Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Creative Process: Me and Charles Darwin

Howard Gruber, a Rutgers professor of psychology and a researcher in creativity, objects to the emphasis psychologists put on flashes of insight in the creative process.  His own extensive study of Darwin's notebooks leads him to theorize that the scientific genius works on a problem in something like the way an oyster works on a grain of sand.  The key features of the creative process, Gruber believes, are "that you work hard, probably for a long time"; that most geniuses engage in a number of interests, or a "network of enterprises," which they juggle; that they know how to "bracket" parts of a problem resistant to solution so they can concentrate on parts that can be done; and that they regularly employ what he calls "images of wide scope." An example of such an image is Darwin's evolutionary tree.  Darwin revised this drawing over and over, and it served as a touchstone for his evolving theory of development.

Well, I'm no Darwin.  And certainly I am not a scientific genius.  But the creative process Gruber describes seems to apply to my method of working on my book Significant Moments.  I started with a basic outline: a collection of quotations that I assembled according to subject matter, a kind of "bracketing," if you will.  Over the course of the next eleven years I elaborated and refined the quotations within the brackets of material.  The writing evolved like a living organism in the womb, acquiring new features and losing others.  Thus, a 550-page book grew out of a basic outline of about 25 pages.


Gary Freedman said...

The irony is that the U.S. Marshals Service banned me from the Galapagos Islands!!

Gary Freedman said...

A trip to the Galapagos Islands!