I thoroughly enjoyed reading Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. It takes an idea–that creativity can be measured–and proceeds to educate the reader in understanding what sparks a creative idea and how a person nurtures that idea. He then goes on to show that it’s the level of excitement, and not the depth of knowledge (though some familiarity with a subject is essential), that leads to breakthroughs of genius.
This is a great background book, meaning you don’t need to run out to buy a copy (whereas I heartily recommended that you do so for The Lean Startup). At some point in your writing career, you should read this as a way of assuring yourself that you’re not going to one day run out of ideas for new stories as long as you avoid falling into traps of complacency (meaning you write only what’s familiar). I feel guilty saying anything other than you must run and buy a book, but the point of this blog is to examine books (mainly business, but I’m incorporating some general nonfiction as well) that will help the writer’s career.
There is a main lesson that I take away from this book: creativity can happen anywhere and with anything. Lehrer examines creativity in fixed environments (as in product companies like 3M) as well as in scientific studies. The key to understanding creativity is to realize that the person solving the puzzle or creating the new brand of mop has to be engaged enough to want to reach a conclusion that satisfies the problem and has enough knowledge of that problem to do so.
When I apply this to a writer I would say this means the writer has to understand his problem (create the plot to a book) and be sufficiently knowledgable enough to solve his problem (possess the ability to know how to structure a book). The only way that I can see doing this well is to not only write, but to have able readers to give their honest opinions on the writing as well as to be a reader themselves.
Join me next week for a new book and discussion. I haven’t decided on the new one yet so please leave comments about ones you’re curious and interested in.