Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Art and Science

A few weeks ago, in those odd unplanned theme weeks we occasionally have, we went back and forth on thought and magic and art. I joked to Melanie that even my subconscious is a scientist. She laughed and advised me to make it work. And I do make it work – when I can remember to stop worrying and actually write.

Jokes about subconscious aside, I actually have a very disorganized brain. For a short time, I’m happiest letting my thoughts wander in no particular direction. But that (as is typical of my personality type) leads to chaos and disorganization, and feelings of dissatisfaction.

Contrary to my disorganized mind, my brain produces results most effectively in lists and numbers. For example, I’m a better baker than a cook. Baking is all about precise measurements, the perfect ratio of flour and salt and water. A triumph in baking to me always seems a triumph in measurements, in proportions. Not in talent, like those cooks (my stepfather, my brother, Lawyer Friend), who can throw together any random set of ingredients and make magic. If I try cooking without a recipe, I can’t hold the process and the flavors together in my mind, and the dish falls apart.

But even when my structure is imposed, and the rules are in place, there is room for so much more. Take bread baking. The measurements are very precise, because otherwise the dough will rise too little or too much. And yet, some things are not exact, like the way the dough changes in your hands during kneading. There is art between the measurements, and the bread is better for it. As is writing, and any truly innovative scientific project.

Art made possible through science: Hubble Telescope Image of the Orion Nebula. Courtesy of NASA.

Perhaps I have to prepare my over-thinking scientific brain that we’re still safely surrounded by numbers and facts. There is an organizational pattern there to avoid too much distraction. And then, once those rules are in place, creativity really flows, without anxiety, and without limits. I can take the step back and feel the story change in my hands, until it feels light, until it reaches a place beyond numbers.

It’s more easily said than done, and all too easy to lose sight of. That’s where the scientific brain lets me down, and why I have to occasionally write blog posts to remind myself of why the method works. But that feeling of pure, effective creativity is what I aspire to in writing--even more than getting published.

How do you find your magic – by imposing rules and structure, despite them, or ignoring them altogether?


  1. Every time I am surrounded by nature, I'm overwhelmed with the realization that we're only one step away from magic. It isn't that big of a stretch for me to believe that a handful of river pebbles can grant a handful of wishes. I think I find my magic by following the rules and taking it one step further.

  2. Maybe one week we should have a planed theme week. :)

    I love the analogy between baking and cooking. It's so true. I like to bake and cook, and you honestly I think I'm somewhere between structure and unstructure in writing. Honestly I need both.

    Great post!

  3. I wish I knew what makes the magic start churning in my writing process. I always hit it during NaNoWriMo, so my guess is just pure concentrated writing! It can happen whether its structured or non-structured. I love how we can discover art in nature and creativity in science!

  4. Oh, I love your baking analogy. I'm so much more of a baker than a cook, but I never thought of how well that applies to writing, too.

  5. Thanks, everyone!

    @Susan - what do you like to bake? I'm currently fascinated with mousses and custards. And, of course, the journey for perfect bread continues.

    @MaryAnn - we totally should have a theme week!

    @Margo - the more I write, the more I find that magic comes from hard work much more than random inspiration or chance occurrences. Very apropos for fantasy worlds, I suppose!


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