This is a very common question that writers face, but many can’t answer it. Creativity is an interesting force. There isn’t a tangible input that is driving it–it just . . . comes out.
For me, the very first idea of this gargantuan project came from the sight of a homeless man who was pushing a cart filled with black, plastic bags. Then, it made me wonder, What if someone actually came up to him and struck a conversation? This was the start of my novel. I already spoiled this part in my last blog post, so I might as well share it here. In the very first chapter, Greg Zaledy, the name of the homeless man, tries to sell a vape pen to Manuel Swan, a teenage boy who has many personal problems. In this particular incident, there is a direct connection between these two events–but this connection comes from the creative impulse.
Most people don’t have the tenacity to look at the world in this fashion. Most people would simply walk around the man without even thinking about his poor soul. Creativity requires empathy. It requires a sense of human emotion that transcends one’s experience. This is why we read. It is because we want to relate, connect, and understand. I, for some reason, during that current moment when I was looking at the homeless man through the side-window, brought a spark in my imagination. It was the seed that led to many branches.
Writing is a chaotic profession though. Unlike other pursuits, where you had a step-by-step plan on how to perform surgery or to construct a building or to analyze an experiment, writing novels is a very mysterious process. The only true way to master writing is to simply do it, but that is really the fun of it all. Sometimes the plan you designated doesn’t come out the way it is–the finished product is completely different to what you have perceived.
I truly believed, when I was starting this project, that this is simply going to be a standalone novel about Manuel and Greg–and the main plot of the story is this homeless man teaching this poor boy how to play chess, that is until I realized that this plot line is extremely boring and the dialogue is very confusing and esoteric. When I finished the first draft, I realized that the suggestions I got from editors and publishers (and yes, I tried to submit a first draft, thinking that it was perfect) about how the book is very confusing are pretty valid. From there, I decided to change it.
This is where the true creativity begins . . . because there were times when I was getting ideas out of a rabbit hat. Slowly but surely, one step has led to a journey. During the journey, I faced countless monsters and ghouls and goblins, but in the end I saved the princess . . . well . . . not quite . . . because I haven’t finished the entire project.
I am currently editing the second book to this trilogy, and boy oh boy is that a doozy. This book is going to be big, so that means it is going to take twice the amount of effort compared to the first one–but I love the challenge of it. While I was editing it, I came to the realization that this book is very complicated and intricate . . . but it all came from one simple concept or idea. If you were to tell me how was I able to get from this point to that point, I would tell you that I used my imagination, because a million thoughts in my brain were going out at once.
I think it is hard to be creative in a society that values order. The current state of public education constricts this. You are taught to raise your hand when you have a question and sit down for fifty minutes while somebody rambles on about a topic that you may or may not be interested in. It isn’t in our human nature to naturally conform to that. Ideas are supposed to be sporadic, open-ended. There are standards that have to be met though, but there aren’t supposed to be.
Nobody really taught me the art of writing. All I did was mimic the styles of other writers that I truly admired. J.D Salinger is my favorite writer I ever read. Without him, I would probably not be a writer right now. He is a better writer than any other writer who follows a textbook. He even went so far as to drop out of two colleges because he was dissatisfied by the faculty in them.
Another thing that happened to me today is that the editor of a writer’s club finished my novel. I always want to relish the small victories, so I’m so glad he is able to finish it! He had some criticisms of the novel though. He believed the syntax at the very start of the novel is confusing compared to the middle and end of the novel, although the president said that the prologue was what really got him into the story. Both pieces of advice are so contradictory, but that is okay. Both perspectives are valid. It is up to me, as the artist, to take or not take their suggestions.
An artist is guided by an energy that is his–if a suggestion conflicts with that energy, then he shouldn’t pursue it if one wants to be authentic. His ideas will simply come from another source besides his own creativity, which makes the art invalid.
So how do I come up with my ideas? The answer: By looking at the sky and daydream. That is the way . . . and the only way.
For those who have just seen my blog, here is the link to my first novel: The Absolutely Fine Novel. If you don’t click on it, then you are a phony, as Salinger would put it.
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