As I studied for my finals today, I started to wonder about my creative process when it came to composing music and writing novels/stories.
When I sit down to compose, I start with an idea. For example, in my Particles piece, I focused on the idea of representing quantum mechanics in music. With this idea firmly in mind, I set out to research, or in my case review, basic principles in quantum mechanics and the main equations that govern the behavior of particles. I looked for patterns, for characteristics that kept popping up in the equations and theoretical principles, and noted each pattern and each concept in my music journal. I then focused on certain patterns, narrowing down my choices. The patterns I picked became the framework of the song. The rest of the song was me re-constructing those chosen patterns through the pattern’s equations and their resulting numerical results, which gave me the melodic and harmonic material for the piece.
I took an idea, explored it and researched it, and then implemented it into written form. This idea then came alive through the performers, who took my written word, interpreted it, and presented it through the realm of sound.
When I write, I also start with an idea. This idea often manifests itself as a scene, where a character or two is performing an action, so it differs from my composition methods in that the initial idea does not cover a large area, instead it’s more of a glimpse of a small piece of a larger story. From that glimpse, I expand outward. Each step backwards I take gives me a clearer picture of the entirety of the possible project. I start to explore the characters in the idea scene through written exercises. I start to build the world that surrounds them, and through the creation of the world and the character exercises, I am able to reconstruct the plot that caused the original idea scene.
In composition I start with a large over-arching idea and then narrow it down into a small collection of patterns that I can represent through music.
In writing, I start with a piece of a puzzle, and I expand outward until I can see its entirety. Then I sit down and write what I see.
If I would graph my creativity, it would probably look like this:
As you probably noticed, the wave packet expands and contracts over time just like my creativity.
How would you define your creative process?
When it comes to the creative process, Hemingway was always my man to go to for quotes.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Writing comes pretty natural to me, the effort comes in stopping most of the time. It sounds like a dream for someone who writes fiction, but it leads to a lot of not sleeping and a huge sprawling labyrinth of uncompleted projects, because I can’t really control what I feel most like writing.
I definitely agree with his idea of writing. You just sit down at a keyboard and write and write until you’re heart is bleeding all over the screen.
Do you ever go through spells where you experience any writing blocks? I find that too is a cycle for me. I will go through a period where I write prolifically (and be working on say two or four projects at once), and then I’ll enter a period where I can barely string together a sentence or two. Then there’s the grey areas between those two extremes where I can write music and not stories or write stories and not music. Like some sort of weird, endless cycle.
Sometimes I sit down and create. But often my creative process happens in the shower, in between working on “real problems”, or late at night when I should be sleeping.
My creative process is characterized by Djikstra’s algorithm for discovery: you start at one point, and you work outwards in all directions, doing everything that looks possible, switching between important work and unimportant work, constantly trying new things, constantly reintegrating new ideas, or separating a big idea into two smaller ones, or learning Icelandic for no reason… (…I consider learning to be an act of creation…)
This is a serious problem when things need to get done, or if I want to actually finish something. But when I’m just working from passion (as I tend to… I don’t have a lot of homework), I think it helps to keep things interesting.
Maybe I’m a symptom of the internet. Maybe I’m fine.
I think you’re just fine. : ) I’m picturing your description of creativity as a bubble that is growing and growing and growing, ever outward, engulfing more and more of the universe within its boundaries. Which is pretty cool actually.
I definitely agree with you on the idea that learning is an act of creation. You’re creating new memories and an understanding of new material, which you didn’t have before. So makes sense to me.
My creative process is somewhat different – i tend to start with an idea of the finished product in my mind, something of a visualization of the finished book and a good idea of what it’s about, what happens in it, and so on. Then I have to take a kind of ‘step back’ and think ‘Okay, this is what I want – how do I get there?’ So I start big, and work my way down, creating the world, characters and finer plot details based on my large ‘vision.’ As for writing itself, I always create an outline first, quite a detailed one compared to other’s I have seen. Think of it like one of those little jigsaw puzzles kids do at school, and then stick everything together. Before they start gluing they put everything together and make sure it works. I do the same thing, assemble everything into an outline to make everything works in theory, then I start writing.
Reading about people’s creative processes is fascinating. It’s interesting how much we can differ and how many similarities we can share.
Jigsaw puzzles – that’s my favorite analogy to the writing process. I use it so much that a few friends have turned it into a joke, asking if I assembled my puzzle yet (in reference to my novel).
Do you ever go back and update your outline later? I’m notorious for doing that – it helps me keep track of events and characters.
Once i have an outline, i generally stick to it. Sometimes i’ll change things, if i really need to. Its not like I’m trying to be rigid, or holding myself back – its just, I write whats there. Once i’m done, i go back to catch anything that needs major changes. Repeat until finished. I do update character, location or item bios with new information if i ‘discover’ anything while writing, for consistency’s sake. Cant have people changing eye colour mid book, can we?
With me it starts with one character and a basic idea of where the story starts and ends. A lot of the rest is discovered when I write. The first paragraph of a new scene is always the hardest for me.