Recently, I was asked to reflect on my own creative process - specifically the preparation for, and application of ideas.
Admittedly, one of the more mundane elements to my creative process is the use of an utterly shocking number of post-it notes. Yellow, pink, blue, orange - you name it. I use them all and often. You can always find them pinned ceremoniously all over the house:
“Flesh out that intro.”
“Remember to check up on such-and-such source.”
“Clean the litter box already.”
However, in terms of preparation for a major idea or for cultivating strategies to mount major projects, I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to be meticulously organized. To some, this may seem counter-intuitive to the idea of creativity but in my own experience, I’ve found that creativity (like writing, like gardening, like the practice of achieving mindfulness) is a pencil that needs to be sharpened. Lightning strikes of pure creative joy have jarred me at what seem like random moments (ah HA! “So that’s what my thesis was all about!”) But more often than not, these instances of idea-making occurred because I had done the necessary preparation and meticulous gathering of materials needed to foster that kind of connective, interdependent thinking - to be able to recognize the next step when it comes sneaking around the corner.
One can’t just sit up all night and write a book in one day (I learned that the hard way when working on my dissertation) but I can certainly achieve the feeling of how that might happen if I have done the daily work to position myself within that realm of possibility.
As for the application of ideas, there are two catch phrases often repeated in my household that shape the cultivating of ideas. They are: “Write drunk but edit sober” (pretty self-explanatory…the whims of experimenting are great for generating ideas, but unless you’re Hunter S. Thomas, they aren’t always best left uninhibited). The other phrase, oft repeated toward the end of a project, is “Kill your darlings” - a phrase I lifted from Stephen King (who in turn, lifted it from some one else) that reminds me that not everything that bubbles up from the chaos of my mind during the creative process should stick around in the final product.
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings….”
- On Writing, Stephen King