The Heart of Creative Genius

OK, so genius may be a bit strong for most of us, me included. But the question remains: where does the heart of creativity lie?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. In December, I decided that 2012 would be the year that I (again) try to write a good novel–one that, regardless of whether it’s ever published, will be worth the time to read.

To write any book, you need a certain amount of technical skill. You have to possess a decent vocabulary from which to build coherent sentences, which in turn form meaningful paragraphs. You organize these smaller parts into chapters in a way that will at once hold the reader’s attention and create sufficient suspense to cause her to keep reading.

And that’s the easy part.

It’s true for any creative act. Anyone who engages in the creative process needs the technical skills to work in that medium. Musicians need a working knowledge of scales and chords. Scientists need lab equipment and mathematics. Visual artists need a mastery of disciplines like sketching, painting, or sculpting. Developing those skill sets can take years.

Still, a master of technical skill alone can still do little more than reproduce what he’s already been exposed to. A virtuoso painter might be able to create a perfect replica of Mona Lisa, and while that in itself would be an accomplishment, there’s a problem with the endeavor.

Leonardo da Vinci already painted the Mona Lisa. Perfectly, in fact. His original is called a masterpiece. A copy is called a reproduction at best, a forgery at worst.

Real creativity doesn’t come from technical mastery. It’s heart lies somewhere else.

But where?

Right now, my answer seems to be perspective. Creative acts are born out of the ability to see connections between dissimilar things, or perhaps to show a heretofore unseen side of something familiar.

That’s why good writers (and good preachers, for the churchgoers among you) almost never go with their first idea for a story or poem or sermon. If it’s obvious enough for you to see in thirty seconds, your audience will see where you’re going before you start. The word for a presentation like that is “boring.”

I can see this with painful clarity as I go back to read the two previous novels I’ve written. The structure is good and the use of language solid, but they are no different than a million other also-ran novels out there. I take the fact that neither of them ever got close to publication as a very real sign of God’s mercy.

With the new book, however, I’m going in with the understanding that what I’m saying may be important, but it will be empty unless what I’m seeing really matters.

So the heart of creativity is perspective. It’s opening ourselves to seeing things that others miss, then pairing our new understanding with our skills in a particular medium in order to share the wonder of our discovery.

That, at least, is my answer for now. It’s entirely possible that my perspective will change.

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