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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writer's Block and Creativity

You don't really have to experience writer's block. The days where you don't get quite as much written just get averaged into your total level of production, just like the days when you do a bit more that usual. The "typical" day will either be below average or above average. In fact, I can just about guarantee that about half your days will be below average! On a day when you are blocked, you can edit other parts of your project, or take very rough notes on an inchoate part of it. Work at either extreme, fixing almost polished prose or just getting words down by hook or crook. The next day you can just try to make complete sentences out of those notes. Once you have complete sentences, no matter how badly written, you can convert them into better prose.


The one thing I don't know how teach is how to get that spark of originality, how to generate really good ideas in the first place. For me, the ideas just arise out of my normal reading habits, out my intellectual involvement with the subject matter. Everything I read just suggests interesting ideas to me, though of course I only use a small fraction of those in my research. Students are supposed to learn this by observing other people doing it, by discussing their own ideas in class, but this process does not "take" with every student. The good news is that people can have successful scholarly careers with no real spark. That is good news for them, but bad news for scholarship, which ideally should be imbued with the creative spirit.

I have no faith in creativity as the next educational buzzword. Once you decide you want creativity, you will devise rubrics to measure it. I will let you in on my secret, though. Ask the tough questions. (Find out tomorrow what the tough questions are.)


Thomas said...
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Thomas said...

This reminds me of two related things. First, an exchange between Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan during a writing class at Kent State in 1971:

RD: . . .Inspiration. You can't learn that, nobody can teach it to you, you either feel it or you don't.
AG: I think you can teach inspiration.
RD: Teach inspiration?
AG: Taking it literally, inspiration being a matter of breath, you can teach breathing.
RD: Oh, breathing, right. And you can teach vowels.
AG: And if you can teach breathing then you can teach a certain body looseness and mind-freshening-- (Allen Verbatim, p. 109)

This, then, reminds of a page from Pound's ABC of Reading:

"Perfectly sincere people say you 'you can't teach literature', and what they MEAN by that is probably true.
You can quite distinctly teach a man to distinguish between one kind of book and another." (ABC, p. 87)

Both of the arguments pass from the unteachable mystery of poetry to the teachable craft. You can't teach people how to be inspired, but you can teach them how keep their bodies loose and minds fresh. A little work every day, in good light, and, yes, while breathing comfortably