I can’t tell you where my own impetus to author stories comes from. I know it’s there because I feel it, but I quit speculating about the cognitive roots long ago. Time ticks by and thoughts come to me, some of which I shape and express, but I don’t know where they originate, or even how they become coupled with sufficient desire and conviction that I choose to act on them. I’m glad this happens, but I don’t control it.
I do know that the idea of creating something from nothing has enormous appeal to me. I still remember being a very young boy and looking at a blank sheet of paper and a newly-sharpened number-two pencil and thinking to myself that what I was looking at was infinite possibility. With only those two things I could create something that would change the world or make people laugh or cry, and I’m still amazed by that.
But there’s another aspect to creation that can’t be overlooked, and that’s the issue of control. Very few people who menace a piece of paper with a pencil, or a canvas with a brush, or the world with a lens, do so with the intent of letting someone else control that process. Depending on the scale of the enterprise and the psychological make-up of the creator(s) the stakes may seem inconsequential or soul-destroying, but it’s axiomatic that in exchange for authority (if not also autonomy) each creator assumes responsibility for the final result. And that’s true even if chaos is your preferred method of creation.
The psychological relationship between creation and control could be endlessly debated. Are artists first and foremost devoted to creation and exploration, or is that a handy excuse for some deep-seated need to impose order on one tiny corner of the universe? If you’re a sensitive soul and the chaos of the world around you feels like a perpetual threat, what better way to avoid if not deny that chaos than to take total control of a blank page or canvas? It’s a limited space, a sheltered space, and one you can choose to give yourself over to as you see fit.
But we don’t need to speculate. Control is the primary means by which the end of creation is achieved in every medium. You can distribute that control across committees or concentrate it in one person, but it’s got to be there. The only people ever truly free of control as a cornerstone of creation are those who intentionally reject that dynamic, usually as an academic or artistic exercise. If you’re a painter you can hurl random blobs of paint in a darkened room. If you’re an actor you can ad-lib lines. If you’re a writer you can free-write with no conception of beginning or end. For everyone else — and I mean the vast, vast majority of creators; well over 99%, to multiple decimal places — control must be exercised with deliberate intent in order for a medium to be successfully exploited.
But just because you’re facing a blank page and have a spike of graphite at the ready, that doesn’t mean you’re all-powerful. You still have to consider the medium you’re working in, and what it will allow you to do. Unfortunately, the exercise of power can often be intoxicating to the mind, and all the more so when that power is absolute — as it often is for creators. So it’s no wonder that artists and even commercial craftspeople at times come to see themselves as infallible or even god-like. If you’re the ultimate authority, who can dare question your judgment?
The problem, of course, is that even when you’re the author of a work you’re not the ultimate authority. If you’re a painter your canvas is the ultimate authority, even if you’re hurling blobs on paint in the dark. If you’re an ad-libbing actor your role is the ultimate authority, dictating which words should and should not be spoken. If you’re a writer the page in front of you is the ultimate authority, constrained by what has been written on pages past and what can conceivably be written on pages yet to come.
You may be the most ruthless of creative despots, but your power exists only within the confines of your chosen medium, not apart from it. Still, it’s possible that your creative choices may break the rules that define the medium you’re working in, which will then compel the people you’re communicating with to either adapt their entire conception of that medium to your choices, or to laugh in your face. And it won’t matter how long it took to build up whatever credibility and authority convinced you to break that rule in the first place. If you try and fail, your credibility and authority will disappear in a frighteningly short amount of time.
— Mark Barrett
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