How learning your craft helps your creativity

The subconscious mind is pretty amazing–and not a little bit mysterious. On my way to work this morning, it rose up, tapped me on the metaphorical shoulder, and said, “You know you have a fundamental problem with your Work in Progress, don’t you?”

Bolt of lightning time. Yeah, I’m working on a second draft/rewrite, but I realized the protagonist doesn’t have a significant source of struggle within himself, and that’s something I need/want. Of course there’s an antagonist, but I’d like to see that, at the end of the novel, he’s gained insight into himself.

I turned to research. I’m curious about this phenomenon of the subconscious mind. I found an interesting article, “Creativity, chance and the role of the unconscious in the creation of original literature and art,” that sheds some light on it. [Harle, Rob. 2011. “Creativity, chance and the role of the unconscious in the creation of original literature and art.” Technoetic Arts: A Journal Of Speculative Research 8, no. 3: 311-322. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed May 25, 2012).] In the process, I discovered yet another reason (and a scientifically based one!) why writers should thoroughly learn their craft.

Harle’s point is that chance plays an important part in the creative process, and he explores this concept through analysis of Surrealist and computer-generated poetry. Fascinating stuff, really, but this section really grabbed my attention: “I contend that Breton and colleagues were doing nothing more or less than creative artists, writers and scientists have always done and continue to do today. That is, the technical aspect of the discpline is throughly learnt; then by relaxing the hold on the conscious mind, shifting down the scale from logic-high-focus to dreamy-low-focus and quelling premeditated ideas of what should be, inspirationis given a chance to manifest itself. Also, ‘chance association’ of disparate ideas (which is perhaps inspiration itself), like genetic mutations, sometimes results in new, deeply imaginative, unique creations.”

Learning to write, internalizing the process, frees up your subconscious to move on to the “dreamy-low-focus” that Harle describes as daydreaming. Creative solutions to problems, he says, occur at the opposite end of the spectrum from the alert and logical state. When I had this inspiration, I was driving to work, listening to a story on NPR. Not focused on logic, just taking in information and letting my mind wander.

I haven’t addressed his concept of chance; log on to your local library and seek out this article if you’re interested. The take-away from the article is that stressing over plot details isn’t always the way to go. Your subconscious mind works it out for you. But the way to improve the associations your mind makes in the creative process are based on learning your craft.



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