This post by Craig Snider
Have you ever heard an artist saying any of the following?
1. I only create when I feel the muse.
2. I wait for inspiration.
3. Write drunk, edit sober.
4. I have to be high to create.
5. I stopped taking my medication because it inhibited my creativity.
6. Monkeys made me do it.
Okay, that last one is just me. But, I’m sure you’ve heard the gamut of these things before. There is a great lack of knowledge about where creativity comes from, and how to harness it. We’ve often heard that many of our favorite authors were troubled in some way, and that those troubles fueled their creativity somehow. Many writers feel they have to be drunk or high in order to reach some higher plane of creative ability. And, I’m sure that to some degree that may be true, but only because they don’t know any other way, or, just spit-ballin here, they’re an addict. Take your pick.
Many writers, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Earnest Hemingway, are suspected to have suffered from Bipolar Disorder, a condition characterized by chaotic mood swings, diminished inhibitions, hyper-sexuality, irrationality, depression, compulsions, attention deficit, memory problems, apathy, and many more wonderful things. Sounds amazing right?
There is scientific evidence to support the theory that many creative people may suffer from this, or some similar disorder, or that many people with bipolar tend to find themselves in creative fields.
“That’s so unfair,” you may be saying. “I don’t have bipolar, and I want to be a writer/painter/whatever.” Does this mean that some people are just genetically predisposed to being more creative than others? That’s ridiculous, right? I mean, it isn’t like there are people who have genetics that make them better at other stuff like sports or anything, right? Hmmm….
No, my point is not that Bipolar Bears rise up against the oppression of the sane and rational majority, taking over Hollywood as their twisted base of operations where they will put out a dizzying array of strange and somewhat intriguing movies that feature animals as the main characters. I’m not. Seriously. I’ve tried already. It just doesn’t work…
Here’s my point. I am a Bipolar Bear. I suffer from this disorder, and I wasn’t diagnosed until about five years ago. So, for the majority of my life, I’ve unknowingly dealt with the ups and downs (see what I did there??) of the mood swings and creative cycle. And, once diagnosed, and medicated, I could really tell the difference in my writing.
So, when I started my medication, it really dulled that edge. Though I felt more like a normal person, instead of a slightly less muscular Incredible Hulk, I had a hard time tapping into that universe again. In fact, it became really difficult to daydream. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it is true. I don’t know the science, and if you guys do, feel free to let me know. But, something in the brain chemistry before my meds allowed me to actively tap into the creative side of my mind, and with that dulled, it was hard to engage the imagination.
Now, I had the challenge of how to find that universe again, unaided by my little mind gremlin. What I discovered was this. The imagination is like a muscle. It has to be flexed in order for it to grow stronger. Whatever the chemistry is in the minds of those with certain mental disorders, it allows them to do this intuitively, just like someone born with more muscle fibers, and longer tendon attachment sites will be naturally stronger than those who don’t. But, it is still possible to systematically increase that imaginative ability.
There are a lot of ways to do it. Meditation is a great way to control your mental state, allowing your mind to be open to random mental associations which can lead to imaginative breakthroughs. Another may be music. Studies have proven that listening to melodic music puts your brain into a more conducive state, and listening to jarring music will do the opposite. Another way is to do writing exercises that force you to think outside the box will help stretch those mind muscles a bit too.
Tapping into that creative vein is not always easy, but it can be done. The key is learning to allow your mind to free-associate. This is how our minds come up with innovations, by combining typically unassociated concepts together and seeing what arises from it. A good way to do this is to keep a dream journal, and an idea journal, and also a traditional journal. Idea journals are great for me. Any time you have an idea, no matter how ridiculous, write it down. That single idea may never germinate into a full-blown story, but that idea, combined with the one you write in a couple of weeks may be the perfect concoction for your sci-fi, mystery, alien abduction/bigfoot love story. Who knew?
Free writing is similar in this respect. You just begin writing without any thought of character, story, or theme. This is how Stephen King writes all the time, and it works for him (most of the time anyway. We won’t talk about Under the Dome…). There is a rule in improv comedy that says, “silence your inner critic.” We all try to edit what we write as we write it, but sometimes, you just have to let it pour out of you. And, the more you do it, the more you’ll realize your mind begins to free up those disparate associations. Sure, you’ll still have to go back and edit that mess eventually, but you should keep a free-writing journal as well, where all your mental gobbledegook can just get dumped onto the page/screen.
Speaking of improv. I’ve written before about this, and want to reiterate it again. Improv has helped me in all aspects of my life. And, thanks to my coach’s “Improve Your Writing” workshops, it has helped my writing as well. Opening your mind to the possibilities, and learning how to cultivate that process has more benefits than I can name.
So, the next time you are envying that madman in the corner of the coffee shop, the one with the drool coming out of his mouth, smelling a bit like mouthwash, and dishing out page after page of wonderfully imaginative prose, remember that he probably just needs a hug, a smile, and a good dose of anti-psyhcotics. He’s no better a writer than you. He just has a mind gremlin.