creativity collage writing | a riverbend writing project post

Creativity involves understanding the “rules,” which are the foundation for art but also knowing, intrinsically, when it is appropriate to break said “rules.”  Creativity is letting go of restraint, silencing the inner critic, and allowing oneself to simply “be.”

Just as we are the collective sum of all of our own experiences, the people we’ve met, the books we’ve read, conversations we’ve had—creativity originates within the Self.  It involves who we are, and people who consider themselves to be uncreative perhaps haven’t learned to appreciate their stories and the value these stories hold for them and others.


Understanding that we will never be like previous writers is a critical first step in allowing oneself to be creative and be a writer.  The inner critic, though ever-present and often a deterrent to writing, (“You’re not good enough,” “You will never be good enough,” “Your stories are not interesting enough,” etc.) inhabits a distinct purpose:  to keep us mindful about our writing that we endeavor to tell our own stories in the best possible way, striving for greatness while at the same time accepting we may never achieve it in the same way as other literary giants.  They were great in their time, with their stories, their experiences, just as we have the potential to be great in our time with our stories.  We must love our writing, love our craft, love our characters in a way only we can.  We must not allow the threat of the inner critic to silence our creative spirit.


Flashback to seven weeks ago.  For months on end, plagued with visits from specters of my own, I no longer wrote.  I thought of writing, often, but ghosts as vivid and real as the ones described by Goodman kept my hands from the keyboard and pens and instruments of imagination.  I questioned whether the time spent composing would amount to anything, that anyone beyond me would see value in the stories I longed to tell.  It’s not that I viewed other authors with a sort of idolatry—I instead failed to value my own characters enough to continue to impart them with a voice and a life.

Then, sitting in an audience of peers and teachers and generic audience members and pawns, I witnessed an individual speak about his writing, his book in his hand, printed, with paper and a cover and a dust jacket and in his hands.  And something amazing happened: a flash of lightning, a spark, an epiphany—whatever literary metaphor you wish to assign.  The humble, timid, creative spirit contemplated to initiate a battle against the specters.


I tend to divide my approaches to writing according to the genre I’m attempting to indulge:  poetry by hand—because it feels more organic, thoughtful, calculated; almost everything else electronically.  Keeping up with my imagination as it plows forward, I don’t want my sluggish handwriting to miss any details.  I want to write in notebooks again.  I feel like I enjoyed writing more then, cared less about the inner critic, but I cannot fetishize notebooks in the way I used to.  I used to purchase notebooks for their beauty and their texture, but when I ended with stacks of notebooks and the threat of writing something not worthy of the beauty of its container, I lost the materialistic desire for writing—that romantic, first-year-marriage worship of it.  Writing and I, we have become old lovers: we inhabit the same house but we rarely indulge in displays of affection.

Maybe I should buy a new notebook.


A nineteen-year-old sits in an upper-level creative writing course, surrounded by juniors and seniors and a professor glaring down from Mt. Olympus.  A mortal, daring to mingle among the gods.  The professor smiles, but rarely, and his laughter lacerates the skin like a thousand tiny paper cuts. “This,” he says, from the towering throne, gripping the manuscript, “is a stupid high-school pipe dream.”  The words frost the air, freezing the eyes until they burn.  The demigods watch, silent and dispassionate as the god speaks.  “You are forbidden to work on it for this class again.”  The mortal accepts the bleeding papers and sits at the base of the steps to Olympus, watching in horror as the god, who was never actually a god, transforms into a ghost.


Imagination:  (1) stream of consciousness; (2) the inner conversation that goes on when not speaking aloud to others.  (3) The old-fashion film strip running constantly through the brain. (4) The mechanism which organizes existing experiences, cuts them apart, reorders them, and presents them to the consciousness anew. (5) The toppings of the sundae, not the ice cream.


Imagination is the voice of creativity.  Since creativity is the sum of who we are, imagination is what we are able to do with that information.  To process it all, summarize, find new synapses, pull only the best parts and interpret life through new eyes.  A story is never retold the same way, even by the same person because new experiences, new conversations, new joys and disappointments separate the tellings.  I imagine that people who do not consider themselves to be creative must feel they lack the experiences which enable us to tell stories in interesting ways.  How unfortunate, to only see the world through someone else’s interpretation of it.


When people write, they record parts of themselves on paper.  Achilles’ mother convinced him to go to war because he could finally achieve the thing he lacked: immortality.  He had to be the best warrior.  No one remembers the shitty ones.  In our writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, poetry or social commentary—we pluck a part of who we are and through our imagination interpret these experiences to retell to others, and this is precisely why we fear criticism so much.  We are terrified someone may tell us that we and our experiences are not valid.  It’s not about fearing someone may point out a comma splice or misplaced modifier, no.  It’s the fear that someone may tell us that our life is not worth reading about.  It’s Achilles, wanting nothing more than to just be remembered.


Youth is the greatest enemy of the storyteller because it slows us down from having the experiences we deem great enough to talk about.  But we all have stories to tell, some just need to be laundered within the imagination a little while longer than others.  A 250-word response to “write about a time you were stressed” brought me to tears, the story of a thirteen-year-old abandoned at a bus stop by his mother.  The boy who lived “without cover” in a bush next to a man with his dog.  I told him his story was wonderful, beautifully written.  He didn’t view it as such.  Where was the failure? In the experience or in the telling?


I met the most creative person I know by chance, though I’m told, in life, there are no accidents.  She is a professional storyteller by trade, a talented artist, and a free spirit.  She drifted into my classroom in her jeans and tattered shirt, aware of this, yet comfortable.  It is who she is when she’s not donning a costume for others.  She told a true story of her family, how her grandparents emigrated into the country, their struggles, their joys.  She assigned each of my students the role of her family members, helped them transition into the part until they became, to her, those people.  She touched them familiarly on the shoulder, spoke to them with a twinkle of recognition, positioned them around the room, signed to them though none of them needed the interpretation.  She taught us the sign for “friend.”  Some students struggled to keep up, attempted to sign with her, following the fluid motions of her hands; her enthusiasm for her story became infectious—we cared about the people in her story, the people we had become.  She embodied creativity, and after she left, and we returned to routine, we rationalized that what had happened during her visit was indeed strange but wonderful.  She had allowed us to temporarily join her in her own world, in her experiences, without trepidation, without fear of judgment or criticism.  We could not judge her, for she was so entirely convinced of the validity of her story, we had no choice but to concur: yes, this story is beautiful and hers.

I want that sense of legitimacy for my students and not in the 140-character “I’m enjoying my third Diet Coke” sort of way.  To tell stories that matter.  To harness the courage to tell the stories that matter more than the daily routines we allow ourselves to lazily slide into. To be.


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