I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the context of writing and creativity in general. As someone who is relatively creative in my approach, and with a strong personal voice, I try to understand why it is I go about things the way I do when it comes to writing. There are a lot of things that are necessary to foster creativity. We do not tend to think about these things, because if we are creative people we often take for granted that we are creative and tend to think of that as being something that is internal to us. At least over the course of my own life, I have realized that a great deal of my own creativity as a person springs from external circumstances. It is not simply that I create out of what is inside me (although that is certainly true), it is that I create in order to establish some sort of internal equilibrium in a way that does not threaten my own personal safety and security and also frequently in response to the people and relationships around me.
When I was enjoying food and conversation at the home of some brethren in a neighboring congregation where I had the speaking assignment this past Sabbath, the hostess commented that a great deal of my messages spring from conversations that I have with others. I commented on some of the sermons I was working on for them that were in various stages of marinading inside my head and commented on the people and conversations that had inspired them. This is not by accident. By personal preference I like to address both that which is relevant to other people and that which is not generally being covered or discussed by other people. My own thinking, research, writing, and the like–in short, my creative output–is focused on the space of subject material where people are interested in knowing more or knowing why something is so that other people, for whatever reason, choose not to discuss. I have found, much to my pleasure, that there is a lot of material in this particular space.
But it is a space that is dependent on a variety of factors. For one, knowing what is relevant to other people is something that requires interaction and communication with others. Being by nature a somewhat awkward communicator, I find it difficult and frequently unpleasant (more on that anon) to communicate that which is inside of me. I generally figure that most people are the same way, and for whatever reason in personal conversation I am gratified that people frequently enjoy asking me questions about things they wonder and don’t understand. I suspect that this comes because I have over the course of years demonstrated both that I am interested in what other people think and that I tend to respond seriously to the serious interests of others without making them feel guilty that they are asking something silly or stupid. From such queries by others I frequently find fertile ground for reading and research and creativity. The creativity I have does not spring from me being a particularly original or creative person necessarily, but from being responsive and welcoming to the questions and wondering of those who are around me, and using that as a spur to answer those questions.
The other aspect of this is that both my own communication and the communication that others have with me depend on the existence of safety in making that communication. This is no small matter. When someone possesses instincts of self-preservation (and I possess those inclinations to a somewhat strong degree), they will not tend to speak unless they feel it is safe to do so. This is not an easy condition to achieve. It was not by coincidence, for example, that I did not start writing a diary until after my brother moved to Pennsylvania to live with our father, and that it was not long after this happened when my diary started. I had long had an interest in writing and reflecting upon the events of my life as well as my own thoughts and feelings, but did not feel it was safe to do so while I shared a bedroom with someone who was as disrespectful towards my privacy as my brother was when we were both young. This condition was enough to long deter my own writing about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It likely true as well that the creativity of many people is hindered by their feeling that it is not safe for them to express themselves, that what they say and do will be the subject of unfriendly gossip, intense scrutiny and criticism, and the like.
We live in a world that simultaneously promotes and frustrates creativity. To the extent that we can find ourselves in relationships and communities where we are with people of like mind, like beliefs, like practices and the like, our creativity can be fostered by the encouragement we receive from others who are a lot like us and who therefore like what we have to say and what we create. We may somewhat pejoratively call these spaces safe spaces, but they are only safe spaces when they are inhabited by like-minded people. It is the rest of the world that we have to be concerned about, as there is a general and pervasive mood of hostility to self-expression of that which we think and feel. This is not necessarily a bad thing–there are a great many things which I think and feel which is not very kind towards certain people, certain perspectives, certain worldviews, and being respectful and kind and polite frequently induces silence about a wide variety of matters. But if it is not always a bad thing, it certainly does inhibit one’s creativity, that must be admitted.