Some highly creative people are not all that knowledgeable about their own creative processes. They paint what they paint, compose what they compose, or write what they write without giving much thought to the delicate procedures behind their crafts. Fortunately, one need not understand creativity to tap into it. In fact, a convincing argument can be made that consciousness is antithetical to creativity, but that is a subject for a future essay.
Without presuming to be more creative or more conscious than anyone else, I would like to present my own view of how fiction writing comes into being. For me, the creative process is comprised of two steps, neither of which is more important than the other. Both are necessary for the work to take on the special quality that shows that the creator has struck a harmonious chord.
In a vision, I see myself emerging from my tent in the morning with manna on the ground before me. I am delighted with my discovery, and I immediately go about collecting as much of the precious substance as I can carry. I take it to my tent, place it in a glob on the open pages of my journal, and push down until it is fully incorporated into the paper. At this point, I am aware that the precarious first step in the creative process is completed.
The fascinating thing, though, about obtaining manna is not that it’s special or that Someone may have placed it there, but rather that every time I find it, I am filled with doubt that I shall ever do so again. Each morning, as I move the tent flaps aside and step blinking into the sunlight, I gaze awestricken at manna speckling the ground as far as I can see. In spite of the perfection of this experience, I know that the next day I shall harbor doubts that the manna will be there. The following day, when I see that it is, I am relieved and ecstatic, but deep down, I know I shall doubt yet again. Sadly, such is the nature of the collection of manna. The first step in the creative process is riddled with misgivings.
The second step is perhaps less mystical but nevertheless a necessary condition to reaching a creative result. I must now take the manna, the raw material that fills my journal, and make it into a finished product. Some consider this part to be “editing,” a term that tends to diminish its importance. After all, you can go to school to learn to edit, but no one can teach you to be creative.
I view step two as a full fifty-percent contributor to my creative bottom line. Without it, the manna is too lumpy to be digestible and not at all aesthetically pleasing. Manna is akin to the sculptor’s rough-cut stone that stands ponderous and blank in the studio ready to receive the first blows of hammer and chisel. The figure is inside the stone, of course, but ever so difficult to see. Some artists are gifted with the ability to look at the stone and envisage its internal shape. Others, like me, have to chip away at it for a while before discovering whatever inhabits it. For me, a stone without sweat is simply a stone.
Just as the ancient Israelites were thankful to Yahweh for the manna they received, I am grateful for the miraculous appearance of coarse words on the pages of my journal. Sometimes no manna materializes, but it’s usually because I parted the tent flaps only slightly and peeked too timidly outside. When I sit down to write, with adequate time and a quiet mind, the manna always appears. And splendid it is in its original form, but never so marvelous as it becomes when kneaded and transformed into something more. A blank stone is meaningless absent the ring of the chisel as the hammer strikes it. Likewise, an early draft of a poem or story is mere gibberish until the writer massages the words and takes ownership of it.