Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is Your Creativity More Dionysian or Apollonian?

by AJ Snook

Hyperlinks embedded in this story link to direct quotes from the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.  Great read.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in boosting creative output.  

The poet.  Nineteen, dark eye shadow, dark hair, dark heart.  In a word: beautiful.  She sits in her room room with a near empty case of Redbull and a near exhausted joint pursed between her soft lips.  She's onto something.  Chemically her brain is firing at a clip she's unused to.  Not able to make total sense of the synaptic connections she has two choices.  Two gears to her machine.  First she can turn off her center of inquiry and wonder-lust and turn into the typical college party-er   Giggles.  Dancing.  Cliched conversations that endlessly quote the fictitious words heard on TV.  Let the chaos dominate her every move.

Or she can switch into that other gear.  She can rein in the chaos and drive the high like a chariot master.  Let the epiphanies flow like water.  Get the obscurities to connect in a way no one has ever gotten them.  Or ever will.

Or maybe she can walk the line somewhere in between.

Her creativity binge was a whirlwind to say the least.  She awakens the morning groggy, her mind fried and twitchy.  Vague recollections of lyrical virtuosity spark into her memory.  A flash here.  A zap there.  She quickly rushes out of bed and shuffles through the crumpled paper balls and bundle of notebooks that she scratched furiously through the night before.  Where is it? she wonders.  Did I lose it? she panics.  Thankfully the piece -- the piece that had seemed so DaVincian, so Thoreauan at the time -- wasn't lost.  It wasn't a dream.

But what does the young wordsmith find but a wildfire of words.  A Tasmanian Devil of passion.  Embarrassed to even read it, she would die if her peers -- or God-forbid that dashing American Poetry 201 professor -- ever laid eyes on it.  But another, more grounded side to the poet is emerging on this gloomy Saturday morning.  The worker.  The analyzer.  The nitpicker.  The striver.  Promising to never forget the way her mind and heart were connected when that creative wind was at her back, the way she was running so with the words, she owes it to the mad genius on the page to pine over them until they become good.  Better run to the store for another case of Redbull.  Maybe an Adderall or two while she's at it.  She's going to be here for a while.

From Jonah Lehrer's Imagine:

The Dionysian drive — Dionysus was the god of wine and intoxication — which led people to embrace their unconscious and create radically new forms of art. (As Dylan once said, “I accept the chaos. I hope it accepts me.”) The Apollonian artist, by contrast, attempted to resolve the messiness and impose a sober order onto the disorder of reality. Like Auden, creators in the spirit of Apollo distrust the rumors of the right hemisphere. Instead, they insist on paying careful attention, scrutinizing their thoughts until they make sense.

George R.R. Martin calls this process "doing your sweat," a term stolen from Hollywood:

[After A Dance With Dragons was completed] I did my sweat. That's a technique I learned in Hollywood, where my scripts were always too long. "This is too long," the studio would say. "Trim it by eight pages." But I hated to lose any good stuff — scenes, dialogue exchanges, bits of action — so instead I would go through the script trimming and tightening line by line and word by word, cutting out the fat and leaving the muscle. I found the process so valuable that I've done the same with all my books since leaving LA. It's the last stage of the process. Finish the book, then go through it, cutting, cutting, cutting. It produces a tighter, stronger text, I feel. In the case of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, my sweat — most of it performed after we announced the book's publication date but before I delivered the final chapters — brought the page count down almost eighty pages all by itself.

Read the full article here at

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