Writing and Creativity

by Nancy Oliver, Playwright, staff writer for HBO’s “Six Feet Under”

Written July, 2003

People have a lot of weird ideas about creativity. They think that some folks have it and some folks don’t. This is nutty. Creativity is essential to survival. If there ever were any non-creative humans, they were tossed off the evolutionary bus long long ago, so don’t waste valuable time wondering if you have the right stuff. You do. Creativity is a state of mind and a level of awareness that anyone can cultivate and develop. Writers, your journal is the place to start. It will function as your studio, a central space where you can contemplate and track your growth. It’ll help you get used to facing a blank page without drama, fear or loathing and most important, it will instill in you the HABIT of writing, which is quite different than the desire to write.

The tradition of the journal also positions you correctly in an intellectual sense. It’s where people have always kept accounts of daily events and secret thoughts. That’s pretty much what you need to learn as a writer, the relationship between the inner and outer worlds. I suggest that you approach this deliberately and consciously, which will stimulate your unconscious, where so much of the real action happens. The dream section of LifeJournal is particularly useful here. You’ll get to know your personal dream themes and images, and learn something about symbolic language that will help express your themes–but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, all you have to do is live fully. The simple act of experiencing life–real and imagined– and writing it down on a semi-regular basis will gradually transform you. Becoming aware of yourself as a writer is a slow awakening to power: the power to observe, to listen, to analyze. You’ll find yourself on the alert for raw data to record and interpret. You’ll realize that even the stupidest thing that happens to you, the most inane conversation at work, a casual image from an utterly mundane day–this material is gold to a writer, you can use it all. Because good writing is not just about writing, good writing is about everything.

Does this sound like too much work? Probably. But it won’t feel like work because it will renew your interest in your own life and regenerate your interest in the lives of other people and the world at large. Think of it this way: when you want to catch a view of a landscape, you can’t be in the middle of it. You have to step back, you have to find high ground to see the big picture. This is the same thing you do when you write in your journal. By taking this one step back from life, over time you may perceive not just its details but its context, its patterns, its design. This is how to discover your point of view and create your individual voice.

Creativity is not a pet you can keep in a cage till you feel like writing. It’s a natural force that, once you tap into it, will inevitably enrich all aspects of your life. That’s the real payoff.