A Journey Into The Creative Mind...
Sitting around, having a think, creating a world...
The world is full of objectified thoughts. Buildings, streets, fields, farms, none of these occur in nature but are thought into existence by humans. Similarly, books, films, songs and paintings are products of thinking. They originate inside us and manifest outside. Well, let’s reverse the process. Let’s track the process back and find out where it all starts.
When not overtly creative, we still do a great deal of externalised thinking. In every conversation, we clothe our thoughts in words – quite a mysterious process when you think of it – and speak the words out to the world, maybe to other people, or maybe just to ourselves as we wander round the kitchen deciding whether to have a coffee or a tea.
So far so objective, but let’s have a think about that tea-or-coffee decision. Do we really ask ourselves out loud: “Come on, Me, is to be a coffee or a tea?” Occasionally perhaps, but other times it might be just a grunt: “Uhh, tea.” And yet other times, the words may be entirely internal: Hmm, tea? Coffee? Dunno, maybe water. But – and here is the big point – we frequently don’t use words at all.
We simply visualise the drinks and decide which feels more attractive. Actually we don’t even do that: we experience impressions of them. Tea – good old standby, dobble of milk, oodles of refreshment. Whereas coffee – more bite, darker, better for grabbing and giving you a good shake.
Notice I’m translating these impressions into words. That’s what writers do, they translate. And it’s cheating. If we take writers seriously, we believe that humans are forever soliloquising. No, we’re not: far too much effort. Impressions are much easier.
Let’s try some other thoughts. Say I’m looking for my glasses. Did I leave them in the bathroom? Bedroom? I could go striding from room to room, and, if sufficiently exasperated, probably would. But the easier option is to check those places in the mind’s eye and see if any memory gets jogged. Bathroom – how about the window ledge, the surface by the sink, the clutter beside the radio? Let’s try the bedroom – what about the bedside table, the desk, under a pile of clothes? And so on, till I remember what I did with the wretched things. (Hanging round my neck.)
Once again, I had no need of words (beyond “dammit” or “bugger”) but how did I visualise the locations? Full photographic detail? Or a sort of swimming effect, more settled at the centre, blurred at the sides – like trying to see a face in your mind’s eye. Easily done till you try to focus on details, then they melt. Impressions again.
Now, the key thing about impressions is they form a link between the conscious and subconscious minds. A good example is trying to remember a word. We know the pesky thing is there, but will it come to mind? We can almost sense the shape of it, the feel of it, even the oomph of it, but no, it won’t come.
And then it does.
How does that happen?
Like this: we switch off the conscious mind, think of something else, and let the little filing clerks in the subconscious trot along with the requested item.
But how weird is that? It’s almost as weird as our need to sleep every night, which, of course, is the biggest switch off of all – barring death. Every night we let the conscious mind dither, dwindle, snuffle and snore – till the mighty, mysterious subconscious can take over. And if we don’t, we’re in trouble. Get ill, maybe die.
So let’s look at this all powerful monster, the subconscious, starting with those strange phenomena on the verge of sleep, that half-awake-half-asleep state where we perceive all sorts of detritus floating in and out of perception. Sights, actions, sounds, songs, music – all unconnected, like a session of drunken channel-surfing.
Maybe we perceive, say, a car riding over a bridge, a market stall loaded with fruit, a cloak-wrapped figure, a child skipping along – one disconnected impression after the other. We might also get nonsense phrases: “the pink of robotics... armature sledging in Cambodia... four carrier-bag Houdinis...” and so on. A musician, more attuned to sound, might notice melodic impressions, or atmospheric noises, or grating effects.
Eventually, we sleep and the disconnected impressions can join themselves into dreams. The car that rode the bridge might crash into the barrow of fruit, the cloaked figure might hurry forward and scoop up the trotting child. However, the stories rarely sustain themselves, and just as we hope the child might escape, the action morphs into a common room full of students, or some half familiar hills we stride along.
The point is we are unstoppably, relentlessly creative, our minds churning away, a constant river of reassembly and invention. And what the mind works on, of course, is the world. Theoretically, everything we have ever experienced gets swallowed and reorganised, ready to re-emerge whether bidden or unbidden.
