Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Creative Genius Connundrum

According to Mark Changizi over at Scientific Blogging:

'“Genius” is a fiction. It is a throw-back to antiquity, where scientists of the day had the bad habit of “explaining” some phenomenon by labeling it as having some special essence. The idea of “the genius” is imbued with a special, almost magical quality.'

So if there is no such thing as genius, what is there?

Changizi thinks what makes some people better at coming up with ideas is 'their manner of hunting ideas'.

His theory is that '
Being a successful idea-hunter requires understanding the field (whether science, art or technology), but acquiring the skill of idea-hunting itself requires taking active measures to “break out” from the ape brains evolution gave us, by being aloof.'

I'm not quite sure what me means by 'being aloof'. I agree you have to know something inside out to be able to play with it and bend it in new ways. As writers we play with language, we also play with narrative to create tension and we play with the people we invent, to make them so interesting that complete strangers feel compelled to read whole books about them. (Otherwise, why would they finish our books, once they start them?)

I've just read Changizi's article on the Value of being Aloof. From what I can gather, he thinks belonging to a community stifles your creativity because as soon as you join a community you adapt to fit in, which limits your options.

I don't know what sort of communities he has belonged to, but I've found the writing community very supportive. I belong to several different writing communities and sub groups within those, and each one stimulates me in different ways.

Now I've found another article by Changizi which supports what I just said.

in order for an individual to act like a community of idea-seekers, one must just carry out multiple directions of idea-generation in parallel. '

I think what he's trying to say is that we must stimulate our creativity by going to many different sources, seek out new input and always be open to ideas.

This comes back to my theory that there are two types of people in the world.

There are those people who don't like change. They reject difference, whether it is race or culture, because it it frightens them.

And then there are those people who seek out the different because they find it stimulating. I suspect it is born into us and not something we can consciously control. So the creative person actively seeks out stimulation because that is the way their mind is wired and they are looking for inspiration.

I love the Jack London quote: 'You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.'
For more Jack London quotes see here.

What do you think? Does the writing community stimulate your creativity or hamper it? Do you actively seek out the new and possibly confronting? Do you chase inspiration with a club?


Jonathan D. Beer said...

*Warning: Grumpy-old-man-mood is on*

Load of twaddle (what Mr Changizi says, not what you said Rowena). I have found the writing community, indeed the community of my friends and co-workers, to be very helpful and supportive, often (as a result of conversations within these groups) sending my brain off in a different direction, "idea-hunting" in a way that I had not previously thought.

I much prefer the Jack London quote; that has some real meaning to it. Passively walking around waiting for that bolt to strike is a long wait for a train that rarely comes; picking up a big stick and going looking for interesting things and people and events is the way to stimulate the creative juices.

MataPam said...

A genius by any other name . . .

As to hunting down inspiration with a club, I often feel like Inspiration's got the club, and a grudge.

Dave Freer said...

Be A Lert! The country has enough Loofs :-). He's talking a load o' Cobblers I think, Rowena. Genius is real enough - and it is a special magical quality (the ability to think non-linearly is one eg.). I've met some, although I agree idea hunting is a good concept. And I certainly think his may be stifled but mine (and probably yours) are stimulated.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Guys,

I'm home from World Con. Suffering a bit of brain drain.

It was good to see Dave, Kate and Chris.

Also caught up with Brendan. Waving madly.

Now I have heaps of washing and cleaning to do, before I can get back to writing.

Chris L said...

Someone once said to me (not Donald Rumsfeld) there are three states of understanding:

1)What we know
2)What we know we don't know
3)What we don't know we don't know

There are variations on this but lets go with the three basic states.

Most of us stick to what we know, especially writers who 'only write what they know.'

Lateral thinkers try to nut out some of what we know we don't know.

But a few astonishing individuals, with not much more than a flash of inspiration, totally incomprehensible to anyone else - including luminaries in their fields, will discover the answer to a question we didn't even think to ask.


I don't want to be one.

Usually bonkers.

Daniel Casey said...

"I love the Jack London quote: 'You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.'"

Funny, this made me think of my two year old's actions yesterday. Burly two year old boy, three foot chunk of tree that he scavenged from the bush out back, stalking his older brother to get the cookie bag back.... priceless.

Back to topic however, inspiration? I don't know about most, but personally I have trouble trying to keep my mind moving in a linear fashion. Today's world is all about process, schedules, timetables, deadlines, etc. etc. Once such things are addressed my subconscious seems to feel the need to simply burst away from these artificial constraints, and in most downtimes that come along I find myself wondering and postulating the oddly bizarre. Just yesterday when desperately trying to hammer out the ideas for the latest short story under contract and due in a few days, I found myself wondering what the character's children were up to... Never-mind that the protagonist wasn't married, and until this point had not had children, apparently these heretofore unknown children disapproved of how the protagonist was trying to _help_ humanity by removing some of the more troublesome choices they might have to make (Think futurist communist state with all the biotech to keep it working right without the need for secret police, it's all automated...)

So inspiration? I really don't know. Maybe take a mind, overload it with the demands of a family of six (and counting) along with the finances, timetables, kindergarten, grade-school, and high-school, two full time jobs, etc, etc... and then add pressure until the bindings snap free. That's about as far as I get concerning inspiration. The time to hunt and capture the results of such situations starts to feel like the crew of the original Enterprise must have when they had The Trouble with Tribbles. (If you got that reference, well, congratulations... but maybe you're as far gone as I am, which might not be healty)

Daniel Casey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rowena Cory Daniells said...

And big thank you to Michelle from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who saw my post the before the Con about my Koffeekatsch.

Thanks to her, Elini from the paranormal romance group and Kathryn from Galaxy Books I had 3 people. We talked Buffy and had heaps of fun!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Daniel, my life is crazy busy too.

do you find yourself waking up with ideas? Your brain has been working while you're asleep?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris L.

I don't want to be a genius. I just want to be happy and published.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

Daniel Casey said...


With a pair of boys under five sleep is one of those luxuries, like hot coffee, occasional and rare. Waking up with ideas is common, waking up with bruises is more common. bed hopping toddlers will do that to a guy.

But in answer. Yes, in that half awake haze while addressing the needs of grumpy little boggins the ideas dance tantalizingly out of reach, the hunt for them often futile. Going to need to build a trap to catch them, somehow...

Chris McMahon said...

I definitely go seeking out new ideas and information, particularly from the edges of science. It's kind of like an additiction. I think the SF community is an exception, because this is basically one group of people dedicated to exploration. I think their is probably some restrictions - but more from 'what's publshed' and what gets past the gatekeepers.

Nothing more fun than bouncing ideas around with people who like pushing boundaries:)

Kate said...

Genius exists. There's a lot of work in it (99% perspiration, 1% inspiration), but without that 1% - the ability to see things in a way no-one's ever seen before or to make connections no-one ever made before (no, not the one involving the hair pin and the power outlet: that might be electrifying, but it ain't genius).

That said, creative people chase ideas because that's what creative people do. Non-creative people can be taught to do creative things, but there's always a qualitative difference between what they do and what creative people do.

And this has absolutely no bearing on getting published once you get past that magical "good enough" threshold - from there it's all luck and making the right people happy. Or just occasionally, being so bloody good they can't ignore you any more.

(Tired, happy, and still with intermittent access.It was fun to catch up with people at Worldcon. I wish I could have spent more time with the people I ran into. On the plus side, I have luggage. Now if Dave and Barbs will stop trying to get me to kill myself, all will be well)