I've had a request to write about the 'creative process' sitting in my suggestion box for several months now. Mea culpa. When my spouse (who got me started on this adventure) pointed out that I have not yet answered the request for a blog on Creative Process, I countered with my argument that I write about the creative process all the time. But, I am informed, I need to be more direct. So, here's direct.
The 'creative process' is a bit of a slippery fish. It starts early. In infancy. In very young childhood. In all the reflection and memories and dinner table anecdotes that happen at every holiday and family/friend get togethers. The creative process takes shape in sitting around with friends and having a beer or a cup of coffee. We cannot help but engage in the creative process if we tune into life at all. It is a default setting for anyone with a brain wave. But for those of us who want to take the raw materials that life hands us and turn them into something more, we pay attention, tune in, remember just a bit more acutely than others.
What if we would like to capture that process on 'paper' though? Turn the process into something a bit more tangible, like a short story, a novel, an essay? That's where the work comes in.
And it is work. It is a re-shaping, selection, a series of decisions about what to include and what to leave out. It cannot merely be a rambling, every detail re-telling of some long ago event. That's what unedited video cameras are for, and no one really wants to spend time with unedited video.
In order to take the raw materials of life and turn them into something resembling 'art' we must ruminate, cogitate, write, re-write, edit and edit again before we present the stuff of life and transform them into a gem that we would like to share. We must 'cook' our thoughts and pay attention to our dreams, where we are off guard enough to let some whispers through. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, imagination and selection are essential.
In a recent article, Digging to China, I wrote about playing in the mud. In the creative process you have to get a little muddy-- you have to feel the dirt ooze between your fingers and watch as the worms wriggle to freedom. You have to slap the mud into cakes and have enough imagination to believe they are hamburgers or cupcakes or mashed potatoes or weapons to lob at your brother. You have to not mind getting messy and dropping down into that experience. You have to 'make believe' as most young children do naturally, whether what you are aiming at is memoir or the next great novel.
The creative process is not some mystical whoo-whoo encounter with a muse. Many of us wish it were. Many of us would like to take dictation from some higher elusive being than slog through memories, create or re-create characters, situations, events. Many of us would like to wake up in the morning and just type out a fabulous dream that is a little gem ready for publication. Some writers do seem so gifted. Most of us, I'm afraid, have to work a little harder and do the digging the old fashioned way. When we get to the place of exotic treasure and work it into something we are proud of it does feel like we dug all the way to China.