What is the creative act?

I’ve reached a plateau of new understanding about how to go about ‘writing’ my ‘novel’ – inverted commas are needed because I’m not sure I’ll be writing in the traditional sense; nor am I sure the end product could be called a novel.

Needless to say, this is an exciting journey filled with lots of quirky surprises. My biggest problem is documenting the cerebral paths I follow – I can barely realise the significance of new information or ideas before I’m whisked away to another mountain top plateau, or down some other twisting tunnel of thought, leaving me no time to drop breadcrumbs so I can find the same way back.

One thing is certain though, the ‘how’ question, the thinking about ‘the process’ is where I’m at in my journey at this point. ‘How do I write my story?’ I need something approximating an answer by September when I have to give my Early Candidature Milestone presentation. Words on pages? It doesn’t seem enough – after all, I’m writing on a screen now and these words will never grace any ‘real’ paper pages.

The featured image for this post is of Gilles Deleuze, and here he is again below, and again, and again, and again…

Image result for gilles deleuze

His views on the creative process are edging me closer to an answer for the ‘how’ question:

Writing words on pages is such a cerebral process – why do artists in other mediums have all the fun? Why can’t writing also incorporate a more visceral element into its process?

Jack Kerouac typed his ‘On the Road’ in one three week session onto a single scroll – he wanted to keep the flow of his thoughts going and didn’t want to have to change paper. He would plan for his writing sessions beforehand; he’d have some notes ready, but the actual process of writing was an event in and of itself:

I wonder what kind of novel would eventuate if I splattered words across an enormous page – would anyone be able to read it? Would anyone want to read it? Would it matter if no one wanted to read it? Jackson Pollock looks like he’s having a ball splashing paint across his canvases:

The ‘cut-up’ approach to ‘writing’ is another way to go about things:

And then there’s Gertrude Stein. For her, the process had to be as important as the end product – just look at ‘Sacred Emily’:

