“Creativity is not what you’re looking for, but what you find.” I heard this quote from David, my hair stylist who makes me look like I really could have been born a blond. He’s been in the business for many years but he still remembers the quote and the quoter, who was a mentor early in his career. Our conversation on creativity started when I told him I was writing a 50,000-word novel this month (for National Novel Writing Month) and shared a little about my characters. I said that I had developed an outline of the plot in my head and knew three characters fairly well and that these three were taking the plot where they wanted it to go. That’s when he brought up the quote.
What exactly is creativity? The ability to view ordinary situations in novel ways and then turn them into something of value? An act that transforms one thing into another? Ideas that change our culture? These are some of the definitions I’ve seen. A few nights ago, I listened to two TED talks on creativity, hoping writers Amy Tan and Elizabeth Gilbert would add to my understanding. Both spoke of the sources of creativity in terms of “getting help from the universe,” “serendipity,” or “a divine spirit,” while acknowledging that for some individuals, being born with genius genes is the main ingredient.
My daunting November project is providing me with a different understanding of creativity, mind you, I’m not talking about knock-your-socks-off brilliance, just the ordinary meat-and-potatoes kind of originality. Here’s what I have concluded: For people who have lived a long time, creativity comes from living.
As of today, I have covered 52 pages with text, some funny, some monotonous, some interesting, some clever and some mundane. As I motor forward every day I continue to be astonished at my productivity, as well as the ideas and images that continually emerge. Where do they come from? From memories of my life and from stories others have told me. These trickle in every day. While my hair stylist and I were talking it hit me that one of my characters — a young woman with Down’s Syndrome — came out of a conversation he and I had years ago. My character was a version of his sister. When I needed her, I found her, or, rather, she found me.