Confessions of an Author: Creative Gap

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on January 13, 2014 in Art, Confessions of an Author, Uncategorized, Writing |

Confession #7: The creative gap that exists between what an author imagines in her head and what ends up on the paper inevitably leads to a certain level of failure.

As a writer, I have certain images, ideas, nuances, themes, characters (and any number of other things) in my head when I create a piece of writing. It’s not that I necessarily have a set agenda–this is especially true when drafting and the story and characters are still taking shape–it’s more that I have a clear vision for a piece. I wouldn’t call it a message (because who wants to read a message-heavy piece of writing)…for a lack of a better way to describe it, let’s call it a creative vision.

Inevitably, the words I use to try and achieve my creative vision never quite live up to what I see in my imagination. This has nothing to with my ability as a writer; it’s more a failure of the medium of the written word. Writers have to rely on words to paint a physical and emotional landscape for a reader. We create not only worlds and characters, but ideas and feelings that need to come alive through words because a reader can’t see into a writer’s head.

Even now, trying to explain this creative gap is a frustratingly futile attempt. The words you read here are not exactly what is going on in my head. There is a creative gap between my brain and what you’re reading.

English users even try to steal words from other languages to help overcome the creative gap. A word like “umami”, taken from the Japanese, is roughly a pleasant savory taste (tomatoes are said to possess this quality), but really it’s a taste or sensation that can’t really be expressed in our language.

Then there are words that are so complex and subject to a person’s individual experiences and emotions. Success. Peace. Love. A writer can use these words, but has no control over how a reader will interpret it. Words are simply an inadequate form of communication sometimes.

And this creative gap isn’t unique to writers; it crosses all types of creative media. Films, though more visual, lack in different areas than books. When watching a film, a viewer can’t be in a character’s head and hear his/her direct thoughts (except for the occasional voice over). Artists can paint or draw what they see in their head, but there is no commentary to go with it. A person looking at a painting has to draw his/her own emotional context out of it.

So what’s a writer or creative person to do? Give up because our creative vision will never be fulfilled. Create a failure and despair over it. Nope! We accept that the creative gap exists and use all the tools we possess to convey our creative vision to the best of our ability.

Because something magical happens when our (inadequate) words are read. The creative gap works in reverse. Readers brings their own creative visions to the writer’s words. And they fill the gap, not as the writer would have filled it, but with their own imaginations.

In the end, the creative gap does not create a failure, but a piece of work that is unique to each individual who consumes it. A work that is full of images, ideas, nuances, themes, characters (and any number of things) the creator never could have imagined. And that is certainly a wonderful exchange.

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  • Mirka Breen says:

    Well said, Katie. I tend to be a terse writer and my Betas always urge, “say more.” Without their feedback I could swear I did say it. But alas-the missing pieces are lying there in the creative gap.

  • Very interesting, Katie. The problem with me, is that I can go on and on with details, and it gets boring. And you’re right about the reader bringing their own experience to the writing. I know that I never make the character I’m reading about in my head look like how the author has described them (except for Anne Shirley, of course). I see them as I’ve experienced similar people. So if that nasty girl reminds me of Elaine in grade nine, she’ll look like her even though she’s supposed to have long, black hair and measure 5’11”.

    • Hi, Suzanne. I know a lot of writers who write lovely descriptions and details, but just because the writing is good doesn’t mean it needs to be in the story. I tend to be a sparse drafter and have to go back and layer in the details. That’s where beta readers and critique partners are so great (as Mirka pointed out); they can tell you where you can trim things down or bulk things up.

      I’m the same way when reading characters. My brain often ignores the physical description the author supplied, and I get a picture of a character in my head that is nothing like what they’re supposed to look like.

  • Marie Laval says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and pertinent post, Katie. I am currently self-editing a romance and deleting and rewriting pages which I thought were great only a few weeks ago. Now it feels like there are too many words, too many ’empty’ descriptions…It’s really hard and very disheartening. Hopefully I’ll get there, somehow!

    • I’m sure you’ll get there, Marie! The revising process is probably my least favorite part of writing process. I enjoy drafting and working with an editor on revisions/edits, but self-revising is tough for me. Happy editing!

  • Meradeth says:

    Such an awesome piece! I regularly read back through my work and wonder where it came from–it differs so much from what happened in my head. (My other thought is while drawing–wow, is there ever a gap there, and I don’t think anything’s ever going to fill it, lol!)I love the thought of the reader filling the gap!

    • Thanks, Meradeth! I totally know what you mean. Even when I’m happy with what I’ve written, I still always feels like there’s something missing. But trying to fill that gap usually just ends up resulting in oversharing.

  • Kai says:

    The true irony is that because we all have our own personal experiences behind words, smells, feelings, etc, even when you get it just how YOU want it, the reader has a completely different experience. Lol. Can we ever win?

    • Exactly, Kai! I think writers win just by having their stories read. We can’t control how readers consume them, so I try to just be happy that they consume them at all. 🙂

  • Loren says:

    This post is a winner. Personally, I’ve just had an intense “aha” moment.
    You’ve succeeded to express what has been niggling my subconscious since I began writing.
    Some days I’d dream up this whole complex piece as I went about routine work,and after I finally wrote, I’d look at the screen and think “that’s it?”

    I was well aware that readers will experience stories differently according to their own history, personality, orientation, etc, but I never connected it to the creative gap.
    Lesson learned: Persist and trust the reader.

    Thanks Katie!

    • Yay, Loren! The tricky 5-letter word: TRUST! I still struggle with trusting the reader sometimes (and my own ability to get it right enough). It’s hard to know at what point you’ve said enough. As I mentioned in an above comment, I think that’s where beta readers and critique partners are so helpful. They can tell you where you’ve got it right or where you’ve missed the mark.

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