“We are at our most innovative when we have something to push against. Creativity does not require perfect conditions. In fact, it thrives on imperfect ones. The block of marble from which Michelangelo carved his masterpiece, the David, had been discarded by other artists. They considered it defective. But Michelangelo saw that defect as a challenge, not a disqualifier.” Eric Weiner, The Geography of Genius
What a liberating idea! The Geography of Genius is a wonderful book, filled with thought-provoking ideas about where and how creativity thrives. One of the themes that really captured my attention is the idea that creativity needs friction — something to push against in order to flourish. How can we fruitfully apply this notion to our writing? A few musings:
First, we can rethink the whole notion that we need perfect conditions in order to write. Perfection is static, not dynamic. It’s a state we often yearn for in life and in our work. If only my circumstances better, we may say to ourselves — if only I had better writing
conditions, or more time, or more experience – you fill in the blanks. But all these seeming negatives affecting our situation may in fact be the very challenges we need to ignite us. By figuring out ways to work in the presence of these conditions, we can actually empower ourselves and enliven our writing. By pushing against them, we make things happen.
Second, consider how important conflict is in our writing. It’s huge! Conflict is what pushes a story forward — without it, nothing happens: It’s boring, static, unresolved. “The bigger the problem, the better the story,” says my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert.* How true this is! When our characters face problems — lots of them — they seem more realistic, more true-to-life. They also grow and change, just as we do. When our plot sizzles with tension, with clashing needs and goals, it gains momentum — it drives forward toward a climax. So the challenges and conflicts our characters experience give them life.
And finally, when we push against the outside world, the world beyond our page, good things often happen. When we face the challenges of getting our work out to readers — of finding an agent and publisher, or self-publishing and marketing our work — we have to grow and change as writers. We have to get tougher, we have to persist in the face of
rejection, we have to screen out naysayers, we have to strengthen our belief in the value of our work. All this makes it stronger, deeper, truer.
So why not reframe our idea of the sources of friction we face? Let’s see them not as defects or disqualifiers in our situation but as challenges and creativity boosters. Write on!
*Check out Dr. Gilbert’s fabulous Success Hotline (973.743.4690).