Understanding Your Creativity

Being intensely creative can be an intoxicating experience. Consequently, there is a tendency among creative individuals to conceptualize the process in ways that are not realistic. These false theories usually fall into one of two categories. In either case, the error gets in the way of developing a true (and therefore more useful) understanding of the creative process.

When Inspiration Strikes

Creative people do not always understand their own creative process.

Mystics, poets, and artists of all kinds can sometimes come to believe that their creativity (or inspiration) is not their own. That is, the creative process can seem so remarkable and astonishing that ideas and impulses seem to come from somewhere else or from someone other than the creators themselves. These individuals modestly assume that they could not possibly have come up with such impressive results on their own. For some, the source feels in some way divine and is presumed to lie with “the Muses” or with God. For others, the origin must lie in a mystically enhanced version of the unconscious mind. Both scenarios place the origin of creativity outside the conscious ego. The creator is just a channel.

On the other hand, some creative individuals can be extremely egotistical. This group is more than willing to assume their creative powers are entirely of their own making. The tendency here is to enshrine ego as the ultimate source of the creative process, thus placing the origin of creativity inside the conscious ego. The creator is always in charge.

As it happens, creativity is not a separate “spirit,” like a Muse or a god. Nor is it exclusively a product of either the unconscious mind or the conscious ego. It is, in fact, an integral function of the mind, that is, a result of the conscious and unconscious minds working together in synergistic fashion. This is always true for strikingly original and creative people and remains the case whether or not ego recognizes the actual situation. Ego should not identify with the creative function because that would mean taking all the credit for something for which it is only partly responsible. To see the creative function as not our own is to make the same error only the other way round. Now ego is giving all the credit to the Muses, God, or the unconscious mind when ego is entitled to claim at least a portion for itself. The latter error is common among artists who have little understanding of their own process and who superstitiously fear they will lose their creative powers if they must take even partial responsibility for them.

A wise creator knows that creativity is an entirely human capability. While creativity can be extremely impressive, it is observably true that no one has miraculous or supernatural creative powers. A knowledgeable creator understands that, in the creative process, ego plays the essential role of critic, organizer, and reworker of material that has come largely from the unconscious mind. The most effective creators understand that superstition and mysticism are always and everywhere to be avoided.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

9 thoughts on “Understanding Your Creativity”

  1. While most of your blog I’ve found utterly fascinating and agree with, I’m not sure I do for this post. Can anyone be creative? Yes, if they allow themselves to be. They have to be able to push aside the inner critic for a time at least in order to create. But those Highly Creative People like you’ve discussed in your other posts, the ones that feel compelled to use their time to create while not being so concerned about clothes or food, I would be willing to bet they all fall into the first category. I know I do. People look at me strangely when I say that my characters are telling me their story, or keeping me up until way-too-late at night because they keep shipping me information I have to get down.Some might say that since I’ve been writing all my life, it’s perfectly natural to feel this way. I’ve never known a moment without that “connection.” But for painting and drawing, a skill I did acquire through learning, when I feel that connection and start to that Divine Mania, there is no better term for it! I am channeling something through me. Thank goodness I do because otherwise some projects would overwhelm me if I didn’t feel like I had some power of the universe at my back. Can you, when you are in the flow of your writing, when you are in the Zone if you so wish to call it that, deny that your limited mind and thoughts are not somehow being spurred forward by something greater? Maybe so. As for me, I’ll keep my mysticism, thank you.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to share your creative insights, Dawn. I think all of us who engage in creative work of one kind or another can benefit from exposure to other people’s experiences and viewpoints. I enjoyed looking over your lovely fantasy paintings.

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