Discover more from The Ghost
The Process and the Product
What Creativity Is (Maybe)
What is this thing we call creativity? Is it what you make or the way you make it? When do you know if you are done? Is it ever too early to share what you’re working on? I don’t know.
The other day, I shared a poem and someone asked how many versions I go through when writing, and I said a few, never quite sure which one was best. Eventually, I get sick of whatever I’m working on, because you can only change so many words before the whole thing starts to taste like chalk. To demonstrate, I shared an earlier version of the poem, and she said she liked it better. I did, too.
But that wasn’t what I published. That wasn’t what the world saw. I wanted to say more, wanted to make sure people got it, and was afraid of saying too little. Sometimes simplicity is misunderstood. I added a few more words and lines and revised them, adding line breaks between sections. Type, delete. Type, type, delete. After adding and subtracting many of the same words over and over, I finally let it be whatever it was. And people enjoyed it. I did, too.
When I looked back at the two creations, two poems I liked for very different reasons, I wondered: Which was better—the first or the second? Maybe a third draft that never saw the light of day, some potentiality existing in the ether. What even is art? Is it what the audience sees? What they think they see? Is it an ideal in the mind of the creator, some intention that wants to be actualized? All of the above? None?
Leonard Cohen is supposed to have written over a hundred verses of his famous song “Hallelujah.” I’ve read many of them and listened to a few performed by him and other artists. They’re all good. Some are better than others, but they all hit differently. Over the course of his life, he played a good number of these versions live; and depending on which one you heard, it was a markedly different song. Some are explicitly sexual, others deeply spiritual. The best ones are both. It’s clear he was writing what was true for him at the time. Eventually, people started covering the song, picking and choosing which verses they preferred. Bob Dylan was one of those people. Once, the two songwriters met at a cafe in Paris and talked about their craft. Cohen asked Dylan how long it took him to write a song, and he said about ten minutes. Dylan returned the question, and Cohen said about a decade. Both were probably lying.
George Lucas has been widely criticized by Star Wars fans for continuing to change his films decades after their release. Why can’t he just let them be what we all remember from childhood? His response is that he doesn’t care what fans think. This is his art, and he’ll do with it what he wants. Now that the technology exists for him to fully realize his original vision for the galaxy he wanted to create a long time ago, he intends to do just that. That is, until Disney bought everything and changed it into something else. Perhaps all art is only ever a snapshot of what is true at the time.
I write some words now, and they are as true as I can make them. But soon, something else will be true. I may revise and revisit these, seeing them through another lens, darkly. The words will change. They’ll have to. Whenever you read what’s in front of you—the words I am writing right now—maybe an hour or week after they were written, you will see something new. The world will have continued to spin, and you will have different eyes than you did a day before. You will read these words through new eyes via the glow of a screen not exactly like mine. They will not be the same words. They never are.
Art is never finished, they say, only abandoned. And we must abandon it—over and over again. We must let go of what we think this is and be willing to make the world anew, trusting each sunset to bring another dawn. But we never know for sure if it’s coming. And that’s all I have to say about that.
But soon there will be more, and perhaps you’ll offer the gift of your attention and a few words back so that the conversation can continue.
P.S. As an experiment, I published this without revising much. I let the words flow from fingers to keys and didn’t hold back or self-edit. I am not saying this is the best way to make art or even a good way, but it felt appropriate today.
If it moves you, I invite you to share something raw, something you’ve written or created—a draft of whatever you might be working on, at whatever stage it’s at—and post it here in the comments. Not a link. Not some self-aggrandizing act of promotion. Just a piece of the process. Perhaps we can encourage each other wherever we are, understanding that what we call the final product is really just wherever we left it last.
P.P.S. I did revise this a little.
P.P.P.S. I revised some more after that. I couldn’t help myself. If you liked what you read, feel free to subscribe and come along for the ride. And tell a friend. Thanks.