What feeds productivity in the minds of creative types?
From Tolstoy to Einstein to over 70 living creative minds, researcher Vera John-Steiner studied notebooks and conducted interviews to answer where those brilliant moments come from.
She began the project assuming it would be a review of these genius’ a-ha moments.
She was completely wrong.
Steiner’s research showed that A-Ha moments are a myth. These geniuses formed their great ideas over an extended length of time- developing, scrapping, and changing notes as they went along.
“Creativity started with the notebooks’ sketches and jottings, and only later resulted in a pure, powerful idea. The one characteristic that all of these creatives shared— whether they were painters, actors, or scientists— was how often they put their early thoughts and inklings out into the world, in sketches, dashed-off phrases and observations, bits of dialogue, and quick prototypes. Instead of arriving in one giant leap, great creations emerged by zigs and zags as their creators engaged over and over again with these externalized images.” – Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity
She heard it over and over again in the interviews and read it in different forms in every notebook.
-“Albert Einstein always said he thought in pictures: “Words do not play any role in my thought; instead, I think in signs and images which I can copy and combine.”
-English writer Jessica Mitford engaged in a constant dialogue with her unfolding drafts: “The first thing to do is read over what you have done the day before and rewrite it. And then that gives you a lead into the next thing to do.”
-The painter Ben Shahn described creativity as “the long artistic tug-of-war between idea and image.”
-Poet May Sarton wrote, “The poem teaches us something while we make it; there is nothing dull about revision.
“Successful creators engage in an ongoing dialogue with their work. They put what’s in their head on paper long before it’s fully formed, and they watch and listen to what they’ve recorded, zigging and zagging until the right idea emerges.”–Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity
Here are some key points you can take from her research.
- Don’t (wait for) expect inspiration to deliver a finished product.
- Write all your ideas down as early as possible. (It’s no surprise so many of the geniuses kept notebooks.)
- Keep From discarding half-baked ideas. Those crappy ideas are the good ideas — they just need work.
- Don’t think your first idea is the right one. And don’t think it’s forever perfect.
- Revisit the idea– wrestle and mold it until it’s almost perfect. Dissect, combine, add, subtract, turn them upside down and shake them. Get ideas colliding.