Creativity ... Where Does it Come From? (Thanks, Dad)

Dad and the custom guitar.

For Christmas, my dad created a custom guitar shaped like a rifle for my brother-in-law to display in his gun shop. The custom guitar was a work of art in itself. But while he was building it, he took video and then edited a series of YouTube videos about the process. Although Dad was an “early adopter” of technology when I was a kid (we were one of the first families in town to own a VCR and video camera), after our first camcorder went kaput sometime in the 90s, he didn’t take any more video. So as I watched the videos he put together about the guitar creation process, I found myself marveling not so much at the problem-solving and creativity and skill needed to create the guitar (all of which are substantial), but the additional creativity and problem solving that went into making the videos.

Before now, my dad had never used video editing software. It wasn’t around the last time he worked with a camcorder. And I’ve worked enough (although still not much at all) with Windows MovieMaker to know that editing video is time consuming, slow work. I’ve often had ideas for videos that I’ve never followed through on, mostly because very little besides writing can motivate me to put in that kind of time and precision.

So I found myself wondering what inspired my dad to put in this kind of time. A desire to document and share his process, certainly, but considering how hard it is to “get noticed” on the Internet, I don’t think that was the main motivating factor. What struck me was that the main motivation behind the video series was simply the process of creation itself — the learning of something new, the puzzling out of how to make an idea into a reality.

And that’s when I realized how alike my dad and I are.

Watching the videos, I thought about the hours I’m putting into making a collection of storied Mix CDs that I’ll probably only ever share with one or two other people. I thought about the novels I’ve been writing since I was fifteen, and the fanfiction I wrote before that — before the Internet was widely accessible and before I knew there was actually a market for that kind of thing. I thought about the dozens of character journals I kept (and which now take up a whole drawer in my file cabinet) for over five years. And I realized that I had Dad to thank.

Despite growing up with him, I’d never before reflected on the impact his quiet creativity had on my own. I’d be more inclined to credit my sisters, for their example and their co-creativity, or my mom, with her hardcore support of imaginative play and creation. But all those years, there was my dad in the background, teaching himself to play guitar, building go-carts, and now, building guitars. All for the joy of the process, and, I think, for the satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle.

I’m realizing more and more that what I love about writing is the satisfaction I feel deep in the heart of a project, when I feel myself finally able to work loose the knots at the heart of a creative work. My dad worked loose similar knots as he learned to edit video for the first time.

Like anything else, one can debate the impact of nature and nurture on the development of creativity and the expression of one’s self through a specific medium. Like most things, I’m sure the answer is a combination of both; I can certainly think of incidences and circumstances and people who “nurtured” my writing in one way or another throughout the years. But I don’t think I’ve fully appreciated until now what nature has gifted me with — a love of the process for its own sake that I now believe is a direct result of my dad’s genes. And for that, a thank you will never be enough.