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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Destructivity Quiz

Volcanoes destroy as they create

You’ve seen dozens of creativity quizzes (and probably scored very nicely on them), but have you ever seen a destructivity quiz? If  you did see one, would you take it? And how would you want to score?

The unwillingness to see ourselves as destructive is a subtle, but significant, source of resistance. Because drafting is one of the most destructive things a writer can do.

How’s That Again?

Before you start drafting, all things are possible. You can create as many scenarios and options as you like and every one of them is marvelous. You’re creating in your head. And as Stanley Kunitz said, “The poem in the head is always perfect.”

But Kunitz added, “Resistance begins when you try to convert it into language.”

A poem or story or essay or any other kind of writing is perfect in your head because you can hold seventeen different versions and variations of it all mushed together and somehow it all works. But as soon as you start trying to convert what’s in your head into words and sentences, you have to choose: this word or that word or that other word, this metaphor or that one, this plot direction or that.

Every choice you make not only narrows your options, it destroys the sixteen other variations in your head. Drafting is inherently destructive. It’s also creative – you are generating words on the page/screen after all – but it is primarily a destructive stage of writing. As Pablo Picasso observed, “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

 A Time To Create, A Time to Destroy, A Time to Revise

Revision, contrary to what a lot of writers think, is actually quite creative. Revision asks us to remember all the variations and possibilities we destroyed earlier and to invent even more options. Of course we resist this because we know, either consciously or unconsciously, that we’ll have to make the painful decision to destroy all but one of our darlings all over again.

If we’re uncomfortable thinking of ourselves as destructive, we don’t want to remember what we destroyed. We don’t want to consider the possibility that we may have made the wrong choice.

Furthermore, the very act of drafting makes what we draft real (that’s the creative part). A draft becomes so real, we can’t imagine any other way it could go, we can’t re-vision it.

This is the true hazard for spontaneous/organic/sit-down-and-see-what-happens writers. You can’t hold all the options in your head, especially with a big project like a novel or book-length memoir; you have to commit something to paper/screen sometime. But when you commit, you destroy all the other options. Drafting too soon can ruin creative vision, like a bright light ruins night vision.

By the way, this is one of the reasons Robert Olen Butler’s dreamstorming method is so effective. It allows us to hold seventeen different versions for each of a hundred different scenes long enough to make more informed decisions about which possibilities to keep and which to destroy. (You’ll find more info on dreamstorming in Butler’s From Where You Dream or in my online Loft class Entering the Flow.)

Will You Take the Destructivity Quiz?

You can refuse a quiz, but the only way to avoid destroying your options is to resist drafting forever. If you take the quiz, if you learn to accept that you are a destructive writer just as much as you are a creative writer, you learn to make more conscious and therefore better choices about when and how to destroy.

Denying your capacity for destruction will only create resistance; embracing your capacity for destruction frees your potential as a creative/destructive writer.

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