Su Lum, the well-known Aspen Times columnist, sent me a very nice note a long time ago saying she liked my column and inviting me to stop by her office sometime to "discuss the process." I didn't know exactly what she was talking about, but I assumed it could only be embarrassing for yours truly and declined the invitation. Now, many years later, Su, even though officially "retired," continues to write her column, and I have more of an appreciation of what she was talking about.
The creative process probably has as many iterations as there are creative people in the world, but if you look online, you will see that some less-than-ingeniously inclined people try desperately to reduce the development of artistic ideas down to tried-and-true formulas. (That's a distinct human failure we should recognize - the need to have a definition and recipe for everything that takes place in our lives.) Admittedly, many folks require structure and consistent parameters to feel comfortable, although it doesn't necessarily speak to creativity.
We have a tendency to look at those with uncombed mops of straggly hair or wildly unmatched articles of clothing or strange-appearing habits as likely creative people, but no, they are for the most part just weird, at least by established norms. Nonconformity is not necessarily conducive to creative energy. Jack Kerouac, one of the fathers of the irreverent Beat Generation and author of the wildly popular novel "On the Road," a tome of drugging, drinking and screwing excesses looked up to by generations of teenaged readers, could not escape his conservative Republican roots bolstered by a strong allegiance to the Catholic Church.
Maybe in spite of himself, he became a master storyteller, rooting for those lost souls in need of salvation. Kerouac didn't look much different than any other blue-collar resident of his hometown.
Writers, but moreso poets and painters, work to come up with the vision, the splash of words or color against a white backdrop that ultimately gives shape to the burgeoning light that burns within. In a million other breaths against the fold do musicians, photographers, actors, filmmakers and myriad others find ways to pull a concept from an indefinable place and form it into a composite that nurtures the spirit. Or not - some say it's all in the eye of the beholder. Each of us has intuitive, beautiful, original ideas - the artist shares his with others because he can't help it.
We hear continually about deadlines, how writers, particularly columnists, push these man-made time constraints, how some can't really write their best unless faced with the looming threshold of a drop-dead ultimatum. I'm not one of those, generally speaking, but I totally understand the reality for what it is. An idea, an impulse for a column or story has to have an origin, must be imagined, and then it must be continually stroked against the backdrop of actuality. For a column, it needs to be expressed in at least 600 to 700 words but no more. If that's impossible, start looking for a different idea.
Once the basic awareness originates in one's being, the process of honing it takes place whereby the work is allowed to germinate and find its ultimate direction. The longer the perception period, some think, the better the end result. Never mind that the starting point has perfect relevance and that we all know people who have been threatening to write the great American novel for decades.
The other day, as I sat staring off into the nothingness of the Sundeck, my buddy Burnie Arndt, a well-known local photographer, sat down at my table with his inimitable grin and said, "Artists, and I consider writers to be artists, always have a job; they are continually struggling with a current project or thinking about the next one."
Thanks for the support, Burnie, but to be honest, I think you caught me staring into space.