Pavlov’s Creative Dog

Have you ever read Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’?
You should read it. Even if you are not intending to write. It provides the best explosion of the myth of creativity I have ever read.

Most people think creativity is magic. The picture people like Stephen King, Popstars, Michelangelo, Steve Jobs and they see a genius, waving the equivalent of a magic wand and creating amazing things out of nothing.

It is this view of creativity which keeps really creative people from making amazing changes in the world. It is this approach to creativity that keeps really sad, boring and dangerously one-sided opinions in power over all of us.

Creativity is not magic. And creativity does not exclusively apply to the arts.

Creativity is, in fact, a skill… an inherent part of our brain’s function as accorded by our DNA and as proved by our on-going evolution. It helps if you think of it the same way you think about getting better at a sport, a business skill or any other thing you wish to excel at.

The much-disputed quote goes, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” And it applies as much to creativity as it does to golf. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking painting, coding, writing, problem-solving or ideation: the more you do it, the better you get at it.

All the rock n roll myths about tortured souls and drugs and wild lives are nothing more than that: myths. None of those things is required to be wildly, out of this world creative.

What you need is to learn how it works (which is available all over the place) and then put in the miles of hard work sharpening your tools. And practice, practice, practice.

The most crucial point of Stephen King’s book is the part where he describes his writing routine: Same time of day every day for the same period. In the same place. With no distractions. King is a bit like a Creative Pavlov’s dog: the bell rings, his bum hits the chair, creativity happens. Why? Because it is conditioned to happen.

Explosion of creativitySo, when King’s bum DOES hit the chair, he isn’t really thinking anymore… not in a purely rational, conscious way like we normally use the word to describe… he has passed into a state of flow, where all his actions are automated… requiring nor conscious monitoring… all he is thinking about is what happens next, what COULD happen next?

Because he doesn’t have to think about anything else, he occupies an infinite moment where all that matters is what he thinks of next and where that leads him.

This is what happens when jazz great improvise… they can play so well and know their instrument and their bandmates and music theory so well, they don’t have to think, they just follow the flow.

From my own experience, I know that writing every day, the work I produce after a week is way better than what I produced on the first day and often requires a change of direction…. I first must clear the pipes, so to speak.

You need to find your routine, your place, your method. And then you need to repeat it until, when the bell sounds, you drool creativity… just like Stephen King!

Leave a Reply