Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thoughts on Creativity, aka There's a Method to my Madness

Those of you who have been stopping by regularly may recall that I've mentioned a few times lately that I've had patterns on the brain - patterns in nature, patterns in visual arts, patterns in writing, patterns in creativity. In the wonderful way of synchronicity, several things came together in the past week or so to bring this to my attention. A group with whom I sometimes do some collaborative art deck projects has another one going, so I'm mulling over collage ideas based on certain themes. Over at One Deep Breath there was a prompt about writing haiku-type poems inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. A large quilt email group I belong to had a discussion about mind-maps. I wrote a poem I ended up posting Thursday. Some of you - those of you who tend to think and work in a very logical, linear fashion - are probably looking at the above list and thinking "huh? so...?" while others of you - those of you who work like I do, by finding the patterns in seemingly disparate things and tying them together in an intuitive way - may already be nodding your head and saying "oh yeah, I see where she's going with this." Most of you know that while I've written little limerick and haiku style poems for years, I've only just started trying to write anything longer or less structured. I find my main problem with writing free verse is the thing that probably should make it easier - a lack of "rules." There's no need to figure out rhymes that relate to the topic, no need to conform to a particular structure of lines or syllables. All of that is great in theory - very freeing! - but in practice it means that I often find it hard to know where to begin. Last week though, I think I may have made a breakthrough on that point. I figured out that the way I write free verse (when it works for me) is exactly like the way I create collages, either paper and glue collages or the digital kind. Essentially, when I write poetry, I'm creating word collages. When I'm creating a collage on a particular subject, the first thing I do is set aside a folder - real or virtual - dedicated specifically to that topic. Then I start going through my available images. At this point I'm rarely looking for specific images, instead I'm just trying to go through them with an open mind and see what jumps out at me that is related to the topic. Some of the things I choose may not be overtly related to the topic, but something about them speaks to me and whispers that it'll have a place in the story. I don't try to analyze why. I just pull that image and put it in the folder. When the folder has lots of stuff in it - more than I could possibly use - I take a look at everything I've gathered and see what sort of story it's trying to tell me. I don't know how else to put it exactly. It's like seeing the images as a group, I will almost always start to see certain relationships emerge between things. I'll think "oh, sure, this needs to go with that and both of those will play off this other thing" and before I know it I have a composition emerging in my mind and on my work table or computer screen. Sometimes it turns out I have everything I need to finish right there in the folder. Other times I find that I'm missing a key image or two to make it complete and that's when I go searching for specific photos, knowing I need a photo of a tropical fish, or a yellow balloon, or a weathered headstone to finish the emerging picture. How is that like writing poetry, you might wonder? I've found that when I write free verse, what is working for me is to not worry too much about where I'm going with it at first and instead to just start making what amounts to a mind map of ideas about whatever it is I want to talk about. I think of words, phrases, fragments, sentences and they seem to somehow go together, although if anyone asked me in the beginning how or why they go together, I wouldn't have the faintest idea. I don't try to figure it out at that point or to put them in any particular order. I just scribble random words and phrases all over a piece of notebook paper. I even have a notepad by my bed and when I was about to fall asleep one night the phrase "taste it if you dare" popped into my head and I literally grabbed a pen and rolled over and wrote it in the dark, by touch only, hoping I'd be able to read it in the morning. I could, I did, and it ended up in the poem I posted a couple of days ago. Just like with collage, eventually a pattern begins to emerge. I start seeing relationships between these seemingly random thoughts I've scribbled. I see a definite beginning and a definite end to the story. I see one or more ideas that seem to me to clearly be key pivot points in between the beginning and end. When that happens I'll start another sheet of paper, writing the beginning at the top, the ending at the bottom and the pivot(s) in between. And just like with collage, when I start tying it all together, sometimes everything I need to tell the story is right there among my first tangled nest of ideas and other times I find I need to start Round Two and find some new words - new mental images - to bridge the gaps. I also find with both collage and poetry that often some of my favorite images or words - some of the ones I fall in love with and think will be key to the story - end up in the discard pile. It's always a little heartbreaking to me when that happens, but it's surprising how often it turns out that way. It happens with quilts too, where I normally start with a rough sketch and then start pulling fabric off the shelves with wild abandon. I always end up pulling about six times as much fabric as I need from my stash and then laying down the key players and finding others to act as bridges. When I'm looking for just the right shade of orange for a quilt, I may not know what "right" is until I see a pile of possible oranges against other fabrics and see which ones are singing and which ones are sulking, and often the one I'd pick as the prettiest if I was looking at them individually is not the one that ends up in the quilt. In hindsight, all this seems a bit like a BFO*, but it really was an "ah HA!" sort of moment for me when I started thinking of writing poetry as making word collages. It made it seem more accessible to me. Poetry still makes me nervous on some levels, but collages I get! Linking them together in my mind - recognizing a relationship, making a link with something I know and love! - makes me feel a bit more competent...a bit more hopeful that the next time I get an idea for a poem it won't seem so scary to jump in and start. That's a Good Thing. I'm curious how some of the rest of you work, both writers and visual artists. How do you move from ideas to finished stories? (And in this context I'm referring to drawings, paintings, art quilts, etc. as "stories" too.) If you want to share, either in comments or on your own blog, I'd love to hear what you have to say! *Blinding Flash of the Obvious (for anyone who might not have run across that acronym before) Today's DAT* is another nod at the Fibonacci sequence as found in nature. "Sunflower Seeds" *Daily Art Thang

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