Sacred Emily

(1913) Gertrude Stein

Compose compose beds. 
Wives of great men rest tranquil. 
Come go stay philip philip. 
Egg be takers. 
Parts of place nuts. 
Suppose twenty for cent. 
It is rose in hen. 
Come one day. 
A firm terrible a firm terrible hindering, a firm hindering have a ray nor pin nor. 
Egg in places. 
Egg in few insists. 
In set a place. 
I am not missing. 
Who is a permit. 
I love honor and obey I do love honor and obey I do. 
Melancholy do lip sing. 
How old is he. 
Murmur pet murmur pet murmur. 
Push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea push sea. 
Sweet and good and kind to all. 
Wearing head. 
Cousin tip nicely. 
Cousin tip. 
Wearing head. 
Leave us sit. 
I do believe it will finish, I do believe it will finish. 
Pat ten patent, Pat ten patent. 
Eleven and eighteen. 
Foolish is foolish is. 
Birds measure birds measure stores birds measure stores measure birds measure. 
Exceptional firm bites. 
How do you do I forgive you everything and there is nothing to forgive. 
Never the less. 
Leave it to me. 
Weeds without papers. 
Weeds without papers are necessary. 
Left again left again. 
Exceptional considerations. 
Never the less tenderness. 
Resting cow curtain. 
Resting bull pin. 
Resting cow curtain. 
Resting bull pin. 
Next to a frame. 
The only hat hair. 
Leave us mass leave us. Leave us pass. Leave us. Leave us pass leave us. 
Humming is. 
No climate. 
What is a size. 
Ease all I can do. 
Colored frame. 
Couple of canning. 
Ease all I can do. 
Humming does as 
Humming does as humming is. 
What is a size. 
No climate. 
Ease all I can do. 
Shall give it, please to give it. 
Like to give it, please to give it. 
What a surprise. 
Not sooner whether. 
Cordially yours. 
Cordially yours. 
Not sooner together. 
Cordially yours. 
In strewing, in strewing. 
That is the way we are one and indivisible. 
Pay nuts renounce. 
Now without turning around. 
I will give them to you tonight. 
Cunning is and does cunning is and does the most beautiful notes. 
I would like a thousand most most. 
Center pricking petunia. 
Electrics are tight electrics are white electrics are a button. 
Singular pressing. 
Recent thimble. 
Noisy pearls noisy pearl coat. 
Arrange wide opposite. 
Opposite it. 
Lily ice-cream. 
A hand is Willie. 
Henry Henry Henry. 
A hand is Henry. 
Henry Henry Henry. 
A hand is Willie. 
Henry Henry Henry. 
All the time. 
A wading chest. 
Do you mind. 
Lizzie do you mind. 
Next to barber. 
Next to barber bury. 
Next to barber bury china. 
Next to barber bury china glass. 
Next to barber china and glass. 
Next to barber and china. 
Next to barber and hurry. 
Next to hurry. 
Next to hurry and glass and china. 
Next to hurry and glass and hurry. 
Next to hurry and hurry. 
Next to hurry and hurry. 
Plain cases for see. 
Tickle tickle tickle you for education. 
A very reasonable berry. 
Suppose a selection were reverse. 
Cousin to sadden. 
A coral neck and a little song so very extra so very Susie. 
Cow come out cow come out and out and smell a little. 
Draw prettily. 
Next to a bloom. 
Neat stretch. 
Place plenty. 
Curtain cousin. 
Neither best set. 
Do I make faces like that at you. 
Not writing not writing another. 
Another one. 
Jack Rose Jack Rose. 
Practically all of them. 
Does believe it. 
Measure a measure a measure or. 
Which is pretty which is pretty which is pretty. 
To be top. 
Neglect Waldberg. 
Sudden say separate. 
So great so great Emily. 
Sew grate sew grate Emily. 
Not a spell nicely. 
Weigh pieces of pound. 
Aged steps. 
Not a plan bow. 
Why is lacings. 
Little slam up. 
Cold seam peaches. 
Begging to state begging to state begging to state alright. 
Begging to state begging to state begging to state alright. 
Wheels stows wheels stows. 
Cotton could mere less. 
From the standpoint of all white a week is none too much. 
Pink coral white coral, coral coral. 
Happy happy happy. 
All the, chose. 
Is a necessity. 
Happy happy happy all the. 
Happy happy happy all the. 
Remain seated. 
Come on come on come on on. 
All the close. 
Remain seated. 
All the. 
Remain seated. 
All the, close. 
Websters and mines, websters and mines. 
Websters and mines. 
Gold space gold space of toes. 
Twos, twos. 
Pinned to the letter. 
In accompany. 
In a company in. 
Natural lace. 
Spend up. 
Spend up length. 
Spend up length. 
Length thoroughly. 
Neatness Neatness. 
Excellent cording. 
Excellent cording short close. 
Close to. 
Pin black. 
Cough or up. 
Neater pin. 
Pinned to the letter. 
Was it a space was it a space was it a space to see. 
Neither things. 
Say say say. 
North of the calender. 
Peoples rest. 
Preserve pulls. 
Cunning piler. 
Next to a chance. 
Apples went. 
It was a chance to preach Saturday. 
Please come to Susan. 
Purpose purpose black. 
Extra plain silver. 
Furious slippers. 
Have a reason. 
Have a reason candy. 
Points of places. 
Neat Nezars. 
Which is a cream, can cream. 
Ink of paper slightly mine breathes a shoulder able shine. 
Near glass. 
Put a stove put a stove hoarser. 
If I was surely if I was surely. 
See girl says. 
All the same bright. 
When a churn say suddenly when a churn say suddenly. 
Poor pour percent. 
Little branches. 
Near sights. 
Please sorts. 
Put something down. 
Put something down some day. 
Put something down some day in. 
Put something down some day in my. 
In my hand. 
In my hand right. 
In my hand writing. 
Put something down some day in my hand writing. 
Needles less. 
Never the less. 

