My work on text2cloud, which began in 2010 as a flight from paper and traditional publishing, had a profound effect on my thinking about how the act of writing changes when it takes place on the screen. Starting in 2013, my colleague Ann Jurecic and I began collaborating on essays that explored our own evolving sense that we needed to change both what and how we were teaching. After much drafting, revising, reversing, and restarting, we completed Habits of the Creative Mind in 2016.
How did going from paper to screen lead back to paper? Ann and I have been talking about this book for close to a decade, prompted by our shared dissatisfaction with how little writing done in school turns out to be of value, either to the teacher or the student. We wanted to produce a book about writing that broke with the finger-wagging tradition of writing manuals and steered clear of the template-driven approach that has come to define so much writing instruction. (Imagine our surprise when we discovered that teachers just down the hall from us were telling their students to produce paragraphs modeled on the “quote sandwich.”)
Can creativity be learned? We think so. Our book draws on our experiences team-teaching a set of courses that got us thinking in concrete terms about creativity as a way of thinking–as a habit that one acquires through practice. What does one practice? Paying attention. Asking questions. Making connections. Diverging. Reflecting. Going on a curiosity bender. Confronting the unknown. With practice comes a higher tolerance for ambiguity, a little less resistance to encountering your own ignorance, and a greater comfort with writing at the very edge of your understanding.
Can creativity be learned without making a mess? We don’t think so. Indeed, the obsession with tidy prose virtually assures the production of writing that is vapid, thesis-driven, and largely thoughtless. In Habits of the Creative Mind, we argue that it is only through engaging with the messiness of the real world that one has a chance of becoming a good writer. But this process isn’t a linear one. Indeed, we argue that becoming a better writer isn’t anything like going through a pre-mapped process ; it’s the ongoing result of making thoughtfulness a daily habit.
We’re very happy that we got to use our friend Anannya Dasgupta’s photo for the cover. Anannya’s a scholar, teacher, poet, and photographer. What we love about her photographs is that she creates them by bringing two images together, using a free image editing program. Her images capture the essence of creativity as we define it: creativity is made possible by the mind’s propensity to establish connections.
Some people make those connections with words, others with sounds; some make them with images, others with physical movement. In Anannya’s work, she freezes that moment of connection, when something new emerges out of the joining of two known things.
If you’d like to take a look at the Table of Contents, click here.
If you’d like to read a sample chapter, “On the Three Most Important Words in English,” click here.