What I have learned about the creative process

“In the beginning, God created….” (Genesis 1:1)

Real creativity is a God thing.

When you sit down to write or draw or whatever, remember that your Muse (the Original Muse!) has read it all and seen it all and inspired much of it, so He is your greatest Resource.

Those who want to learn to write should surround themselves with good writing (i.e., excellent reading material) and inspired writers.

Those who want to think creatively should regularly plant themselves among off-the-wall thinkers, people whose minds push the boundaries in every direction. They will loosen you up.

And then, pull back and spend a lot of time alone, thinking.

Go to bed thinking about whatever is bugging you, inspiring you, burdening you, pestering you, charming you, or puzzling you.  Your subconscious will keep at it while you recuperate.

If something occurs to you in the middle of the night, you absolutely must get up then and write it down.  If you plead that you are sleep deprived and insist that “this is such a great insight, I’ll surely remember it in the morning,” the single thing I can guarantee is that you will not remember it when the night is over.  Iron-clad promise.

You must get up when the idea occurs.  Write it down.

Repeat the entire process from time to time.

I am not suggesting you should live with the people whose minds are all over the place, whose thinking knows no limits, who challenge everything. Do this and you will soon lose touch with reality.

Just once in a while.

After exposure to free-thinkers, you must withdraw to your own life and seclude yourself in your own space in order to keep your wits about you, retain your balance, and maintain your own identity.

If you want to be a writer, then write.  Write a great deal.  Expect that much of what you produce will be unworthy but keep writing. You can decide later which is great and which can be shredded. But at the moment you are writing, it’s all good.

I hope you know Calvin Miller.  This beloved brother–seminary professor, author of learned volumes for Bible students and ministers, author of some of the most creative books and articles ever, and a preacher like no one else I’ve ever heard–left us too early just a few years ago.  He left behind perhaps forty books and a legacy of thousands of seminarians and pastors who are forever changed from having spent time with him.

“Aardvarks and Arks” is one of his off-the-wall books.  You can’t read it without thinking of Dr. Seuss.

Sometime in 1997 or 1998, I wrote the following….


Calvin Miller, are you well?

I’ll ask your wife; I cannot tell.

I’ve read your verse of animals and arks.

If it gets any worse, I’m calling the narcs.

Do drugs this this? Or is it genius?

Is this a bliss, possibly contagious?

How do you do it– Think of such, I mean?

Can one exploit this wayward gene?

Take that stuff on page forty-nine

Of beavers and skunks and things asinine.

Did you sit down and think, ‘I believe I’ll compose

A poem about stink and poking one’s nose

Into other people’s faces.” Is this how it went?

Can that be the basis of a rhyme about scent?

Or did it occur as it has with me

You awakened at four, this time not to pee.

Your mind was astir with great inspiration.

You drank the elixir of poetic intoxication.

You sat at your desk and put it all down–

On tablet or disk–you really went to town.

Then, you sent it off to a company called Word,

Not very far-off, that much I’ve heard.

And they sent you big bucks; they wrote you such checks–

The neighbors were awe-struck in the other duplex.

Is this how it works with you all the time?

Are those the perks from writing those rhymes?

Then tell me please why it is more and more

I write with great ease til a quarter of four

And then I decide it’s not very good.

It doesn’t describe what I thought it should.

The muse soon departs while I sit at my table

Thinking of beaux-arts and why I’m not able.


I sent that to Calvin with the following inscription: “Calvin, please detect in these lines equal portions of admiration, envy, and resentment. (ha)  Margaret and I benefited from “Word, Story, Spirit” (a recent book) for one hour before breakfast last week.  Just what we needed. Best to  you and Barb. –Joe.”

Note: I ran across this little piece today in going through old files from the late 1990s.  “Pretty good,” I thought.  And yet it proves my point.  Calvin Miller inspired that because I wrote it then, but have written nothing at all like it since.

To keep turning out your creative best, you (and I) will be needing regular infusions of inspiration and encouragement and even criticism.

That’s why writers conferences are great, and a local club of writers that meets monthly is essential.

I highly recommend the Southern Christian Writers Conference which meets early in June each year at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Dr. David and Joanne Sloan lead this popular conference, scheduled for June 5-6, 2015.  They bring in outstanding teachers and conference leaders.  (Their website is www.scwconference.com.  Think that’s right.)


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