Never the less extra stress. 
Never the less. 
Old sight. 
Real line. 
Upper states. 
Mere colors. 
Recent resign. 
Search needles. 
All a plain all a plain show. 
White papers. 
Slippers underneath. 
Little tell. 
I chance. 
I chance to. 
I chance to to. 
I chance to. 
What is a winter wedding a winter wedding. 
Furnish seats. 
Furnish seats nicely. 
Please repeat. 
Please repeat for. 
Please repeat. 
This is a name to Anna. 
Cushions and pears. 
Reason purses. 
Reason purses to relay to relay carpets. 
Marble is thorough fare. 
Nuts are spittoons. 
That is a word. 
That is a word careless. 
Paper peaches. 
Paper peaches are tears. 
Rest in grapes. 
Thoroughly needed. 
Thoroughly needed signs. 
All but. 
Relieving relieving. 
That is plenty. 
Cunning saxon symbol. 
Symbol of beauty. 
Thimble of everything. 
Cunning clover thimble. 
Cunning of everything. 
Cunning of thimble. 
Cunning cunning. 
Place in pets. 
Night town. 
Night town a glass. 
Color mahogany. 
Color mahogany center. 
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. 
Loveliness extreme. 
Extra gaiters. 
Loveliness extreme. 
Sweetest ice-cream. 
Page ages page ages page ages. 
Wiped Wiped wire wire. 
Sweeter than peaches and pears and cream. 
Wiped wire wiped wire. 
Extra extreme. 
Put measure treasure. 
Measure treasure. 
Tables track. 
That will do. 
Cup or cup or. 
Excessively illigitimate. 
Pussy pussy pussy what what. 
Current secret sneezers. 
Mercy for a dog. 
Medal make medal. 
Able able able. 
A go to green and a letter spoke a go to green or praise or 
Worships worships worships. 
Do or. 
Table linen. 
Wet spoil. 
Wet spoil gaiters and knees and little spools little spools or ready silk lining. 
Suppose misses misses. 
Curls to butter. 
Settle stretches. 
See at till. 
Sail or. 
Sail or rustle. 
Mourn in morning. 
The way to say. 
Deal own a. 
A high b and a perfect sight. 
Little things singer. 
Not in description. 
Day way.
A blow is delighted. 


‘Tender Buttons’ also displays a similar use of repetition. And similarly, it doesn’t make any sense in a conventional way:

Method to her ‘madness’?

Though I have no idea exactly what Stein’s work ‘means’, when I read or listen to her work I feel a refreshing sense of liberation – I listen to the words in a tonal and sensuous way rather than for their semantic meaning; she has detached them somehow from their usual connotations and rearranged them so that they come to mean something entirely different than what is expected. Carly Sitrin gives a clear explanation of some of the thinking behind Stein’s apparent ‘non-sense’:

Making Sense: Decoding Gertrude Stein’
Carly Sitrin


Her years spent at Radcliffe saw Stein working closely with James, taking part in several experiments, and publishing her own articles in scientific publications. These experiments focused on “normal and induced motor automatism,” or actions located on the threshold between consciousness and unconsciousness (Weinstein 16). The experiments made use of automatic reading and writing phenomena for the most part, but it was James’ Psychology (1892) that contained a chapter that would most heavily influence Stein’s later poetic career. This chapter entitled “The Stream of Consciousness” combined his fascination with the psychology of consciousness with the psychology of language and use of words. The questions that plagued James—What is consciousness? How does consciousness relate to the whole personality? Is consciousness continuous or discontinuous?—are directly explored in the works of Gertrude Stein.

