Today I’ll cover the more of Cathy Pickens’ workshop on creativity, sponsored by Sisters in Crime. If you missed the first installment, it’s here.
Pickens addressed success, which, she said, might not be related to raw talent. She suggested that persistence trumps talent every time. How often have you seen the quote that a published author is an unpublished one who didn’t give up?
Individuals who are considered to be creative never felt their work was finished—they thought there was always something they could do to make it better. As writers, we want our work to be the best it can be, but we have to know when we’re done—when our changes aren’t making things better, only different. Creative people always have a problem to solve, a vision to capture, a story to tell.
Pickens spoke of getting into “The Zone.” That place where everything flows, almost without conscious effort. But she also said that the people who get into that zone are the ones who show up at the same time, in the same place, every day. You can’t wait for your muse. Some days are harder than others, but she said that when she’d look back over her own work, she couldn’t tell which scenes were written on the ‘hard’ days and which were written on the days where everything burst forth. It’s important to get something done, be it working on the book, or a painting, or any other project.
Artists understand the value of failure. Their ‘secret’ is to fail fast. Understand that there will be failures, accept them and move on. Get past those failures quickly.
She also told us that writing longhand can stimulate creativity because it matches the pace of our brains. (Personal note—I still can’t do that for the actual writing, but I do write my notes out on paper—and hope I can read them later). She told us that the tools we use are precious, and they must feel good to use, whether they’re a 3-for-a-dollar spiral notebook or a Moleskine journal. She extolled the use of notebooks for writing down ideas.
She also insisted that there is no such thing as multi-tasking. Your brain can focus on one thing at a time; it becomes a matter of how fast and how often you require it to switch. Men have a much more linear focus; women can switch gears more quickly, but it’s still a one-at-a-time thing. She pointed out that it takes 15 minutes after an interruption to return to the point where you abandoned the task. Breaks are good, especially when you get stuck, but you have to be the one to do the interrupting.
She talked about Twyla Tharp’s kinds of failure. You can fail because you lack the skill. Your concept can be weak, which is another type of failure. There’s also a failure in judgment, failure due to a lack of nerve, due to repetition, or because of denial.
She asked the group what they thought stifled creativity. Responses included fear of rejection, criticism, stress, lack of support, and being hampered by “rules.”
She also gave an example of one very creative person most people haven’t heard of: Cornelis Drebbel. It’s his picture at the top of this post. I’ll let you see what inventions he came up with—in the 1600s, and you can judge for yourself whether he’s an appropriate illustration for this article.
Next time, I’ll go into Pickens’ summary of the steps in the creative process.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society