The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's ...

This is an interesting book that I picked up on sale a few years back. It had me at the subtitle: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. Much of the book is about a brain state called hypergraphia, and it’s arch-enemy, writer’s block. It’s actually a fascinating read, although not from a Christian perspective. Every now and then, I thumb through some of the sections I’ve underlined for a re-read.

There’s a thought-provoking chapter on Literary Creativity and Drive, that I lingered around in today. I found myself having even more of a conversation with the author this time around, having recently written and reflected on the whole insane, creative genius topic lately. Flaherty introduces some theories from a psychologist, Dean Simonton, that transfers some of Darwin’s ideas about multiple offspring in survival of the fittest to creativity. I’m no proponent of Darwin, but this is an interesting theory when it comes to creativity. Drive to produce is a major quality of the creative genius.

Simonton argues that even in complicated fields, leaders often have creativity that strongly reflects their productivity. He provocatively names this trait “the constant probability of success” and points out that of about 250 Western composers, three alone—Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach—are responsible for one-fifth of the standard repertoire.

Simonton’s argument, that the volume of a writer’s or thinker’s total output is one of the best predictors of the amount of his or her truly creative work, has the interesting implication that if the number of great works is directly proportional to the total number of works, then the writers with the most masterpieces will also have the greatest number of justly ignored works. As the poet W. H. Auden put it, “The chances are that, in the course of his lifetime, the major poet will write more bad poems than the minor” (53).

What do you think? The author goes so far to claim that this proportion of creativity and output is 99 percent perspiration, and yet the 1 percent of talent in the equation “separates the workaholic genius from the merely workaholic” (54). Pretty bold. It really made me think about the repercussions of inhibition to creativity. There can be many reasons hiding behind this reticence: shyness, fear, laziness…pride. What if I’m only willing to present my best work before anyone who could offer critique? How do I know what my best work is? Sometimes you just know, other times you are informed by the recipients. But how can I ever get to the place to produce my best work if I’m not willing to go through the process to get me there?

Of course, God gifts people differently. And yet he expects us to produce with what he gave us. One thing that hurts my pride in the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30, is that I may not be given as much as another. God’s sovereignty gives us the ability, and the weight that goes along with it. That word, weight, or to bear, is part of the meaning of origin from this Greek word translated talent. We see that it is told as a sum of money in this parable, and yet the meaning goes beyond that. My study Bible tells me that our English word, talent, meaning exceptional capabilities, is derived from this parable. We are talking about stewardship.

Are we satisfied with what God gives us? Are we thankful? If we are, we will invest it for the good of our neighbor. Our talents are not given to us for our own glory, but to serve others for the glory of God. We don’t get to decide what God is going to do with it:

But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed?” (Matt. 25:26).

This should remove any shyness, fear, laziness, and pride. It really helps me with writing.

Most of us aren’t going to be creative geniuses. I know some wonderfully gifted writers, and I also know that I am not of their caliber. Nonetheless, I began to feel compelled to write because I felt I had something to say—something to share. I don’t have to be the world’s most gifted writer to do this. Of course, I want to do my best work.

But really, you have to have a quantity of work to have “best” work. In writing this can translate into the willingness to lay out the first draft, as well as the 2nd, and the 22nd. We always want to produce something of worth. And yet this idea can stifle us to not produce much at all. Blogging has been a great venue to encourage production. Being disciplined to write regularly is a bit scary. I know that everything that I post is not going to be “my best.” None of them are masterpieces. This is also humbling enough for me to let God use my words the way that he will.

What about you? Do you feel like you are investing what God has given you for the benefit of others?

*Originally published on November 14, 2012.