The concept of stream of consciousness starts with the idea that “consciousness of some kind goes on. ‘States of mind’ succeed each other.” He argues that as “ideas recur, although the ideas may be the same, we see them in different relationships” (Miller 13). More simply stated, the repetition of words and concepts can change their implications, just as the physical act of repeating a word aloud can alter its meaning. In Gertrude Stein’s writing, she utilizes this strategy of repetition to inject a deeper and more expansive significance to her words. For example, her poem “Sacred Emily” recounts in minute detail the everyday actions of a woman in her home. The piece consists of exactly 367 staccato lines repeating phrases such as “push sea” eight times in one line (33). While this statement may at first seem to be nonsense, according to Jamesian psychology, the more often it appears, the more the meaning expands. In this way, the phrase “push sea” transforms from the literal vision of a breaking wave to the kneading motion of the poem’s subject as she prepares dinner and, later, the motion of her knitting needles.


Of secondary importance in Gertrude Stein’s life and poetic style was the cubist work of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris. The artists were close friends with Stein and her partner Alice Toklas and frequently displayed their work in the couple’s apartment. As W.G. Rogers asserted in his book When This You See Remember Me: Gertrude Stein in Person, “Tender Buttons is to writing…exactly what cubism is to art,” stressing the connection that the artists forged. A basic description of cubism is the destruction, dissection, and reassembling of an object with the intention of capturing its essence. The idea falls in line with Stein’s belief of the “continuous present.” As Picasso wrote in his 1923 Statement to Marius De Zayas, “to me there is no past or future in art. If a work cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all,” thus stressing his belief in the timelessness of any artistic style (“Picasso Speaks”). At its core, cubism operates on the notion that an object is not the sum of its parts, but rather every atom of an object contains within it the essence of the whole, and therefore can be rearranged at will while still maintaining the overall sense of the thing.

This concept of the strategic reassembling an object is explored at length in Stein’s book of poetry Tender Buttons.  Take, for example, Stein’s description of “A Handkerchief”: “A winning of all the blessings, a sample not a sample because there is no worry” (24). What the piece lacks is cohesion. The words themselves are not challenging, just as a piece of cubist art is nothing more than a simple color or shape; the art comes from the organization as a whole. Stein’s work is not meant to be analyzed word by word, connecting the concepts of “blessings” to the common phrase “bless you” following a sneeze. Rather, she intends her poetry to be digested all at once, in the “continuous present” with every word carrying the same weight because every word contains within it the essence of the whole.

Another crucial principle of cubism is the concept that the subject is “veiled by the medium of description” (Lewis). For Picasso, the “veils” were the planes into which the painter broke up the canvas, while Stein’s “veils,” according to Marjorie Perloff in her book The Poetics of Indeterminacy, are the abstract patterns of her words. Perloff asserts that Stein’s objects “not only are fragmented and decomposed as they are in cubist still-life; they also serve as false leads forcing the reader to consider the very nature of naming.” In this way, Stein’s manipulation of her syntax, while seemingly random and senseless, is actually a calculated strategy enacted to shake up the reader’s preconceived notions of the subject. Eyeglasses become “A color in shaving, a saloon is well placed in the centre of an alley,” rather than two clear glass lenses in metal frames (Tender Buttons21). This conscious action of portraying glasses without the expected combination of words forces the reader to see the subject in a new light. The initial confusion caused by the apparent lack of cohesion acts as a fog or veil through which the reader must actively try to see through. Stein is attempting to make her audience sit up and pay attention, to read critically and engage their minds just as Picasso wanted to engage his viewers in his art.

Cubism: ‘Not less true just differently true’

Picasso’s ‘Man with Guitar’ (1912)

And for some comic relief, here’s Salvador Dali ‘painting’:

Breaking boundaries for the sheer exhilaration of exploring new territory is what I feel drawn to at any rate. Joseph Campbell sums up the creative act aptly:

Letting go of tried and tested paths is not as easy as it sounds, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. Alice is in awe of all the strange floating things she passes as she falls gently down the rabbit hole. Chairs, cupboards and lamps are uprooted from where they are normally found. It makes me wonder what ‘normal’ elements of the writing process I might see floating, uprooted from where they are conventionally found as I fall down the rabbit hole, away from all that is known and expected.

That’s all I can muster for now faithful blog.

Till next time x

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