On a college application for art school the essay question was the rather uncreative (I thought) “Where do your creative ideas come from?” Everyone knows the answer to this: all creative ideas come from the ether, out of the blue, from thin air.
The problem with the question isn’t where they come from, but the work that is necessary to keep them alive once they arrive. A better essay question would have been something that demonstrated that creative process, the old show, don’t tell. You know, something like “If oranges didn’t exist, explain how you would go about creating one.”
I woke up this morning thinking “I can’t possibly write anything. I just don’t have anything in me that can put words in coherent order.” Basically, I didn’t even have an orange in mind, much less any idea how to create one. A few hours later I had nine pages of new writing, a full chapter with dialog and a narrative arc and everything. How the heck did that happen on an allegedly empty tank?
Chalk it up to that part of the brain the goes around creating oranges.
The generally accepted rule about writing is that it only happens when one shows up, just like any other job. Alternately this is known as butt-in-chair time. For the writer the job is words, in order, preferably in one that conveys a story that engages other people. It is, in essence, creating oranges for a world to discover and enjoy for themselves.
That still doesn’t explain how it happens.
I think that everyone has the ability to access that part of the brain – let’s call it the Orange Segment – and as with any learned act becomes stronger over time. No one is born with the ability to drive a car or build a skyscraper though intuition and predisposition may play a part in how we select the things we choose to dedicate our time to. Those who are drawn to the Orange Segment will, over time, have easier access to the methods and procedures that allow for the creative act to take place on a regular basis. It operates in the background and has the uncanny ability to override conscious thinking.
It’s like a muscle memory that knows how to run the secret alleys and hidden paths of the brain blindfolded, able to get from point A to point B. It’s the hero who can outrun the bad guys. This morning the hero made it to the Orange Segment before the bad guys were even aware they have to stop him.
It was a good morning of writing.