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Creative Process

by Ken Manheimer last modified Jul 22, 2011 02:16 AM
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getting realistic about creating things

the challenge

as a kid, i had a big creative appetite, as audience, and little to no sense about what it took to deliver the things i was consuming. for example, i read a lot, and had big and fundamentally impractical ideas about what i tried to write. increasingly frustrated, i increasingly failed to complete creative endeavors, whether it was writing or drawing or even making up stories. it has taken me a long time to get some sense of scale in the effort it takes to make something that is both doable and satisfying. some practices have helped me learn how to do so, in efforts ranging from computer programming to graphic design and improvised dance.

computer programming

computer programming offers many opportunities to tackle a vast range of tasks, from small, well-bounded ones with immediate practical results to enormous ones that are unlikely to be accomplished by the efforts of any solitary individual. tackling small, bite-size efforts helped me avoid falling into infinitely deep "holes", and also get over the fears and disorientation that comes from (and/or leads to?) repeated, unwitting plunges into those holes. (i identify that latter dynamic as clenching.) large tasks offer lots of lessons in the "economics" of commitment and effort - opportunities to experience the consequences of unnecessary ambition/complexity. those times i managed to successfully launch something that's complicated, i wound up with difficult-to-untenable maintenance burdens. eventually i came to recognize cause and effect - though i am still, and probably always will, struggle with that line between enough and too much.

graphics design

dabbling with graphics design, over the years - fascinated with color, linear composition, texture, etc - i had the freedom to start from where my skills were, and wander, and increasingly learned to do so, discovering my interests rather than doing work. over time i've been surprised - and more pleased than i can say - to come up with some things that ienjoy. i've gathered some favorites at PastelExplorations and LearningToDraw, and also scattered them around this site.

movement improvisation

a kind of improvised dance has also been very important in my creative growth: contact improvisation, about which i've been writing at [pendref] FosteringContactImprov - and authentic movement, which is an even more open-structured improvisation form than CI. i've been doing CI pretty regularly since college (1980 or so) with around five years break for health reasons, and it's hard to overstate how much i enjoy it. i believe i've learned a lot through this practice, where once again, i consistently encounter the value of "doing less", on one hand, and committing full heartedly to what i do, on the other.

collaborative processes

another realm that's helped me learn about creativity is the process of collaboration. most of my primary software development endeavors have involved and supported online collaboration, including:

  • mailing list software - see [pendref] MyMailmanRole
  • online collaborative authoring using wikis - [pendref] WikiForZopeOrgAndCom
  • help-desk support issue-tracking - [pendref] ZopeBugTrackers
  • various substantial consulting gigs for Zope Corp, including developing RSS infrastructure for university collaboration systems, online "camping adventures" for the 4h club, and much more

collaboration was not only the focus of my development efforts, it was also the means - from XP pair programming style teaming i particularly enjoyed in many of the projects i worked on for Zope Corp to leading a systems support team at NIST for several years and then running for several years after that - activities where interaction and collaboration with the supported constituencies is key - i learned a lot about the dynamics and potency of collaborative practices, and that many of the lessons for individual creative effectiveness carry over to effectiveness in groups, and vice versa.

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