C.S. Lewis’ Creative Process Will Inspire Any Artist

Once a month, I sit at my beloved secretary desk and decide if I want to bring a work-in-progress to share with an artists’ guild.

At the artists’ guild, we gather to share and discuss our work. Some of us read excerpts from fledgling novels; some play new songs; some unveil sketches of unfinished art. I’m learning more about film photography and mixed media art than I’ve ever known, and I never fail to come away inspired.

But back at the desk, even though I know my words will meet good resonators and resistors, I sometimes find myself staring blankly out the window. What should I write? How should I say it? And when I think of how those words will strike the wider community of faith beyond the guild, I’m only perplexed further.

From my limited perspective, we don’t always seem to know what to do with creativity. As much as we tell ourselves and our children that “your story needs to be heard,” and to “do what you were made to do,” our time and energy only allow for the support of a few close friends, or creatives who are already “established”—the author with a book launch, the painter or photographer with an art show, the band with a record. As a result, the pressure is frequently on the budding artist to prove his worth even before his vision for a project or his craft in general has had time to mature.

But what I am currently learning from the Inklings, best portrayed by their example, is that creativity is as much a journey as sanctification. C.S. Lewis’ process, in particular, is telling:

For one thing, Lewis liked to try out his story ideas in more than one form, creating several variations of the same work. This is a radical form of revision, one that allowed him to explore various concepts, images, motifs, and phrasing, and paved the way for rapid composition once he discovered the best genre for the work. Dymer, for example, was first written in prose form, a second time in verse form, next as a ballad he called “The Red Maid,” and then a fourth and final time as a long epic poem. Till We Have Faces underwent a similar transformation: in November of 1922, Lewis recorded that he hoped to write a masque or play based on the Cupid and Psyche myth. But rather than writing it as a play, he spent the next year trying to write it as a poem. Then, more than 30 years later, he started all over again and wrote it as a novel. Perelandra also went through drastic changes. It started out as a short poem that included references to floating islands and a green lady. Lewis abandoned the poem, and sometime later, he wrote it as a novel.
In each of these examples, the final version was written very rapidly, with Lewis pausing only to dip his pen into the inkwell. But Lewis had been pondering these images and ideas for years. He had also attempted very different versions before he discovered their final form.
—Diana Glyer, Bandersnatch

These long roads to the “final” works, even by this acclaimed author, suggest that creativity isn’t a fully developed faerie-gift bestowed at birth. Its channels are rightly called a “craft” for a reason: excellence takes time, effort, and a willingness to whittle a half-formed work back down to bare bones.

If this is true, then we are not the sum total of the products that we create. Though we toil over art, nurturing it and sending it out with a final benediction into a wider arena, our fruit is an offshoot and not the core of our creativity.

We know this inwardly, I think—it’s why we want to find out more about the person and life stories behind the works that intrigue us most—but between the press of full-time jobs and daily living, sometimes it’s difficult to remember that creativity itself is a process of growth.

Remembering this can be immensely freeing. The creative process gives us room to revisit and revise without shame, to discover that the spirit of a given project may be better suited to a different form. We have room to push past the fear of producing something that the general public hates (or more debilitatingly still, something that it loves!) because our pattern of creation will continue on past the milestone of that particular work.

Most of all, we are free to discover that creativity isn’t solely a habit or an act of service, but an aspect of living worship: an active display of the Creator who made mankind in His image.

So we may strive for excellence, and repeatedly grow seedling ideas to hardiness in the bright sun and bracing air of community, making them stronger to embody and impart what is true, and good, and beautiful.

The best and most sensible thing we can do is to begin.

Amy Baik Lee

This article was originally published on Amy’s blog and was republished with permission. Image by Charlene N. Simmons via Flickr.

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