Solo or group?

The fantasy author Kate Griffin has an interesting blog post on what it is like for an author (normally a loner by nature) to work in a group environment. This came out the same day that Sarah Hoyt did a marvelous piece on maintaining the creative process, which she refers to as not being a machine. All of this reminds me of my own perilous attempts within differing milieus of creativity, and what I have learned from them.

For starters, one can create by themselves, or in a group setting. In some instances, one can do both. The dynamics for group creativity are significantly different from those of creating on one’s own. This difference is important, I would go so far to say essential, for finding one’s creative niche. However, before I get to this let me explain more about what I mean.

Solitary creative tasks are easy to spot. They are writing (especially fiction), song-writing, painting, etc. Anything that ones does on their own. Solo. Just you and your muse. This is different from a group creative environment, which ranges anywhere from playing music, to making movies, to designing advertising art. Yes, I am aware authors often collaborate with each other (making it a group process), and that song-writing also falls into both camps. This is because most creative forms can be done in a group, or by one’s self. Some however, cannot. For instance, one can play a mean oboe solo, but one cannot never play the oboe part of a symphony, and have it be a symphony. The same is true for any rock group. One instrument alone does not make the experience. Only a group can do that.

I make this point because how a person interacts with the creative process (group or singular) can be just as important as doing the creative process itself. For instance, I have been a musician on and off several times in my life, and have two close friends who both have followed music for most of their lives. What is interesting is that for my friends being involved in music is something they liked to do on their own. They are both happy to write and play music with no one else in the room. In fact they thrive on this. But see, I never could. Practicing for me, especially by myself, was just plain boring. I hated it. Even as an adult with a clear idea that it was a much needed ends to a much beloved means, I still had a hard time with it. But put me in a group, and suddenly whamo, I’m ready to go. Moreover, I’m ready to create new ideas, go off in new interesting directions, take on new worlds, as it were. But only in a group. Never alone.

The funny thing is, I am more than happy to work alone creatively as an author. Its not that I cannot create by myself, I just can’t do it well with music. It’s just not all that fun for me, especially compared to being in a group.

Way back when I was in my early 20s I was lucky enough to play in a band with a couple of really talented guys, Justin Souter, and Alan Williams. Playing with them was always a joy as they were so darn good. But what I enjoyed most about playing with them was the process we developed for song-writing. We would just start jamming, and run a tape recorder. Usually I played bass while Justin player guitar, but sometimes we switched. As we bumped up against each other’s ideas, the music started to blend and swirl until it would reach some form of consensus, and thus a section of a song was formed. It is a very democratic process to write this way. There is no form or direction. The ideas are tossed out, and they either stick or they don’t. Eventually something will click, and a piece of music will take shape.

Anyway, that was what I liked best about being in a band. The group creative process. I found it frustrating that Justin and Alan also found happiness in doing music by themselves, but I could never find that part fulfilling. Eventually our band broke up, but I carried with me that love of group creativity and when I eventually stumbled upon another creative process done as a group (advertising design), I made that field my vocation.

All of this to say, if you are doing something creative, and not finding parts of it fulfilling, perhaps you need to explore doing that work either solo or as a group. In essence, do the opposite of whatever you have been doing. You may find it doesn’t work well, you may find it does. Like me, you may find that it only works for you one way, but not another. That’s all well and good. In the end you will know more about yourself, and will have a better idea about what makes your creative process work. Both goals leading to the same thing, a better you.

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