Creativity in orderliness

Continuing my thoughts on the nature of the creative personality from last week, I’ve been considering how creativity can stem from orderliness. I believe it’s worth diving into these topics, because it’s well accepted that we are creatures of narrative. We all respond to the power of narratives and storylines when they are well told and they reflect something that approaches the truth of the world as we perceive and/or experience it. And that acceptance of the power narrative seems to cut across personalities. I know scientists and engineers who believe they have no need for written fiction, but they still love films and movies. They have to get their spiritual kicks from somewhere, I suppose.

But we’re often told that not everyone can write a story. Is that true? Even if our brains have evolved to think about and interpret the world in terms of narrative structures (and IMO it’s quite clear that we have), there’s a buffer when we come to write or create stories. To create you must have a creative mind. That’s what they say. Again: is that true?

It is on the face of it. As I said last week, truly creative people have the ability to pluck things from the air, almost fully-formed. Consider the remarkable and tragic case of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematical genius who could pluck algorithms and complex equations fully-formed from his dreams, despite having almost no formal mathematical training or education. As one of my friends put it, that’s akin to a real life superpower. That’s so creative that it’s basically magic.

Srinivasa Ramanujan: superpowered.

It’s beyond most of us. As writers, if we can conjure up entire fantastical narratives that are fully-formed, and all we have to do is capture them, like an equation, then that’s great. But we’re fallible. For even the most creative types, creativity – or, at least, the attempt to capture that created idea – can be stymied by distraction, or boredom, or the lure of a new challenge. And creative people can sometimes create just for the sheer delight of creation, regardless of whether the created thing possesses utility, value or beauty.

Not so for us, the more orderly types. Orderliness is another one of those personality traits that seems to be diametrically opposed to pure creativity. Somebody orderly is a person who likes to have a process, a structure, a tried-and-tested approach. It’s like the old cartoon of the manager marching into his employee’s office and saying, “Give me some innovative thinking. Here are the guidelines!” But the guidelines can be useful, and help analytical writers know, roughly, when they’re on the right track. As such it takes me a long time to develop an idea that I believe is worth capturing. And sometimes it might take me having to write down the whole thing before I realise that it wasn’t worth doing in the first place. But there is a place for analytical, orderly brains in the realm of creativity. We can lay plans, and map out where we expect a story to go, and how it will be structured. And most importantly, we see things through.

I think about these things not to justify to myself that I ought to be a writer. I already am one – I’ve sold one novel, am trying to sell two others, and am working on another (while one will never see the light of day). But it does seem that pigeonholing people can discourage them from pursuing certain paths, which seems counterproductive to me.

As Ramanujan said himself, “An equation for me has no meaning unless it expresses a thought of God.” And God isn’t the type of dude of limits access to him to only a certain type of person. In other words, we all have access to the truth of story. If you’re the type who can get there immediately, great. Conversely, if you’re the type of person who has to map out the journey, then go for it.

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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