Tag Archives: creativity

Creativity Thrives on Limitations

I wrote this blog a head of time because I’m at Gen-Con 50 this weekend. Come visit me at my table in Authors Avenue!

Wise words.

Reboots are all the rage now, especially at the cinema. I’ve heard it said that the biggest reason for this is because it allows creators the “freedom” do something new without the constraints of continuity; they don’t have to be limited by what has come before. In other words, they can do whatever they want.

But is that such a bad thing?

Case in point: the infamous Spider-Man storyline One More Day. The creators at Marvel Comics (the supposed “House of Ideas”) had complained for years that they wished Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) hadn’t married Mary Jane Watson back in the mid-1980s. Why? Because they claimed they couldn’t think of enough good stories for a married Spider-Man. Seriously. Did they think all of life’s excitement was gone after getting married? Must stories always include sexual tension and unrequited love? Anyway, to “remedy” this, they didn’t just have them get a divorce. No, that meant they didn’t love each other. Instead, Peter and MJ made a literal deal with the Devil to erase their marriage from continuity. To save Aunt May’s life because she was dying from a gunshot meant for Peter.

Dumbest. Idea. Ever!         

I quit reading Spider-Man comics after that. From what I’ve heard, Peter Parker, now a 30-year-old single, spends a lot of his time whining about being alone. (Cue eye roll).

Most fans hated this story, and rightfully so. It was a character assassination done by the creators to serve themselves and not the readers. All because they didn’t want the constraints of writing a married Spider-Man.

Recently at a Children of the Wells creative meeting, my friend/collaborator Nick Hayden mentioned that writing for our serial, with all its continuity and parameters, forced him to be a better writer. It required that he keep consistent with what was written before and follow the rules we’d set down for the world. In many ways, since not all of the characters he created and since the ones he did create had changed since he last wrote them, he was a caretaker for these story and characters. They weren’t entirely his, so he had to be more careful with them. Beyond that, though, it required that he dream up ideas that worked with what had been written before as opposed to going with whatever came into his head.

There are constraints in most creative endeavors. Even improv comedy has to have parameters. It gives the performers a framework from which to work, a way to focus their creativity. If they were sent on stage with no direction, they’d either come up with nothing or not say anything funny, most likely.

Are there times when creators should start fresh? Yes. But that should be done in such a way that respects what came before, respects the characters, and respects the readers.

Do you think creativity thrives within restrictions? Why or why not?

The Spark of Madness


“You’re only given a little spark of madness. And if you lose that…you’re nothing.”

This was said by the late, great Robin Williams during one of his stand-up routines in the late 1970s. It started making the rounds again shortly after his death a few years ago, which was when I saw it. The routine was strangely ironic yet fitting because Mr. Williams was pretending to be himself as an old man.

All of that aside, what struck me were the words themselves. I’ve mulled them over in my mind many times since hearing them. They communicate something that, at least to me, is both obvious and yet hard to explain. They resound with me as an artist and raging creative. Considering I’m “weird” even compared to some of my fellow artists, I found those words even more poignant.

Artists—whether they be painters, writers, dancers, etc.—simply don’t think like everyone else. Their minds entertain all sorts of unusual possibilities. They revel in ideas and concepts. They obsess over how to explore those ideas in new ways. This makes them difficult to understand and, at times, to appreciate. Just think about the countless stories about young filmmakers or authors who grew up with blue collar parents who didn’t understand how their creative children could make a living with their art. Often they would pressure them to not pursue their dreams in favor of something “normal.” This would often force those artists to squelch their creativity and personality, making them deny who they were.

As a Christian, I believe I serve a creative God. He made mankind in His image. Part of that image is creativity. The “little spark of madness” Robin Williams spoke of? I think that’s a piece of the “divine spark”—the “breath of life,” as Genesis puts it—imbued into each human being by God Himself. To ignore this spark, to bury it, to “hide it under a bushel” (as the old song says), is tantamount to denying God, and by extension, reduces a human being to a machine.

As Mr. Williams said, it’s only a “little spark,” which I would say is a tiny piece of the overabundance of creativity possessed by God. He generously shares it with humans. But because of that, it is fragile and can be lost. Too often the world berates those who are creative, whether out of fear or jealousy or something else, not realizing that their personal little worlds are touched and enhanced by art. How often do those people come home from a long day at work and watch TV or Netflix? Without artists, there would be no content for them to consume. Even those who are Christians sometimes fail to see that God didn’t create a strictly utilitarian universe. A quick look out their window would show them this. For example, leaves turn bright colors in autumn not just because their chlorophyll is depleted in preparation for winter, but because God wanted that time of year to look like a unique, earthy tapestry.

If you’re a creative, you owe it to yourself to hold onto that “little spark of madness.” Don’t let anyone take it from you. That may be hard to do, but in the end, you’ll be doing yourself and others a tremendous favor. Art enhances life, and artists are the means by which that art can touch the world.

What advice would you give those who want to retain their “little spark of madness”?

Breaking Down the Wall

I shouldn’t be writing this blog post. No, really. I have a short story whose deadline is the end of next month. It’s for an anthology a fellow writer is assembling. I started it last night. I should be working on that. Why am I not? I’m stuck. Call it “writer’s block,” if you want, but I can’t get the story going.

Every writer, if he’s honest, will admit that while he loves the craft, there is always a part of writing that is most difficult for him. Personally, I’ve noticed I usually have the most trouble starting a story. This isn’t always true (I drilled out last week’s flash fiction in less than 30 minutes, I think), and sometimes I overcome that initial difficulty faster than others, but it still tends to be the hardest point in a story for me. The ideas are swirling in my head like overzealous bees locked in a hive, but when I stare at that blank page, silence falls. (Gotta love unintentional Doctor Who references). Suddenly those bees don’t want out. I managed to crank out a few hundred words, but it was a chore and I hated most of them.

However, when I get past that initial “block” and find the story’s rhythm and voice—it’s like dancing with a whirlwind. Characters come alive; descriptions jump off the page; and settings envelope my mind’s eye until they become my mini-world. It is glorious! I live for times like that. All writers do.

But in order to get into that “zone,” I need to break through that first wall. Some days I can smash through it like Superman (which is funny because I have a Supes costume—maybe I should wear it during those hard days!). Other times, I’m a mere mortal who bruises his shoulder while constantly running into the wall hoping to find a weak spot. Regardless of whether I smash through the quickly or not, it’s a triumph, for out of the white-hot throes of creative energy a new story is birthed. This one I’m working on in particular is one I’m excited about. I just need to get break down the wall.

Now, where’s my Superman costume? 😛

What’s your “wall” in writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

NaPoWriMo, Day 14: “Writer’s Block”

I have been keeping up with writing poems for NaPoWriMo–I just haven’t been posting them on time. Anyway, here’s another one. This one was inspired by my troubles with brainstorming ideas for poems (among other things). I’m not happy with it, though. It seems to meander and/or lack focus. Maybe I’m wrong. You decide, readers.

Writer’s Block

My Muse, my Muse, why have you forsaken me?
Penning a few lines is a chasing after the wind.
Inspiration is a prey I stalk with a club,
A club better used to break the dam
My mind built to halt the rapids
Of creativity, thoughts, emotions, insights
Refusing the river’s flow from mind to heart to hand to pen to paper.
Will they drink the water, my Muse?
Will it be refreshing or sour?
Is that why you elude me today?
Or are you in the torrent behind the dam,
Waiting for me to break through?