The Creative Tension Imperative (NOT Kant’s Categorical Imperative, thank God)

Back in 2000-01, when this blog phenomenon began to take off, my dear friend Jason Scott Sadofsky encouraged me to start one of my own. He helped me set up the domain names, gave me space on his server, and soon thereafter NotWriting.com was born.

The Orcutt weblog followed a couple of years later. Whereas NotWriting was supposed to be all about the “stuff one writer does when he should be writing,” this blog was meant to chronicle my thoughts and revelations as I struggled to make it as a fiction writer. Both blogs were meant to be ancillary at best, not the main results of my writing output.

What I’ve learned is exactly what I suspected before I began blogging, and that’s this:

Blogs are too easy and too cathartic. The ease with which one can have an idea and see it instantly published dissipates most of the creative tension that can potentially make good ideas great.

Mind you, this is my own hypothesis, and not all writers and/or bloggers will agree with it. However, over six years of blogging I have seen the above hypothesis proven true more often than not.

Because I know I’m going to get a deluge of angry emails from bloggers about this, let me clarify my position.

First, let’s define creative tension. Simply put, creative tension is the energy created by contemplating the difference between where you are (the current state) and where you want to be (your vision for the creative project or the future). The greater the gap in time or physical manifestation between where you are and where you want to be, the greater the creative tension.

(NOTE: I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on philosophy and personal development, but none of them do as good a job of outlining the basics on creative tension as this little web article for actors.)

Now, for writers (or at least this writer), here’s the trouble with blogs: Because very little time passes between the contemplation of where one is and where one wants to be (the vision), very little creative tension develops. What little creative tension that does build up is quickly dissipated in a 500- to 1,000-word “ditty,” instead of being stored up for a much longer work.

Let’s look at this in terms of another system that works by tension: the bow and arrow. If you put an arrow on a bowstring, pull the string back just a couple of inches and let go, the arrow will fly, but only a few feet. To put more potential energy into the system, you have to increase the tension, and you do that by drawing the bowstring back as far as it will go, and THEN you let go. When you let go at the height of the bow’s tension, WATCH OUT—that arrow will travel far and fast and, if aimed well, will hit its target with tremendous force.

In his book, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, education author Peter Senge illustrates what happens when a writer, artist, thinker or other visionary embraces creative tension:

“People who are convinced that a vision or result is important, who can see clearly that they must change their life in order to reach that result, and who commit themselves to that result nonetheless, do indeed feel compelled. They have assimilated the vision not just consciously, but unconsciously, at a level where it changes more of their behavior. They have a sense of deliberate patience—with themselves and the world—and more attentiveness to what is going on around them. All of this produces a sustained sense of energy and enthusiasm, which (often after a delay) produces some tangible results, which can then make the energy and enthusiasm stronger.”

So, what is my point with all of this?

I need to do less blogging. I need to let the creative tension build in me and not give myself an easy outlet through my websites. At least not as often.

And to all of my fellow writer/bloggers out there, I challenge you to do the same. Cut back on the quantity of your posts, let the creative tension build. You never know…you may have a book in you instead of 100 scattered blog entries.

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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (1)

  1. Jason Scott September 25, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    This is actually a core point of one of my wikipedia criticisms – because the time-to-publish is almost instantaneous, it appeals to certain worst-case mental situations and outlooks, while decimating thoughtful commentary.