[Riffing off Chatty's post here.]
I think 'creative person' is a misnomer. Creativity is inextricably linked to context, to expression. Some people are able to come up with one side-splitting one-liner after another over drinks but can't write a joke to save their lives; others swerve effortlessly around bugs in code but can't see why their relationships break up. You might spitball two dozen wild ideas in a group meeting and draw a blank when staring at a blank page; the same melody that erupts from your horn in a jam session could be totally inaccessible in the studio or at the composition desk.
The common thread in these examples (let's get very, very abstract here) is the relationship between the mind's wacky-new-idea apparatus and its interacting-with-the-world apparatus. It seems to me we can describe creative 'blocks' in terms of conception/expression mismatch - and note that what we call 'genius' might be described as optimal ability/modality matching, or somewhat snarkily, well-chosen problems plus luck.
I find improvisation exciting and rewarding, and I'm a terrible planner. So I seek out situations in which I'm rewarded for making stuff up as I go along, and avoid having to make long-term schedules and plans. Because of this avoidance I lack practice at planning - which translates to reduced ability, thence to suppressed enthusiasm and (ha) avoidance. Experience only directly translates into more experience. Successfully applying a creative skill doesn't make me that 'kind' of person - it's just action. Even if it becomes habitual it's just action.
Habitual failure isn't a special class of experience or outcome, nor does it indicate an essential quality; it's only repeated action.
On Saturday mornings I tutor kids in Dorchester. It lifts up my spirit. Sometimes I'm confronted by a kid seeming not to know how to approach a problem, and beginning to sink into despair. The kid will come to believe that no approach is possible. This is the worst feeling, I think: loneliness. ('I'll be left standing still and the work - and my friends - will go on without me.') It seems to me that two dynamics are at work in those situations: when 'at rest,' the kid loses sight of what it would feel like to be 'in motion' (applying skill, displaying mastery); and yet half the time the kid knows every portion of the solution but can't (won't) combine them - won't try it out, I mean. Mismatch of conception and expression: not realizing that keys are for opening locks; not realizing that poetry is not written in an unknown language; not seeing that operations on dollars are easily translated to operations on decimals because dollars are decimals, etc.
Creativity is the willingness to test oneself.
Some kids don't know how 'smart' they are - how creative - because they don't recognize that they're in an environment where their creativity and risk-taking and intelligence will be recognized and valued. They harbor the misconception that when they manipulate complex symbol-systems in the form of SimCity or Halo or the chessboard they're applying skills that port directly to math problems, questions of history, wilderness tracking.
I see shapes and spaces when I listen to music - and am I far, far better at playing 3-D games with loud music on? Does my musical sense seem to 'tune' my spatial reasoning? It seems so. Well, now I know a secret...arrived at through (lite) analysis. The line between 'critical' and 'creative' thinking is blurry at best and can be obliterated entirely, if you let yourself experience 'criticism' as a creative act and incorporate analytical thinking into your creative activities. (When programmers speak of their job as an art form, we should take their word for it; after all we pretend that 'writing a novel' is not only an 'artistic' task but indeed a single task of any kind, despite the silliness and indeed impossibility of such a description. Same for writing a symphony, designing a megadungeon, building a website, etc.)
I'm terrible at certain 'creative' tasks. Plotting, for instance. ('Oh, sigh.') I have a hard time working out story-structures; stories fill in for me (when they fill in) like water droplets soaking into a piece of paper, moving from isolated points in every direction to 'fill in' the entire sheet. I can't conceive of stories in straight lines; shit, I can't even write a paragraph most days without a parenthetical apology or self-contradiction. Can I get away with calling that 'style'? I wouldn't be the first. On the other hand I am able to come up with snazzy little bedtime stories for my wife - which do coalesce into linear narratives, more or less. (And always with a moral at the end. Sample moral: 'Be true to your school.' Sample #2: 'Always eat a balanced breakfast.' The stories themselves are rather more morally complex.) Spitting out words I discover in myself a capacity for linear assemblage, which I don't know how to port over to pen-and-paper-and-write.
It would seem to be a matter of controlled testing, for me: start small, get acclimated, recognize analogies, submerge the ego. Exercise, in other words. Everything comes down to goddamn exercise.
I think conception/expression mismatches - creative errors - often result from egotism. You want to be 'you' but there's no such thing, so you corrupt your actions to correspond to an imaginary state of being. Isn't that comforting. Or, with less generalizing and more metaphorizing: you're saying 'sink or swim' but I'm worrying about whether I'll dissolve in water, y'know?
Well, but to respond to this from Chatty...
As I said before, it turns out that some people have a really hard time coming up with an idea. Several more have an even harder time making something tangible with an idea when it finally manifests itself. The creative process has several mental blocks that get in the way between idea and final product. I think this is effectively so in the geek mind...
...I think we seem to have a hard time coming up with ideas because we have opinions about our ideas, or rather about our 'selves.' We imagine the Other judging us and let ourselves get bound up by the need to correspond to an ideal. 'I can not write this story about a wizard because I have not exhaustively worked out how this school of conjuration would function.' We've imposed a precondition on experience - a category. A new subproblem. How do you know that a subproblem is part of the problem you're trying to tackle? You know it when you encounter the subproblem in the context of solving the problem. When you directly experience it. The rest is egocentric fiction. Chatty cites these 'mental blocks':
- The Right Answer
- That’s Not Logical
- Follow the Rules
- Being Practical
- To Err is Wrong
- I’m not Creative
Every one of these is a version of, as Milch(!) would say, 'imputing motivations to some postulated Other.' We don't know what's in the hearts of other humans, and mistake the desire to know for a need, so we sink into despair, which is: 'I'll never be loved.' As if making and giving and feeling love were somehow different categories of experience; as if love were a disease to be passed rather than song to be sung; as if 'being loved' could possibly consist of anything other than shutting the fuck up and loving someone else.
Did this answer even a single question? Stop defending yourself; that battle is over. I'm trying to find the vocabulary of I love you, Reader(s). You win some you lose some. The 'be true to your school' part was at least funny though, right? Of course right!