I have been doing a lot of thinking about the creative process lately, and how we come to take these millions of random and strange ideas bobbing around in the oceans of our head and make them into something. Sometimes the “something” is a beautiful Picasso painting or a Jane Austen novel, and sometimes the “something” is a scribble of a duck on a used McDonald’s napkin.
The more I engage in upper-level creativity classes in both majors, the more I discover how different the creative process is for everyone. Going beyond the screen, beyond the notebook and text, there is a space and place we find ourselves creating, whether it be physically or mentally. Maybe it’s the busy Starbucks around the corner, the empty library down the street, the special little desk space you built in your bedroom, or maybe it’s even your car in a parking lot or every morning in the shower.
When I first started writing, I had so many notebooks scattered around my space. Whether it be shoved in the school locker with bent covers, lost beneath my bed, or integrated with the stacks of bookshelves in my room, I wrote all over these notebooks just as miscellaneously as I kept them. When I got my first laptop, I realized how much simpler my life had just become, and began to keep all of my writing on one device and in one folder, which for storage and preservation reasons turned out to be a lot better than the traditional pen and paper technique.
In terms of how I actually sit down and shape the thoughts in my head into an essay, a blog post, a caption, or a poem, it takes both planning and spontaneity, a sense of space, and usually caffeine.
As a creator, I don’t usually plan on ideas coming to me, and I think the best ideas are often unforced thoughts that pop in at the most random (and inconvenient times). The next best New York Times Bestseller? Probably will come to me when I am at a red light or trying to do yoga.
And as much as I would like to describe to you that my creative process is neat, tidy, and looks like something on Pinterest, it isn’t. It’s often messy. My laptop screen should be cleaned (I am noticing it as we speak), my notes need professional decoding, and I have so many unsystematic sticky notes in my planner, on my desk, next to my bed, in my car, that it’s like finding Easter eggs (except each note contains something random and often aimless).
Yet in the end, I always end up filling up the Word doc in front of me, no matter if the sentences are cohesive or not. Anne Lamott says it best in her book “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”, and I think it applies just as prominently to creating too:
“Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived… Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfection is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forget to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”
My writing process has remained consistent over the years, but the flux of learning about my own creativity as well as others has allowed me to open my mind to new ways of creating. In this upcoming series the next few weeks, I will be asking my friends, family, and anyone in between what their creative process looks like. I suspect that everyone composes differently, and their projects reflect this. I am excited to learn new ways to understand and express creativity, and hope you are too!