Friday, February 1, 2013

Creativity Can, and Does, Come From Choice

I’ve spoken before about America’s demand for innate geniuses, and I think it is problematic. We worship the ugly duckling ideology; no one wants to be a normal old duckling because there’s no way that he could grow up into a swan. We like the concept of being born differently, and that if we weren’t then we aren’t every going to be a ridiculous success. We can be an okay success, I guess, but it’s not like you will ever be a master.

With this arises a problem. We don’t like the idea of faking anything, especially genius. If we have to fake genius, then we are clearly not genius, and so how can we ever be successful? But the important fact is most genius is faked, or rather, learned to be exposed over time.

Your subconscious, your instinct, your gut, your talent, your innate personality, whatever you want to call it, is all about “normal.” It’s how we function and get through life. Your brain gathers “normalcy,” files it away, and then utilizes it for autopiloting so as to focus its energy on the abnormalities. Our brains say, “Cop,” and we ignore anything specific about him. Unless, of course, his hair is bright orange or he’s wearing a skirt.

What that means for the artist is that whenever your subconscious, or “inspiration” makes a decision, it will try to make the most normal decision it can, not the most original. It will say, “I am making a book now,” and try to fit your book into the most booklike style it can, e.g., cliché.

This is why you might feel inclined to start your book with your character’s daily events even though you don’t particularly care about them, or stick her in suburbia despite you growing up in the wilderness. These choices aren’t wrong, they’re completely legitimate, but when you start to combined subconscious decision after subconscious decision without any input from your conscious self, you will start to come up with a story that… well, anyone could have come up with.

Take the Tool, Color survey, for example. A psychological questionnaire was passed around the internet a while back in which they asked the reader to solve six mathematical equations then name a tool and a color.

Did you do it? There is a very good chance that you said “hammer.” As for the color, I think the survey thought we’d say red, but I’ve gotten a hell of a lot of blues.

My point is that when asked to draw on something from our subconscious, it will immediately flesh out the most “normal” answer. It makes sense, because the subconscious’s job is to do thinks quickly, so it slaps labels on everything and then can find it easy when asked. But though this method of organization makes thinking quicker easier, allowing for us to communicate by, oh say remembering what the “normal” definition of a word is, it also makes for pretty homogenized images. And since normalcy doesn’t actually exist, it doesn’t always entirely make sense. Why a hammer? I don’t know. We use it a lot?

Now you might not have answered hammer, and you might not have answered it for two separate reasons. 1) You’ve heard this before and knew the trick or 2) You labeled the word “tool” differently than “the rest of us.”

We would all, for whatever reason, like to be of the second category. We understand genius as different and innate differences as innate genius. And considering most of us don’t count learned genius as genius, it matters. Of course, there are benefits to be had of the second category, to be the one who thought of saw or drill or weedwacker, but there are also negatives. The person who thinks “differently” has to contend with being relatable. He does not have to try to be creative, according to certain definitions, because he already has a different perspective. However, he has to deal with things like basic communication problems. Maybe not to an extreme, but think of it this way:

We describe the character as picking up a tool and jamming into someone’s side. Kind of funny when most of the audience is thinking of that tool as a hammer instead of a screwdriver. Being that his subconscious says “screwdriver” when it thinks tool, the author will not be aware that other people are imaging a hammer. He won’t know to fix it without outside input. (Hence why outside feedback is always good.) This problem varies, just as much as having a different perception does, but the more we perceive reality differently, the less we can understand each other, with extreme examples like autism.

Secondly, before we get too far into wanting to be like that second guy, the important thing to remember the first guy. Because, sure, you can train yourself a little to label abnormal things as normal, but it is much easier to just know the trick.

This brings me to my point. If an author recognizes “normal” she can then proceed to make it abnormal. Instead of having her teenage girl sneak out of the second story of a suburban household, she can now be caught sneaking out of an apartment complex, or maybe even a yurt.

The fact of the matter is that though we want our perception of normal to be different than others, if it’s not, is readily fixable. It is much easier to sit back and make the effort to look like we think differently than people like it to be. And if you have a problem “faking genius” then you’re probably going to have a problem in a career that revolves around telling stories that aren’t true.