Zen and the Art of Creativity
Listening to your unconscious, persevering and letting go, are resources that could propel your creative pulse towards new horizons.
From a young age, Ray Bradbury discovered that making lists of words and then asking himself why he had chosen those, and not others, was a good exercise to imagine the stories that made him a brilliant writer. In other words, he was generous with his creativity not just when he was writing, but also when he was imagining the things he was going to write and, above all, he proved his generosity when he showed us that, to unlock our creativity, we must be, well… creative.
As the great promoter of the joy of life and literature, Bradbury gathered enough advice to fill an entire book: Zen in the Art of Writing (1990). In this book, the author describes how, when he was twenty-something, he had a strategy that would “loosen up his creative muscle”: making lists. His method consisted of using this amazing fabric of hypothesis to write down the nouns that were occupying his mind. Then, through free association, he would put together the puzzle that would become a story.
These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
Bradbury believed that through these lists, the “intuitive mind” would be capable of finding a path to transit through chaos, and discover a specific pattern that could lead to an imaginative and coherent narrative. A procedure that may be considered Lacanian, if we recall the “essentially paranoid” condition which the psychoanalyst attributed to the “self” (always concerned with making sense of things) or, as contemporary neuroscience has asserted: creativity is nothing more than an inalienable property of our brain, which evolved to allow us to connect different and apparently unrelated pieces of information. Bradbury goes on:
Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. Then, how you reacted to those events in the minute of their happening, whether they were disastrous or joyful. Those are two things you have in your mind to give you material. Then, separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, what does each noun mean? […] Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer.
Bradbury remained faithful to this method despite the fact that not few magazines rejected some of his stories. This is the other side of creativity: judgment ––having to submit our work to the standards of others. But before we even consider that fact, the only thing we can do is to give our best, and our best possibly hides in regions deep within us, regions that we rarely think about.
For the author of The Martian Chronicles and hundreds of other stories (maybe even thousands), the unconscious is the muse par excellence. You can establish communication channels with this practically infinite cumulus of information, and therefore make sure you never lack the prime matter that is needed to create anything you envision.
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