Left-brain, right-brain. Introvert, extrovert. Soloist, collaborator. The literature on creativity is rife with categories. Call me allergic to categorization, after spending the last quarter-century resisting that fate here in Washington, D.C., where it’s assumed everyone has some sort of label that defines you. (Sorry, I don’t.)
I interviewed several dozen creatives on a cross-country U.S. road trip last year, and have had lengthy discussions on the creative process with hundreds more in my professional life. Creatives, in my mind, defy categorization.
The creative process by definition defies categorization, because it thrives on unconventional thinking.
This mini-rant is inspired by a blog post I read recently, “There are 2 Types of Creatives (Which are You?)” by Keith Jennings. (The headline is brilliant; it encourages us to reflect on our favorite subject, ourselves.) The writer does make some effort to indicate his two categories are not black and white. And I mean no disrespect to him in my critique of his thesis. I disagree, however, that at their core creatives are either planners or improvisers.
This is hardly a new analysis, although the terms the writer uses — “causal creative” and “effectual creative” — are new to me. And there is no doubt that most creatives lean one way or the other when they begin a creative project.
I begin as a planner. I have spent the last two weeks working out a 17-page outline for a book I’m writing, and I’ve shared my somewhat anal predilection for white boards.
By contrast, earlier this year I took a class on memoir-writing and one of the students who wanted to write about her experience on a grand jury asked the instructor if it was okay to start writing without any idea what she was going to write. But you’ve already lived it! I thought. How can you not know how it’s going to end?
Easy. For her, the creative process involves following her muse rather than an outline. The process of writing will help her discover what it is she really wants to say. If she boxes herself in now with a specific goal she fears she’ll fall short of what her heart and her muse can create. And she just might.
So far the blog-post writer seems to be on to something. I would take this quiz and be a “causal creative,” i.e., pursuing a CAUSE. And my former classmate would be an “effectual creative,” pursuing an EFFECT.
I may have just created a 17-page outline, but that is not a 350-page book. It is, instead, a security blanket. It allows me to sit down at the keyboard, look at the outline to my left, and know on a broad scale what I’m about to write in that session. But it does not keep me from following my muse wherever she may lead me. Just like the student I described above, I openly admit to not being sure exactly where my creative journey each day will take me. I am always open to creative possibility, and do not fear going “off-outline” if I see a vein of precious metal that veers away from the part of the mine I’ve already surveyed.
Here’s evidence of that: Back in March, three months before I began my MFA, I wrote a 15-page outline for this book. The learning and instruction and coaching I’ve enjoyed in the last few months in my MFA has opened my eyes to the possibility of a far better book than I had envisioned. As a result, I have completely overhauled my outline, with very little of the original remaining.
And as for that student focused on effect, not cause, that is a mischaracterization as well. She knows she wants to write a memoir. (CAUSE) She signed up for a memoir-writing class. (CAUSE) She’s inquiring as to possible approaches for writing the memoir. (CAUSE) And she has narrowed down the focus of her memoir to her months trapped in a grand jury room. (CAUSE)
I maintain that all creatives have some CAUSE in mind, even if it is quite broad, even if it is just an aspiration for creative success. And I maintain all creatives embrace EFFECT, welcome spontaneity, even if it just means letting their subconscious have a seat next to them at the keyboard or easel.
Am I nuts here? Does your creative process involve both CAUSE and EFFECT?