When we write creatively, it is bidden. There we are, wanting to send our investigator into his great bathroom crisis (he’s searching for the victim’s glasses: on the window ledge, surface by the sink, the clutter by the radio – but there’s a murderer in the heating cupboard), and we have a great gush of images in our subconscious, just waiting to come out and cram the story.
Of course, we’ve got to control the process. So we navigate the flow. We ride the mighty currents in our swirling coracle, frequently biffing and butting the river bank, but pushing off again and riding back into the surge. Now, how do we do that? How do we know where to aim as we scan the shape of the stream ahead? Impressions, of course. Specifically, impressions of life and hope.
Let’s put it this way. Whenever I ransack my memory for instances of choice I always come up with the same answer. I chose because there was life and hope in the choice. If we humans decide to go on a holiday, or buy some furniture, or write a book, or propose marriage, or embark on a career, or learn a musical instrument, or try adventurous cookery – the reason is always the same. We do it because it looks good. We envisage it, in a vague and semi-abstract way, and what we envisage seems to shine with life and hope (unless, of course, we’re feeling a bit psycho, in which case we might favour death and despair).
So it is with stories. We wouldn’t bother starting a project if it didn’t look promising. And as we get into it, the next chapter, the next section, the next scene – all these must shine to us with life and hope, even if some characters have more of a psychotic outlook. (Well, we need negatives in a story for the positives to bounce off).
And the fascinating thing is we can somehow envisage all these items in our mind’s eye, moving characters and events around like chess pieces, seeing which might fit best. We’re not dealing with tangible items here – neither tea versus coffee, nor those spectacle-concealing bathroom locations – we’re dealing with concepts. Impressions of this or that situation. It’s almost like thinking in hieroglyphics, albeit very smudgy ones. And we choose, of course, those which seem to offer most life and hope. Yay, the book’s gonna go well. And, thus enthused, we charge ahead with enhanced energy.
Now, this energy might – just might – take us to our deepest level. You see there are various qualities of output. Level one, let’s say, is junk. We’ve tried, we’ve failed. We need to switch off, sit on the sofa, stare into space, and ask the subconscious please to get itself attached because we’re direly in need of oomph.
Level two, we’re getting better, but we really didn’t switch off enough. So we have a scratch. Sigh. Wander over to the sofa, give it a vague kick. Return to the keyboard and suddenly, wham!, we’re onto level three. And the stuff is just pouring out of us. We’ve got the flow, we’ve got the oomph, and we’re directing it, navigating it. More than that, we’re lighting it.
Remember that feeling of life and hope, well we’ve got it, and we’re aiming life and hope at that keyboard, at that screen. We’ve got thoughts and impressions sorted. We’ve got the conscious and subconscious sorted. And next day we look at our work and say “I didn’t write that, did I? How could I write that?” Because we’ve hit quality. Let’s award the thing a capital letter. We’ve hit Quality.
And isn’t it interesting: we were intensely conscious whilst doing it but afterwards we can scarcely remember.
We have levels, we humans. And our deeper levels are way beyond everyday consciousness. They are also our best. They are the real Us. The real Me, real You, real We. And it’s scary that these levels are so inaccessible. And it’s glorious that they’re so paradoxically accessible. We can hit them every day if we’re on form.
There is no one on Earth – absolutely no one – who is as good at being you as you. And there is no one on Earth – absolutely no one – who is as good at being me as me. We’re total geniuses at being ourselves. Sack the million monkeys with typewriters, they’ll never get close to human capacity.
Okay, should we go for a big ending now? (Reader advisory: the following paragraphs contain unsubstantiated assertions.)
Let’s put it this way: thus do we create the world afresh, its stories, its sculptures, its architecture, its cities and provinces, thereby contradicting entropy and building up the world of thought, infusing and nurturing it with life and hope.
Or shall we put it like this: thus do we come to write our most significant story, that of our own life. And the pilot who guides this narrative – the head-and-heart, conscious-and unconscious navigator – is our own mysterious, often forgotten, but always available, soul.
Or shall we say: thus do we echo with our limited humanity the first-cause-creativity of Divine Mind, privileged to join, in howsoever small a way, the cosmic project of mirroring back the Original Perfection till all Creation shares in its Power and Exhilaration and Love.
Or perhaps we should go for a smaller ending: that guy in the heating cupboard, we really do need to let him out.