Approximately two weeks ago, Arthur Obermayer, a friend of Isaac Asimov, published an essay by Asimov entitled On Creativity. The essay, as described by Obermayer, was in response to an invitation Asimov had received to participate in a government think-tank concerning nuclear weapons.
Isaac Asimov, besides being a prolific writer, had a PhD in biochemistry, was a professor at Boston University, a member of Mensa, and was widely considered one of the intellectuals of his time. As the author of hundreds of books, mostly science fiction, he came to realized early on that the secrecy of the think-tank might interfere with his ability to express himself freely. Consequently, he left the group, contributing this essay on creativity upon his departure. It is brief, and I recommend that you read it in its entirety in order to appreciate his take on creativity.
As a brief summary, he posits that the process of creativity is the same, regardless of the discipline, art or science, and that it is, indeed, an elusive, ethereal entity even to those “self-assured eccentrics” who create.
“To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself,” he went on to add.
Azimov’s thought is that creativity requires isolation, but that it can be enhanced by select groups of no more than five individuals, specialist in their own fields, coming together in casual, jovial, non-combative atmospheres such as around a dining room table, or in a restaurant. He does not mention the use of wine, but from my experiences, a bottle (or two) of a good Chardonnay or Cabernet can help to loosen tongues and inhibitions. In vino veritas.
He did feel that a leader was necessary to guide the group, but that the leader must be, of necessity, non-threatening, and that he/she should guide the group discussions using “shrewd questionings.”
As a writer, I found the essay fascinating. We writers are, by nature, creative individuals with varying degrees of talent. I agree with Asimov, in that I, too, demand isolation when I write, an isolation that is not understood even by those I love, who look at me quizzically, shaking their heads as they (finally) depart to allow me to work.
However, when not actually engaged in the process of banging on a keyboard, I do cherish the company of other artists – not necessarily just writers. Artists, from animators and architects, to painters and poets, from musicians and magicians to woodworkers and writers, all seem driven by the same demanding muscular muses.
My experience with Asimov-like group-gathering goes something like this. The conversations among the artists usually start slowly and hesitantly, until someone makes a statement that grabs the attention of the group. At that point, the pace of the conversation picks up, until, soon, polite as intentions might be, interruptions become inevitable. Cross-talk is heard by everyone in the group, even as they are engaged in discussions of their own, but, inevitably, the bantering of the entire group solidifies around a single topic. Everyone is listening intently to everyone else’s ideas.
Then there comes silence, each participant lost in the depths of his/her own mind, crunching the ideas of the others, bouncing them against their own. Usually, everyone’s chin winds up on their chest, eyes mere slits, the creative juices overflowing.
The briefest of polite goodbyes barely register, and then, alone once again, the fingers cannot fly across the keys fast enough to keep up with the roaring avalanche of thoughts, trying to organize Pollock- paint-drops into patterns, scattered, loose, hither and yon, breathing as rapidly as the mind, flashing fingers too slow to keep up, until, until…exhaustion.
A rise from the chair, a deep breath, meandering into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, unaware of familiar surroundings, sparks of thoughts still shooting off in all directions, hurrying back to the keys, sips of hot coffee scalding the lips because the new ideas will not be denied.
But…words come slower now, thankfully – but not so thankfully, because the rush was so delightfully intense. The words become more deliberate, still genuine, but not as scattered, as the pace continues to slow, until you sit back for another sip of that coffee – now cold.
Finally, fully under control, you sit back down to read what you have written, amazed at the prose, its sheer poetry, laughing at some convoluted, incoherent contrivances. You lean back, smile contentedly, and go to bed.
But sleep does not end the madness. Over the soundest of snores, the mind untwists those convoluted contrivances into smooth, ironed sentences with just a touch of the starch of common sense where needed.
First thing in the morning, you fix what the mind discovered while asleep, and, thus, the first of way-too-many rewrites begins. You are, after all, a writer.
Einstein said, “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution just comes to you and you know not how or from where.”