Once upon a time, I may have believed in the idea that creativity only happens in a vacuum. If I couldn't empty my mind of anything else and invent something anew, I wasn't being creative, and I never would be creative until I could do that. It was an extremely difficult proposition, and I often found myself verging on tears at the frustration of it all.
And that may sound stupid to you. It sounds stupid to me too. The whole assertion is completely impossible. And I can't believe that I held such a view for so long. A huge part of me felt like if I wasn't organically creating every piece of a story, I was failing at what I felt was part of myself: writing. It felt like cheating to cop a landscape or riff on something someone else created. No, those big thinkers all came up with their own stuff, so why shouldn't I? I won't write that second-rate derivative junk.
This view of my own creativity survived my college degree, where I studied literature, where I studied the authors I viewed as big thinkers: Shakespeare, Milton, McCarthy. I even wrote papers tracing the origins of their stories back to the Goths or the Romans or the Greeks. And even though they, all of them, have borrowed liberally from the vast ocean of literature which preceded them, I never thought they'd come up with that self-same derivitive junk I imagined my own efforts were.
Don't misunderstand: I don't presume to compare myself with Shakespeare, Milton, or McCarthy. There's certainly a difference in skill or talent or refinement, but that's not the heart of the matter. The big thing is that these authors looked into the past, found a fragment of a story they enjoyed, and recreated it as a wholly new thing. Sort of like melting down and recasting an old ring.
These days, I think that's a lot of what creativity is. It's taking some old asset, looking at a new way it might be used, and imbuing it with a new spark from your own soul. It might look different on the outside, but it still keeps a bit of the last author who used it. And in this way, we're all working together as we weave the history of humanity. Not the political or geographical or geological history, no. But the history of our souls. The history of our hearts. Our thoughts and hopes and dreams.
Because fiction allows us to bear our souls free from shame or embarrassment. It allows us to follow our fantasies, live lives of adventure or excitement we otherwise wouldn't. Given that the idea of fiction has existed since as far back as the Mesopotamia, I'd say it's been one of the most important pieces of human existence.
It allows for moral development, cultural education, and those pieces that last become a permanent record, an indelible snapshot into what was important to people of times long past. We can see their lives, and what they hoped their lives could be.
It's a truly irreplaceable gift, and it's a shame to waste it, even if most of it doesn't survive, I don't see how a person can truly appreciate the world without trying to at least engage in this, one of the oldest past times of our race. As such, I can think of no better way to understand who we are, who I am, than to engage in the process of creativity.
And while that's a terrifying prospect, I'm excited to see what I learn about myself.