Novelist and screenwriter William Goldman (Princess Bride, Misery) says in his memoir, Which Lie Did I Tell:
"I don't understand the creative process. Actually, I make a concerted effort not to understand it. I don't know what it is or how it works but I am terrified that one green morning it will decide not to work anymore, so I have always given it as wide a bypass as possible."
I used to think knowing what made me tick was useful. If I understood it, if I could figure it out, then I could be better at it. Why not? That works for most of the things I've had to deal with in life: respiratory medicine, constituent relations, traffic flow and signage. But it doesn't quite work the same for creativity. Creativity isn't a set of skills; it's a conjunction of opportunity, philosophy, and desire.
Creativity has a lot more in common with love than it does with, say, child-rearing or people skills. People are seldom afraid of losing their ability to raise children or figure out what their co-workers are going to do next. Writers, however, are justly terrified that someday the words will simply refuse to flow.
One of my favorite sports writer, Bill Simmons, put it this way: "That's what [writing for a living] is like; it's a constant hole in the pit of your stomach."
I have more in common with my friend who writes sports for a Philadelphia newspaper than I do with his wife, an attorney. She writes to nail down facts and construct arguments. We write to engage an audience, sell them a tale, breathe life into our subjects.
"I have to make my readers believe," he says.
So do I. Making readers believe is what good fiction writers do, and what I know happens when I succeed. But can I explain how it happens? I don't think I can and I sure as hell don't want to try.
Writers count on their creativity to be there the same way a beauty counts on good genes or an athlete on being able to dunk a basketball. Writing is part of who and what we are, bound in ego, an intimate companion, and if we lose that . . . if we cease to find affirmation and pleasure in what we do or who we believe we are . . .
Might as well amputate a limb, because that's how it feels. But almost as bad is wondering if that limb was real, or just a phantom.
So I don't need to understand how my creative process works. I need to believe it will be there, always, even if my Muse takes a hike. Luckily, my Muse is a bit of a stay-at-home type, so as long as the words keep coming, I'll keep writing and resist the urge to question her.