Not much time for blogging recently, but then, out into my lap, came this wonderful, previously unpublished essay by Isaac Asimov on the creative process. The whole thing is absolutely worth reading, but I will chomp out some of the most relevant parts:
The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. ...
A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.
... [T]the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits.
Once you have the people you want, the next question is: Do you want to bring them together so that they may discuss the problem mutually, or should you inform each of the problem and allow them to work in isolation? My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. ... The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.
Nevertheless, a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.
... [It seems to me] the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.
My two big takeaways from his essay ought to be familiar to you long-suffering constant readers:
1) Real creativity happens in disinhibited isolation.
In plainer English: if you want to be creative, you have to listen down into yourself, and put the noise of the outside world on a shelf until you actually need it. Plus, there's no waiting for creative lightning to strike; you've got to get out there on a hill with a kite and a key on its string — or, conversely, dig into yourself
The best creative work I've seen is not just from people who know how to synthesize the things around them (LOOK MA, STEAMPUNK DINOSAUR DUBSTEP PORN!). The ones who know how to look outwardly to places where other people aren't looking, and also look inside to where only they can look (and get something back from) — they're the best ones. So:
2) The fuel for creativity, however, does not come in isolation, but from getting out of one's bubble in multiple ways.
What strikes me most about the SF and fantasy greats — Asimov included, duh — was the wealth of knowledge and curiosity they had about life outside of their chosen bolt-hole. If presented with something outside of their rubric, they didn't shrug — or, worse, squeeze off a knee-jerk categorization/reaction. They educated themselves. But they also knew how to take that experience and curiosity back into the private furnace of their imaginations, and to melt it down in a way that wasn't conformant to fashion or marketing.
"Disorient yourself!" should be a slogan somewhere. Maybe someone can print bumper stickers.
I keep coming back to evidence that suggests the ways we want creativity to work are nothing like the ways creativity actually does work. First and foremost is all the signs that it's, well, work, and not something that just drops out of heaven to hit you in the forehead like a brick from God. "Being in the right mood" is a dead end, because then you're training yourself to not rely on your own efforts to produce anything. And so on.