Thinking and the Creative Process

“My process is thinking, thinking and thinking—thinking about my stories for a long time. If you have a better way, please let me know.”–Hayao Miyazaki

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity…You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”–Dr. Seuss

“My process is thinking, thinking and thinking—thinking about my stories for a long time. If you have a better way, please let me know,” says Hayao Miyazaki, and of course, how could there be a better way if you look at the result of Miyazaki’s thinking? Hayao Miyazaki is the creator of some of the most astonishing and beautiful films of our time, a master of animation. You’ll recognize them: My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and so many more.

 

If you read the conflicting ideas about creation and thinking at the start of this blog post, it’s clear Bradbury is implying a great enmity between thinking and doing, that the thinking gets in the way of the doing. He’s in the School of Perspiration. Miyazaki is in the School of Inspiration. It’s impossible, of course, that Bradbury never thought, or that Miyazaki never did, but what they see themselves doing is very different. And of course Dr. Seuss thinking of thinking as play and invention.

I went to art school in New York for just one semester, then dropped out. The professors in my classes had us working on abstraction, and conceptual art, and I felt that I didn’t have anything to say. I was 18, I had more to learn, I didn’t know about history, or life, or society, or what I believed. I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I had urges and inklings and guesses, but nothing I felt confident enough to make art out of. I wanted skills, mostly, and so I enrolled in figure drawing classes, and classes that focused on technique, the chemistry of paint, the use of different media, but eventually I dropped out and became an English major, because, at the time, I needed more thinking.

The other thing that irritated me, once I became an English major and took some creative writing courses, was the “write garbage” type assignments where you were meant to just do it, write bad stuff, anything that came into your head, especially if you were stuck, just write. I did them, and wrote down a lot of garbage, and never got anything good out of them. Maybe you did. Did you?

On the other hand, children make great art just by doing. They don’t think, they do and do, make and make, wasting shocking amounts of paper and art supplies, indifferent to quality, but fearlessly making art in a state of playful, Seussian quasi-thinking. Our culture is very action-oriented, and most of us adults are focused on Getting Things Done, laboring mightily to get straight A’s in the School of Perspiration. But in our go-go-go daily life, the common-sensical thing is to hew to Miyazaki’s method, and spend our precious free time thinking, thinking and thinking after endless days of doing.

What’s a thoughtful creative person to do? It’s not a matter of either/or, it’s how much of either, and sensing what you need to do at the time, think or write/paint/create.


This creative exercise is inspired by the tension between thinking and doing in the process of bringing out our creativity:

DOING? or THINKING? a creative process exercise

  1. Go to your art-making place.
  2. Make art. Do.
  3. If that doesn’t feel right, or you’re not getting anywhere, think instead. Keep thinking until you’re ready to do.
  4. Do.
  5. Tell us what happened at thecreativehours@gmail.com

Further Reading:

Starting Point: 1979-1996. Miyazaki started out as just another animator, but in this memoir tells of his journey from childhood dreams to founding Studio Ghibli.

 

 

Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. A documentary about Studio Ghibli, featuring Miyazaki, Producer Toshio Suzuki, Ghibli’s other director, Isao Takahata