Monday, April 05, 2010

Entering the Creative Space

CBC radio runs a programme called Spark which is all about the world of computing and the Internet and how it is changing our lives. Today I heard an interview which stuck with me. The guest was talking about creative spaces. Meaning spaces as in gaps, not physical places.

She said that in the past when people were engaged in a creative activity, which of course to me means writing, if they got to a point where they were stuck, they would take a break and look out the window perhaps, go to the kitchen or water cooler for a glass of water, let their mind move. This works with something as minor as looking at the flowers on your desk or the picture you keep there of your loved ones.

Then, once your mind was in the place of the creative space, it would kickstart itself (I am now using completely my own interpretation of what she had to say), and you’d return to the creative task with fresh inspiration.

In the age of the Internet, however, as soon as we have a momentary pause, we flip over to Outlook to send off an e-mail and read three others, or we check our Facebook account, or Tweet to #writing to say we how hard we are writing.
We are not entering a place of the creative pause.

I have absolutely noticed that with myself. Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I’m doing it. The mind will hesitate over the next thing to happen in the book, and wham! my fingers have sought out the Inbox. I have tried closing down mail and all browsers. Works for about fifteen minutes and I have to check quickly to see if anyone thinks I’m important enough to send me an e-mail.

I have talked to writers who have two computers, one for writing and one for all other stuff. That sounds like a great idea, but I don’t want two computers; I don’t want to get into having to shift documents around between one and the other. I have a laptop and a wireless router because I like to carry the laptop around the house and take it outside.

You know where this is going, don’t you? I’m going to have to switch the router off when I’m writing.

I have a self-imposed no-computer zone in the second story of my house. It is my rule that I never take the laptop upstairs. Once I am ready to settle down for the night I want my quiet time to bathe and read before falling asleep. (I don’t have a TV or a radio upstairs either.) I almost never come back downstairs after going up for the night. Anything I think of that needs to be done on the computer can wait until morning.

Thinking about this today, and about the creative space, I started thinking about whether the constant access to the Internet has affected my own writing. I’ve written before about how invaluable it is for doing research, but I’m thinking now about the creative process itself.

I have always written fiction on a computer. Way back in the ‘80s I was one of the few people I knew to have a computer in the house – my company gave me one to take home. It was an IBM PS/2 as I recall. Of course we didn’t have the Internet, or not something totally all-encompassing then. When did it become such an integral part of our lives? By 2000 at least probably.

At a guess, my first three books were written without the constant presence of the Internet. Are they different, most importantly are they better, than what I have written since? I can’t say. When I worked full time I wrote in the evening, usually with a glass of wine at hand. Now I write in the morning with a pot of coffee at elbow and that has probably had a strong effect on the quality of my prose also!

I am just beginning the next Molly Smith book, and am in the throes of what I find to be the really hard work: getting the plot down and building momentum and trying to give all the characters something worthwhile to do. (See Donis below about the pleasure of rewriting.)

If I’m going to get it done, and make it good, I need to spend some time in the creative space.

Tomorrow, I’ll switch the router off.

Let’s hope my head doesn’t explode.


Rick Blechta said...

I know people who come home from work and turn on the TV. They're not going to watch it, they just like the sound wash in the background.

When we go out for a walk or run, many of us immediately put in the iPod earbuds. Many transit commuters do the same thing.

Does it change the way we think? I believe you're correct, Vicki. It does. Seems like we just don't care for those empty spaces anymore.

Or more insidiously, maybe we're been trained not to.

Donis Casey said...

The only way I can make progress on a first draft, especially, is to not check my email or facebook until after supper. Actually, I find it's very peaceful not to go online until night. I write in silence, and when I get stuck, which is often, I listen to the birdies, stare out the window, or get up and pace and drink tea. Sometimes a nice piece of music will kick start me.

John Corrigan said...

Wow! Great post. It really hits home.

Dana King said...

I see internet access while writing as almost wholly positive. I can check an online thesaurus or dictionary, do some quick research on a term, open Google maps for a location, or any number of things I need right now to keep from getting locked. If I am stuck, sometimes a search on a topic related to what's holding me up will give me an idea. If not, a walk, a shower, or even a brief lie-down will often do it. Just because I have the internet constantly available doesn't mean I have to use it. My kitchen is constantly available, too. That doesn't mean I have to eat every time I'm near it.