Friday, August 21, 2009

Creative Secrets

from Cathy Pickens

Over the next few weeks, some of us will be blogging about our writing process. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished teaching a summer course on the creative process in the MBA program at Queens University of Charlotte. Imagine, 25 business students exploring their creative process.

For many years, I searched for a magic potion, spell, or bullet that would enable me to be creatively productive every day. One that would guarantee the words would flow as if by magic.

What I learned was that, although it is magic, the secrets are much more plebian and ordinary than I’d imagined.

With much reading on topics such as “flow” (that mystical period of being so lost in a project, you lose track of time) and the creative process, I found the first simple secret. Simple shouldn’t be confused with easy, because I still have to force myself to do it, some days. But the secret itself is simple.

I call it the BIC method. It’s a guaranteed, sure-fire, psychologist-tested (by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) method for achieving flow, that wonderful state of creative nirvana.

Are you ready? BIC stands for Butt in Chair, Bic (or pen or keyboard of your choice) in hand. Same time, same place, every day. That’s it. Simple – though not always easy.

Doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not, if you know what you want to do or say, or not. You show up. No use expecting the muse to show up uninvited. If you aren’t in your accustomed place, she might visit with something special for you and, when she can’t find you, fly on by and give it to someone else.

Some days, the words come, the writing goes well. Other days, I have to laboriously drag each word from the end of my pen. Hardly seemed worth writing on those days – until I discovered another secret: when I went back to re-read the first draft, I could never tell which pages I’d written on the good days and which I’d written on the hard days. Every page needed that next stage of re-visioning.

Which leads to my third and final secret. Many people see creative people as silly, carefree, even undisciplined. Creative people do know how to play, they often enjoy their “work.” But they also know it is hard work, and it requires discipline.

To complete anything – and then to polish it until it shines … and then to start all over again demands discipline. I’ve met lots of talented, successful writers. I’ve never met one who doesn’t work at his or her craft. But I also appreciate Stephen King’s admission in On Writing: he enjoys every stage of the process. Of course you should enjoy it, at every stage, even when it’s hard.

You choose to do the work, commit to the discipline, show up and sit your butt in the chair. You can enjoy it – it’s your choice. No better secret than that.


Oh said...

Queens College! How lovely to stumble here across your blog. One of the best writing conferences that I EVER attended was at Queens College in 1990. No kidding. It was two days of awesomeness in so many ways. (We were living in Charlotte at the time.) I love that school. Tickled to see your writing tips. Yup, they work! Look forward to returning here!

Joan Ellen Gage said...

Excellent! I will have to do the BIC technique more often. I usually give up on those days and do not write.