The Creative Process

I was recently reading an article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s entitled “Creation Myth,” and while much of it is focused on Xerox PARC, Steve Jobs, and the personal computer, it also included a broader discussion of creative people and their ideas. Gladwell discusses the work of psychologist Dean Simonton. He says:

Simonton’s point is that there is nothing neat and efficient about creativity. “The more successes there are,” he says, “the more failures there are as well”–meaning that the person who has far more ideas than the rest of us will have far more bad ideas than the rest of us, too. This is why managing the creative process is so difficult.

Before I began working in publishing, I thought that once a person had a good idea for a book, that person would have nothing but good ideas from there on out. That the challenge really was in simply finding that first idea. During my early years in publishing, I read many, many submissions, and I was always surprised when someone who had previously published a successful book had an idea (or a manuscript) that seemed to be a real dud. (I say “seemed to me” intentionally here. This is, after all, a very subjective business.)

Over time, I’ve changed my view of the creative process. Just as it takes persistence (often a great deal of persistence) to become a published author, so too does it take great persistence to go on publishing more books after that first book. If one idea doesn’t work, so be it. Keep on writing and move on to the next idea. And the next, and the next, and the next.

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