The Nature of Creativity

(Marie Lambert)– Today I left New York City and found myself once again on the train. This has become a frequent method of travel for me, and because of the long temporal commitment associated with train travel, whenever I travel this way I try to devote the time to creative endeavors, namely, my writing (hence why so many of my posts reference being on trains).

This process has become a routine:

 

  1. Drag body and gigantic suitcase that is blatantly disregarding the 50-pound carry-on rule onto train and flop into seat.
  2. Exhausted from heavy lifting, see that I have a 12+ hour trip ahead of me.
  3. Figure I deserve a little nap.
  4. Sleep.
  5. Wakeup, and realize it’s my day to post on She-Bomb.
  6. Write with purpose, probably something introspective about travel and/or trains.
  7. Finish writing, feel satisfied with self.
  8. Consider continuing to write creatively, but figure I deserve a break, and anyway I still have hours of travel time left during which I could write.
  9. Spend the remaining “hours of travel time” reading, sleeping, staring out the window, basically anything but writing.
  10. Feel disappointed in self and vow to be more productive next time.
  11. Repeat.

 

And it’s not just on trains; I always seem to have trouble setting aside time in my day for creative writing. And even in the summer, when I do have more free time to be creative, I just can’t seem to find the motivation. It’s not exactly that I can’t come up with ideas for things to write about, but more that I just don’t know how to begin what I want to say when the pen is in my hand. I just can’t bridge that seemingly insurmountable gap between thought and action.

This is troublesome, because I identify as a writer, and writers write. I’ve dabbled in music, visual art, and theatre, but always felt most connected to writing as an outlet of creativity. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m adequately living up to the name that I’ve given myself.

I can’t help but think of Jonah Lehrer, author and journalist who recently resigned from The New Yorker after the discovery of plagiarism in his recently published book Imagine. Ironically, Imagine, a study of the creative process, is apparently full of fake interviews, dubious sources, and fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. Within the past week, Jonah Lehrer as gone from a young (he’s only 31) writer with a world of opportunities before him to a criminal and a liar. The publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has stopped selling Imagine and is offering refunds to anyone who has bought the book. Plagiarism is the biggest crime a writer can commit. Anything that Lehrer has written or will write in the future will be subject to rigorous scrutiny and suspicion.

It’s stories like these that scare me. Those sympathetic to Jonah Lehrer state the pressures of the environment and high expectations of productivity for young writers as partly to blame for Lehrer’s transgressions. And while I find plagiarism abhorrent in any situation, and I can’t imagine what he must be going through that led to making up quotes by one of the most famous musicians in American history. It seems to me a sad comment on the state of creativity especially given that creativity itself was his topic.

I fear for my creativity, that if not exercised, it will waste away and dry up, and when I want to use it there will be nothing there. What would I be driven to do if that day comes? Would I be driven to desperate measures of intellectual dishonesty?

I don’t believe this will ever happen. Putting my fears of failure aside, I don’t believe creativity operates like a well, a finite source that just runs out one day. Creativity is not a quantifiable, objective substance, but a force much more under our control than I’m sure we realize. I think that’s what Lehrer was actually trying to get at with his book, and I’m truly sorry that he felt like he had to lie to reach publication.