loses motivation, finds it difficult to focus... etc.etc. Maybe all jobs. Look at pro athletes. A lot of them go through prolonged slumps from time to time. Athlete's block?

The major difference of course is that when we slump, we can just stop doing it, and the athlete still has go to go work. If writers had to write, if we had decent paying jobs that depended on us writing 1500 words a day... I'm pretty sure we'd all get those words out and writer's block wouldn't be considered to exist in the same way. But there'd be a lot of days where we wrote total crap, and I think it'd be recognised that all writers had those periods.
 

scarpelius

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#69
Comparing programmers with writers is forced. The blocks in programming are generated by lack of knowledge, rather than creativity. Even when you have flu or the motivation to go to work is on the lowest threshold, you can write a sorting function, extract data from database, etc, etc. One might say this kind of creative blocking appears more often to software architects, but then again, you do not become a software architect without learning the ropes (the patterns used in software design).
Many other activities are less affected by burn out because they require less creative work than writing.
 

AlexH

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#70
Comparing writing with other arts. Hmmm. I doubt I'm going to articulate this very well, but with CGI or drawing, I think I always have an idea of the bigger picture (no pun intended). With writing, I need to constantly come up with new scenes, story ideas, characters etc. I think it's easier to be inspired by visual art and put your own spin on it, than it is to be inspired by a story and put your own spin on it. I'm not saying one medium is more skilled than the other, just why I think writer's block is more of a thing. Others may be different; I'm quite a visual person so some of my story ideas come from photos or pictures.

I think photography and writing give me a headache equally. Photography seems like it should be the easiest, but when I'm taking pictures I get frustrated when I can't show in the frame what I'm seeing with my eyes. Particularly when there's some sort of abstract pattern. When I'm editing photos, I'm frustrated when I can't get a picture to look how I want it to look - often because I don't know what i want it to look like. Even with simple adjustments like contrast. Sometimes there are colour casts I can't figure out (upping the saturation sometimes helps).

Comparing programmers with writers is forced. The blocks in programming are generated by lack of knowledge, rather than creativity.
I disagree, though I was never the best web developer in the world! There are different ways to approach some problems, and it can take creativity to find the best answer. I remember fixing one bit of code that sped a website up by a few seconds, so maybe the original developer hadn't been creative enough.

This isn't an example to back my argument up, but sometimes (and it's not just me) I could stare at a piece of code for ages until I figured out what was wrong with it. Sometimes it was a missing comma, full stop or one character causing the error. In a way, that's similar to writer's block. Sometimes it's the inability to see the detail amongst the whole.
 

Biskit

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#71
I could stare at a piece of code for ages until I figured out what was wrong with it.
Oh yes. I still have memories (nightmares?) of tracing a bug that was effectively impossible to recreate outside of the live environment. The only way to do it was to effectively picture it in my head and work out what had to be happening when competing user activities collided.
You don't do something like that on a day when you've got programmer's block.
 
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#72
On the other hand...

Perhaps, no matter what kind of special, delicate and unique flower we might think we are, and how much we assume that every other flower thinks that we imagine ourselves as being special (believing ourselves to be the center of the flower universe)... in the end all of us flowers are the same.

Whether writing a novel or cleaning toilets, we all face moments of inspiration and monotonous confusion.


K2
 

sknox

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#73
Good comments, folks. After putting more thought to it, I think I worry at this whole "creativity" thing because it creates a divide between people. Creative people over here, un-creative people over there. Goes against my Leveller tendencies. I'll be absolute for a paragraph or so.

All people are creative. The urge to create is fundamentally human. When we restrict creativity (whatever that is) to the arts, we fundamentally dehumanize everyone else. We got somethin' they don't got. It's not only wrong-headed, when the tropes (you'll forgive me that) are repeated endlessly--by parents, friends, media, schools--people grow up believing "I'm just not creative." That seems a shame, to me. And it gets generalized out to "I'm not imaginative" or "I'm don't know how to be original."

Everyone is creative and creativity runs in many directions. Some people get further in this direction, some in that. But there's really nothing special about creativity or imagination; certainly nothing mystical. I've heard about muses. I got a restraining order.

There is writing and not writing. Creativity is for people who talk about writing. There. Is that Hemingway enough for y'all?

<grin>
<being deliberately provocative to see how far the ideas fly>
 
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#74
Bluntly, I cannot think of a single activity, mental or physical regardless, where creativity does not make the difference. It can turn a chore into a joyful exploration or challenge and our world has advanced purely because of non-artistic creativity, fictional writing included in 'artistic.'

Past that... for those thinking that writing is something special/unique (which it can be for that individual) yet over and above other things, let me ask this. How many gazillion times have you written, 'and, though, there, to' and so on? That sounds rather repetitive to me.

If anyone disagrees, feel free to challenge the creative artistry of a ditch-digger at their own game. ;)

K2
 

Joshua Jones

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#75
Good discussion around an interesting topic. I'll drop in my 2 cents/pence worth.

I'm not convinced creativity is centrally either left or right brained. To be honest, I see people arguing like this as influenced by a culture which is responding to the idea that emotions are weak by attributing creativity and the arts to the more emotional aspect of ourselves in an attempt to strengthen them. In my mind, this is not helpful, because in seeking to strengthen the perception of emotions and emotionalism, we actually wind up limiting the arts and reinforcing the Platonic distinction between the philosopher and the poet. Yet, I see no good reason why the philosopher (or, an intellectual who relies on logic and reason) cannot be one and the same as the poet (or an artistic person who connects with and stirs the emotions).

