In Concert With

In response to Mr. Pond, That Bottle
"Creativity is solitary whether we like it or not... Creativity isn't solitary, whether we like it or not... Creativity cuts to the deepest paradox of being human. We are alone, everyone an individual. We are never alone, everyone a community. We share life with everyone else, but we live it ourselves. That’s how creativity works. That’s what creativity is."
Mr. Pond actually has the word 'paradox' in the name of his blog. I'm not certain whether that comes from being a Chesterton fan, or whether being a Chesterton fan is a side effect of an innate appreciation of paradoxical concepts, but I became a Chesterton fan myself in part because the great writer explained something I'd long believed: that bouncing back and forth between extremes is not usually a good way of discovering truth. Truth, it seems to me, has a way of transcending opposite notions and pulling what is good and right and noble and lovely from both ends into one multi-dimensional union.

Otherwise known as a paradox. So I agree with Mr. Pond. We live and create alone, but not alone. As individuals, and as inextricable from community. Both sides of the paradox are absolutely necessary for good art.

This post on Slate discusses the surprisingly communal nature of creativity, even showing how the quintessential recluse Emily Dickinson did not create in a purely individual void. Here is one of the parts I found most powerful:
"The eminent psychoanalyst and social theorist Erik Erikson acknowledged that his wife of 66 years, Joan Erikson, worked with him so closely that it was hard to tell where her work left off and his began.... He is among history's most famous social scientists; she doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry."
Fair? Hardly. But common, I think. Pop music packaging, for instance, has always seemed a little weird to me. Jimmy Superstar sings and maybe plays the guitar. But somebody else plays the drums, the bass, the keyboards on stage; another person plays each of them for the record. He has a sound man for concerts and an engineer for the studio. He poses for the camera in full makeup and his name goes on the front cover of the album, but somebody else designs the cover art. Does the cover art guy have a Wikipedia entry?

Why is Jimmy Superstar the one guy who gets his name in lights?

Should my book be published, it could feel a little weird to just have my name on the cover. Yes, I wrote the prose—every line of it. I structured the novel and designed the characters. But so much of the worldbuilding, the nuances and the concepts, have been shaped in conversation with Mom and my sister Beth, who therefore deserve some acknowledgement.

What about pre-submission readers, or agents and editors—all of whom put so much of their time and energy into helping a writer think through and polish a manuscript? The ratio of creative involvement to recognition doesn't seem entirely fair (not that recognition is the usual fate of the author, either...) As I understand it, it's hard for a debut author to even get an acknowledgments or dedication page included. Those things cost money to produce, after all. But without something like that, how does an author recognize those without whom the finished product would have been, at best, forever unfinished?

Those who are known for creating—for putting hundreds and thousands of solitary hours into art—do so in concert with family and friends and fellow artists who hear the original idea and say things like "Oh, I love that! Had you thought about [insert suggestion here]?" The others' creation is perhaps indirect, but it is still creation.

In times gone by, I might step away from my story document and return to find that my sisters had stopped by to help me write it. I'd know because all of my characters would be having a fistfight. Nowadays—well, I still wouldn't put it past those two, given the right opportunity, but their ideas are usually more to the point. And they, with everyone else who helps me decide how best to tell a story, are contributors to the work of art.


  1. Dude...those fistfights were eeeepiiiiccc!

  2. Haha! Yeah, I remember one in particular where everybody wound up in a dogpile. On an ice rink. I seem to recall laughing awfully hard at that one.


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