When there is no freedom, there is no creativity. ~ Soud Qbeilat
The act of writing, of telling the tale, is also the act of laying traps. And it is in these traps that we capture our muses. In other words, we capture them, they don’t capture us. ~ Chuck Wendig
I recently had a conversation with a friend who was upset by the snobbery she read about between creatives, specifically literary writers versus romance writers. (If it comes to fisticuffs, I’ll put my money on romance writers any day.) Setting aside personal preference regarding reading or writing a certain genre, this kind of comparison seems as rational as making fun of someone who prefers polo shirts over t-shirts or the color red over blue. I’m still trying to understand where this kind of thinking comes from.
Creativity vs. Creative Expression
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, 2001) defines “creative” as: (#2) having or showing imagination and artistic or intellectual inventiveness [creative writing]; and (#3) stimulating the imagination and inventive powers [creative toys]. In other words, creativity demonstrates imagination and inventiveness and stimulates the same.
Is what we think of creativity actually the expression of creativity? When we say someone is creative, does that come from our perception of what that person has expressed through music, words, or another medium?
Expression of Creativity, a function of time and testing
To get good at anything we need to spend time doing that thing. Musicians study and practice for hours and years. Artists who draw or paint don’t pick up a pencil or a brush and create a masterpiece the first time they try (and maybe not for decades). Dancers must stay in shape, continue to practice their steps, and learn new ways to move.
Regarding actors, it seems the ones whose expression of creativity is better than others are those who have spent time learning their craft, maybe digging deeper into their emotions than others are willing to do. The same is true for writers. None of us enjoys reliving old wounds any more than gnawing on bitter bones, but doing so can translate into more fully formed characters and a story that resonates.
Writers can’t stop learning, practicing, drawing with our words, strengthening our creative muscles. We start out barely able to construct a sentence with clarity (that is, if we can get the creative bits out of our brains to begin with). The best expression of our creativity happens after we put the time in.
Does it take a writer longer to be good at their craft than a musician or a painter? Does what we put in equal what we get out?
Creatives vs. “Ordinaries”
Does that mean people who aren’t usually considered artistic also aren’t creative? What about cooks, engineers, entrepreneurs? Should we judge creativity on a scale? Artists get the high score and lowly inventors a mid-mark. While we’re at it, let’s compare and judge artists against each other. Even better, let’s start by judging preschoolers’ finger paintings. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Stepping away from sarcasm, are fiction writers more creative than nonfiction writers? I think not. So this is where I suggest we look at the expression of creativity in a different way.
The Write Way to Look at Creativity
Let’s put who we think of as artists (writers, musicians, sculptors, etc.) in one group and call them fiction-type-creatives. Put other more academic types (architects, programmers, doctors, etc.) and “ordinary” folk, such as cooks and landscapers, in a nonfiction-type-creatives group. If we did this, would we think more kindly, be more accepting, of all people and their expressions of creativity?
Really, I’m in awe of people who throw ingredients into a pot and pull out a magically-delicious-whatever. What about those who apply their technical knowledge and years of experience to real-world problems to create something that changes lives, like a portable water purifying system? And consider mothers and teachers—I dare you to try keeping children occupied without applying some kind of creativity.
My Creativity Rant
So that is my little rant, and a long way of saying: I believe we’re all creative in some way, and the extent to which our expression of creativity affects others depends on how much time we put into learning and practicing a particular creative endeavor.
Polo vs. t-shirt. Oil painting vs. watercolor. Jazz vs. rock-n-roll.
I’m glad we’re not all one kind of reader or writer. Creative expression should be marked by individualism. Creativity grows thousands of branches from the same tree, each budding or blooming with kaleidoscopic flowers.
If we’re all creative in some way, doesn’t that give us common ground to interact on?
At some point in the early 1960s, a boy on the playground yelled at me, “Your mother wears combat boots.” I don’t remember what prompted such a remark. If it was meant as an insult, I didn’t take it as one.* My mother served in the Army before I was born, so I reasoned she could have worn combat boots. I put it out of my mind at the time and returned to more important matters, like showing off my Outer Limits trading cards or admiring someone else’s Rat Fink ring. I ignored that child’s remark for the same reason I ignored those who called me an Army brat: my mother had taught me to pick my battles.
