Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files
For writers, whether they are in journalism or in the literary arts, one source of creativity is the company of other writers.
Tim Tomlinson, co-founder of the New York Writers Workshop, shared this observation at "Read Lit District," the Third Philippine International Literary Festival, at the Ayala Museum in Makati City.
Speaking at the panel discussion on "Juices: Get Creativity Flowing," he said being with writers always "makes me want to write." He quoted Dr. Gemino Abad, poet- professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Diliman, who earlier said, "The knowing is in the writing."
He shared how he got into the social media network Facebook to connect with his yoga group, but later found that it could also link him up "to people I haven't thought of in years." So for his workshops, using FB as some kind of model, he would ask participants to hurriedly write down 25 random things about themselves.
Tomlinson, a fictionist and editor of the webzine Ducts, said this exercise opened up the experimental end of literature, "the anti-narrative, the anti-story." Even with an exercise like that, he advised those who do it not to throw anything away. "Never give up. Mining the self--it's a great source of material. We're constantly drawing from our childhood. One way is to draw a map of the street where you grew up on."
He told beginning and mid-career writers that it's important "to guard your time for creativity." He said this time should be "inviolable," citing novelist and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison who once said she got more things written when she began turning down dinner invitations.
Ken Spillman, author of several acclaimed novels for young readers, said he enjoyed following poets on another social network, Twitter, because "it helps me to be in a creative space." He also tried to practice mindfulness, "to be totally present in my work. Several things may be going on at the same time, but (a writer) should shut out everything. Trust yourself. My creative view is you do have the chance to become who you are."
He said, "The hardest part of writing is the sitting. Ideas are easy to come by but books are not. You have to site a long time before you have a book."
The oft-cited writer's block, he said, meant "having too much to say, too many ideas that it is hard to move forward." He recommended that when faced with a block, a write does a seemingly random exercise like what Tomlinson earlier cited, then "get an entry point into a story. The human brain is in wild spaces. It gets easily distracted. You must learn to be wired, to be more aware of your surroundings." From that can emerge what he called "the wonder of you."
Spillman said the signs of creativity are when a person is able to bring a new process into something or associate one thing. He added, "Memory takes you to places that were significant to you in pas times. It brings you back to yourself. There are countless numbers of pathways that take us to the unexpected, the unwanted, even the unpleasant places. Making links is an essential part to being human. It takes a lot of practice to still the mind, to be ourselves, to be original."
He cited composer-musician Amadeus Mozart who wrote his father while he was a young man touring Europe that he was not really an original, that his ideas for his music came from everywhere and he hoped he was creating something that sounded "Mozart-like."
Spillman also said, "If we know ideas have value, it is okay to express ourselves. But the hardest part is to sit, to hold on to the child or artist in each of us. Writing is like being a child again. You must use the gifts you have that you yourself alone have."
He quoted the great poet Maya Angelou who said one cannot use up creativity because the more you use it, the more one becomes creative.
In his introduction to the popular The Portable MFA in Creative Writing (Writer's Digest Books), Tomlinson quoted American literary agent Noah Lukeman about his opinion on the pursuit of a masters of fine arts degree in creative writing.
Lukeman said, "Take the $35,000-50,000 you're going to spend on the degree, buy yourself a good laptop and printer and a bundle of paper, and go off to a cabin and write. At the end of two years, the worst that can happen is you have nothing. Less than nothing is what you'll almost certainly have at the end of your MFA program, because, besides nothing, you'll have a mountain of debts."
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")