Rather, I see creativity as connections made between formerly disparate items, and this could be either left or right brained. Where our brains tend to have these connections is on the paths frequently traveled. For me, I see bursts of creativity in my main job (fundraising, marketing, etc.) and in my hobbies (philosophy, theology, writing), and especially where these two intersect (public speaking). So, it this theory is correct, the best way to cultivate creativity in writing is to write while adding in new information and experiences which can be connected through writing.

And yet, I am reminded of the advice of one of my university professors, who said, "Those who try to be creative will inevitably fail at it." This has borne out in my life; when I was trying to create something new and unique, I found that someone had already come up with everything I invented. But, when I stopped worrying about being original and just focused on telling the story, I started improving as a writer and storyteller.

So, my thought on the matter is twofold. We ought to recognize that creativity can happen with all types of people, and not just the conventionally "artistic" sort, and some people may actually be more creative when there are rules in place, rather than restricted. Second, we ought to stop trying so hard to be creative, and just work on telling stories, so that creativity can naturally develop.
 

Joshua Jones

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#76
The major difference of course is that when we slump, we can just stop doing it, and the athlete still has go to go work. If writers had to write, if we had decent paying jobs that depended on us writing 1500 words a day... I'm pretty sure we'd all get those words out and writer's block wouldn't be considered to exist in the same way. But there'd be a lot of days where we wrote total crap, and I think it'd be recognised that all writers had those periods.
I am actually not far from this hypothetical. A big part of my job is grant writing, press releases, and writing copy, so while I don't have to write, say, 1500 words a day, I do have to consistently write at a high level of quality. And, yeah, you find ways to work through the block, but sometimes, you know you are submitting garbage and you just have to roll with it for a bit to get the creative juices flowing. There are times where my boss comes into my office and says, "You and I both know this isn't your best work. You need to redo it before you send it to press." And then the second draft sends her into schoolgirlish delight as we rush it to print. What usually happens in between is a get up, go BS with a shop owner for a bit and get a gift card donated as a prize or secure a sponsorship while I am thinking through how I want to make that press release pop. The first draft is the "tell" version where I get straight my organization and details, and the second is the "show" version where I present the information as news and motivating to action, and crucially, the break remotivates me to attack the problem.

Then, there are days like yesterday where nothing seems to work, and I just take someone else's press release, change around the details and verbaige, and roll with it. Some days, you gotta do what you gotta do...
 

Toby Frost

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#77
That sounds quite like my job. The words have to be written, and they have to be accurate.

I've always shied away from words like "creatives", because it sounds a little precious to me. Partly because I don't think it accurately describes the job (is editing creative? Promoting sure doesn't feel creative to me), partly because I don't personally like labels, and partly because it implies that other non-obviously-arty jobs aren't. I'm also rather suspicious of the semi-scientific ideas about brain hemispheres and so on, which remind me of the kind of stuff I was told in school about how to study. I think I would rather be called "professional".

That said, I suspect in the past "creativity" (and, in some quarters, intelligence full stop) was seen as unmanly and rather pointless in the past. I'm reminded of the Monty Python sketch about the coal miner and his literary father.

I suspect that a lot of writers find writing a more mystical process than I do. When I started out, there was always an element of "yeah, right" in my mind when people talked of their characters surprising them. I don't think that anymore. Because of the way my life and job work, I get quite a lot of opportunity to work out what I'm going to write next, so I almost never find myself in front of a screen thinking "What now?" I think that reduces the chances of being surprised.
 

AlexH

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#79
I think a lot of people are creative but have a fear of showing that publicly, even if it's in front of family and friends. Me included, but I've been able to and am working through it. Some musicians, for example, have the freedom to do their own thing when bands are writing new songs, but instead they'll play the easy line. Maybe that's a lack of confidence, fear of rejection, both, or something else.

There are examples outside the arts. I remember reading about US Presidents. In meetings, Barack Obama always made sure he asked EVERYONE their opinion if they hadn't spoken in a meeting (I think he may have even made himself available outside of that environment). I can't remember her name, but there was a woman who hadn't spoken up under previous administrations, and Obama gave her the confidence to do so, even after she stopped working with him.

Sometimes people just need the encouragement or the safe environment to feel they can be creative.
 

Randy M.

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#80
I haven't read the entire thread yet, so please excuse me if I'm repeating someone else's point:

I find consideration of plot elements, character types, scene structure and such to be a good tool for identifying what I've done In a story and then forcing myself to do something different. For example, I recently realized that I'd never written a story with an unreliable narrator, so I sat down and wrote one. The choice of narrator shaped everything from the basic plot elements to character interactions and that forced me to write in a different way. It forced me to be more imaginative.
So, what that boils down to seems to me to be, I saw an aesthetic challenge: "I looked in my toolbox and realized the shiny one hadn't ever been used. I wasn't writing something to impress anyone or to express my inner self, I wasn't writing because I need the money (ha!) from a sale to finance my food budget, I wasn't writing because I'm a writer and I have to write something (okay, well, maybe a little). I was writing because that's my playground, because a certain approach intrigued and excited me, so I had to try it."

I bet a lot of writers have used exactly the same impetus (one impetus among many, probably): Just how does 2nd person work? What if I used all future tense? Etc ...

Years ago I kept hearing readers on-line disparage first person narration in part because you always knew, no matter how bad things got, that the narrator would survive. After all, s/he was telling the story. So I tried writing a story upending that expectation. There was a bit of a cheat in my final result, but I was pretty happy with the story all the same. And it got that nagging voice out of my head, the one saying, geez, you should try that! C'mon, it can't be that hard! I hate that voice, except of course when I don't.

Randy M.
 

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