With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking more and more about my mom. Audrey Agnes Salerno was born in 1927 in Peoria, Illinois to an Italian-immigrant father and an Irish-American mother. She was taught to love babies and food and how to hunt four-leaf clovers—all of which she passed on to me. She was the wisest person I’ve ever known, and I thought I’d take advantage of internet immortality to share a little of what I learned from her.
Find a Reason to Laugh
My mom laughed a lot and taught my siblings and me to do the same. She often said, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing with you,” and so we learned to laugh at ourselves as well. When a traveling photographer came to my grandma’s door one summer day, he snapped a photo of my 4-year-old mother wearing a somewhat sly expression. She was probably planning her next practical joke—a talent she carried into her adult years.
Read and Imagine
As a child, Mom often jumped off her porch roof to strengthen her arms for flying. This was the kind of active imagination she encouraged in her own children (but the pursuit of flight was, oddly, discouraged). With her guidance, I could read by the time I was four years old. She filled our home, our birthday presents, and our Christmas stockings with books. And a gift of a secondhand manual typewriter bridged the gap between my imagination and the stories waiting to flow from my fingertips.
The Great Depression was a great equalizer. Every country in the world was affected by it. The Salerno’s had it better than some in the 1930s, living in a mortgage-free house (built by my great-grandfather) and with a yard big enough to grow fist-sized tomatoes and multi-colored bell peppers. Still, times were tough; even though she was hungry, my mom couldn’t eat dinner the night her pet rabbit was served in a stew. When she had her own children, she made sure we had warm coats in the winter and shoes that fit (and always—always—had food on the table). Because of her I learned to be resourceful and to never waste a crumb of anything.
Hold Your Tongue and Your Temper
Mom taught us the importance of our words and how they affect others. She didn’t gossip, wouldn’t allow a hint of it in the house, and she lived by the rule, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Regarding cussing, she believed we have so many better, and more ladylike, words to choose from in the English language. You would think with all that crazy Irish-Italian blood running through her veins she would have been hot-headed, but she held her temper like no one else could. She was also an expert at holding a secret. I was a teenager before she let slip she never received a high school diploma.
Believe in Yourself
She was 16 years old in 1944 when the world was at war. She grew tired of spending her days in classrooms and watching life pass her by. Quitting school seemed the right thing to do. Shy and introverted, she still believed she could do anything she put her mind to. Though she had no skills, she landed a job as a clerk with the Peoria Journal/Star.
It wasn’t long before the newspaper’s cartoonist Mort Greene became enamored of her, evidenced by gifts of hand-drawn cards, poetry, candy, and flowers. Other women her age might have jumped at the chance of romance, but my mom had set her mind on a wiser path.
Learn From Your Mistakes
She enrolled in school again, and by the end of 1948 she had received a General Education Development (GED) certificate from Manual Training High School. The war was over by then, but patriotism still ran high. In downtown Peoria, Women’s Army Corps (WAC) posters asked, “Are you a girl with a Star-Spangled heart?” She enlisted in 1949, at the age of 21, and went to stenographer’s school.
Follow Your Heart
My mom had many suitors in the Army, but it was my dad’s sense of humor that won her over. Within a year of enlisting she had fallen in love with that young Sergeant in the Signal Corps. At the time, women couldn’t stay in the military after getting married, so PFC Audrey A. Salerno received an honorable discharge three days after the ceremony. Some would bristle at that now, but my mom knew her heart and it was the right choice for her.
The Highest Calling
A few days before my mother’s death at the age of 58, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and asked if she ever regretted giving up her future to raise us. She told me she considered it an honor to be a mother, and there was nothing else she would rather have spent her life doing. Of all the things she taught me by example, learning the importance of responsibility and sacrifice has served me the best (and the most often) over the years.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who give so much and make the world a shinier, more loving place.
What lessons did you learn from your mom? If any of you had a mother in the military, I’d love to hear her story.
*As it turns out, that child was trying to insult me, but I like to think he was just passing on what he heard someone else say and had no idea what it meant. Urbandictionary.com says this about that playground taunt: During WWII, prostitutes who followed the troops around, sometimes wore army boots or combat boots.
Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story tells us what to hang on to. ~ Lisa Cron
In Demian Farnworth’s post, “10 Rules for Writing First Drafts [Poster],” he mentions this quote by Kurt Vonnegut:
When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.
If an author like Vonnegut felt that way, I feel better about my own scribbling process.
Below are Mr. Farnworth’s first draft writing rules. For a pdf version go to the post and scroll down to find the link.