I was thinking recently about creativity and the first thought that struck me was the initial act of creativity. As writers, we all know about the second and third and sixteenth drafts, and the critiques and so on, but what about the initial spark. What about that moment when you first pull the words out of the ether and put them together into a sequence that (hopefully) makes sense?
This set me thinking about writers going back a century ago, and their initial act of creation. It’s very different from writers today. Even just going back to the Forties or Fifties – before the advent of television and certainly before the advent of the internet – a writer sitting in a room was not bombarded with any of the things that they are now. There was no sensory overload. The writer sat – as many writers still do – with a pen and paper, or at a typewriter, but the mind worked differently. Many writers probably still sit quietly writing and don’t have all this external flotsam coming in, but I would imagine that’s increasingly less common. There’s this constant multi-tasking going on. Previously, if a writer got to a point where they needed to research something, they would have just made a note – “Need to research that” – and gone back to the writing, or gone off and picked up an encyclopaedia. But the speed which we can research something now is amazing. And, of course, this is not always a good thing. Because while you can research 18th century Parisian townhouses in a couple of Google clicks, this doesn’t make up for the two hours subsequently lost reading about the Three Musketeers. (No idea how I got to that page!)
For a long time – probably since the first person sat at a desk with parchment and a writing implement – writers pretty much sat at their desks and wrote. And they still do, but there are different ways of going about it now. I often use a Dictaphone, and it’s a much more off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness way of writing. So, I can be dictating whilst looking at something else, and all these ideas are coming at me, and I can stop and research, and so on. And oftentimes I’m just throwing down random ideas, rather than necessarily keeping on a constant train of thought. It’s an interesting way to work. It’s not a way that I used to work. And, funnily enough, when I dictate while I’m out walking, I actually write more “conventionally” because I’ll get on a roll and I’ll start to write an actual whole scene. When I’m at my desk dictating, oftentimes another idea pops into my head because of something I’ve just seen on the computer and I’ll go off on a tangent with that. And I know there are writers who would gasp in horror at the idea that you would write with all this going on around you, but I think that’s the difference between the initial writing and the later edits. I would find it impossible to edit and rewrite that way; for the later drafts, I have to work from hard copy and the computer has to be shut off. But it’s the initial phase that I’m interested in, and that initial phase of creation has certainly changed radically for writers in recent times and I think will continue to do so.
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