The study of creativity is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural. The presence of creativity is found in all walks of life, careers, and professions. For the sake of brevity, this article will confine itself to creativity as construed in the arts with specific emphasis accorded to fiction writing. This is not to diminish or deny, however, the expression of creativity in science, business, leadership, technology, and so forth.
“Creativity” is not something that exists as a palpable entity in the external world. It is a social construct of an ability or potential that we conceive of humans possessing to varying degrees. We associate such words as invention, innovation, and discovery with the term. In essence it is the capacity to come up with something that is new or original. It is not necessarily a generic capacity that cuts across all areas. For example, the creative physicist may be shorn of creativity in the writing of fiction. It is noteworthy that the originator of psychoanalysis as a theory of human nature and psychotherapeutic practice, Sigmund Freud, whose novel ideas markedly influenced the Twentieth Century considered himself a scientist (disputed by some), yet is recognized by many as a masterful wordsmith. There are even skeptics who would facetiously call his work “creative fiction.”
Creativity involves new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new ways of reconfiguring old ideas so that they are transformed into something original. For example, the creative fiction writer need not invent new words to earn the appellation of “creative.” She must, however, be able to take words that can be found in any dictionary or prior writers’ work and put them together into a string of sentences and passages that produce novelty, such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Today, there are no plots that are constructed de novo.. There are only a limited number of archetypal patterns that can be drawn upon. However, the creative writer will be certain to avoid formulaic plots and make – for creativity is a making – her story into one that bears the stamp of originality, no matter how many other love or suspense stories already appear on the market.
In 1926 Graham Wallas posited that creativity consists of four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. I’d like to comment on these by adapting them to the writing of a novel, but not necessarily staying faithful in every respect to Wallas’s original intent. For one thing, these four components are not necessarily invariably sequential. One may come before the other and, furthermore, two may be taking place simultaneously. For example, preparation involves actively gathering information, while incubation is an unconscious process that takes place over time. The information previously gathered is assembled into patterns that solve the problem as revealed during the illumination stage. I’d like to suggest that one may first possess the seed of a plot which then incubates for a while until it is no longer submerged and at which point the writer begins doing research on the subject, if necessary, and sketching out the characters, as well as consciously envisioning possible scenes and chapters. There is a cycle and recycling of incubation and illumination, of new twists and turns in the plot of the novel as it is being written. New characters emerge and demand to play their previously unanticipated roles. Illumination appears at various times surfacing from the continuing incubation period, which leads to the recognition of novel patterns and direction that the book may take. The final stage of elaboration, as Piirto (Understanding Those Who Create) calls it, is in fiction writing terms, I submit, the revisions that follow the first draft, although some writers will revise even as they proceed from sequence to sequence in the writing of the novel.
The creative person must be open-minded to new ideas and experiences. She must be flexible and fluid in her thinking, so that what is original is not feared and it is permeable to the mind. Fluency of ideas will give a larger range of choices to the creator, who must make the judgment of which are good ones, ultimately worthy of entry into the novel, and which are bad ones, to be barred at the gate. This involves a certain amount of unconventionality and risk-taking, which allows for expansion, exploration, and experimentation during the writing process. Also, ultimately one’s work will be exposed to the public and evaluated by it.
This leads to the last issue I’d like to raise. Although the creative writer generally works in solitude, once her novel is published it will enter the social matrix. It is there that it will be judged by its value or utility to the members of the society and the society as a whole. Does it offer new perspectives, provide deeper truths or insights, entertainment, moral integrity, or may it even provide a life-transforming experience for the reader?