The Jung and the Reckless

January 10th, 2010

Okay, it’s a stupid headline.  But I thought you’d enjoy the following excerpt about creativity from a Jungian analyst.

Gilda Frantz has been involved in Jung’s work since the 50’s and has been an analyst for 33 years.  She has worked with a broad spectrum of  “creative individuals such as photographers, writers, weavers, actors, directors, landscape architects, architects, potters, sculptors, composers, musicians, interior designers,  as well as those individuals whose very lives were an expression of creativity.” She practices in Santa Monica, California with a little help from her terrier, Spike.

Franz wrote the piece from which the following paragraphs are excerpted for Psychological Perspectives, A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, vol 52, issue 1. Chaos and Creativity, published by Taylor and Francis.

What professional artists experience before they put paint to canvas or words on paper is what Nancy Mozur refers to as the void, in her piece on the artist.  What the non-artist who tries to paint or sculpt of write a story meets is unyielding criticism from within.  It’s as though all the critical comments heard over a lifetime suddenly form a loud and authoritative chorus that stops any attempt at creative work.  The professional artist expects to encounter the void, the abyss, the dark nothingness and has learned to be patient and wait for it to pass, or possibly to apply techniques learned in art school to get around that wall.  But the so-called ordinary human being is staggered by the chaos and is stopped dead from proceeding.

Chaos is a procreative condition and is expected to be part of the process of art-making.  You know what I’m talking about, because I am sure a majority of readers have had this experience.  Keep trying, respect the chaos, and wait in front of that blank paper until it turns into creativity.

This is the first time I’ve heard the “chaos” referred to.  It’s obviously part of the creative process, since that process is essentially bringing something out of nothing and then organizing it.   That nothingness, the chaos, is like the Biblical Void, over which darkness hovers and within which nothing can be differentiated from anything else.  The work of a writer or any other kind of artist (I think) is to fish that void until there’s a faint (or, sometimes, strenuous) tug on the string, and then to pull that string up, very carefully indeed, so that it doesn’t break.  And all the time, whether you’ve written twenty books or none at all, there’s that “authoritative chorus” telling you that you haven’t got the skill — that this is the one that will get away.

From my perspective, as someone who does this pretty much every day, the difference between a professional artist and an amateur is that the professional keeps working no matter how authoritative the chorus grows, and no matter how much it seems like his or her personal pond has been fished out.  Every time someone gets a character from point A to point B or gets some pigment on a canvas, or comes up with a creative solution to a life problem, as far as I’m concerned, an act of courage has taken place.  I believe that all creative acts are acts of courage.  Every time we do it, we make the leap and grow our wings on the way down. as Yoji Yamada puts it.

So it’s reckless.  Could there be a better way to live?

16 Responses to “The Jung and the Reckless”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I love this explanation of that feeling of the void. I remember the unbearable pain of art class in junior high school, standing in front of a lump of clay or a blank sheet of paper. The whole class working away merrily in the background…and me, frozen, trapped and empty.

    I never experienced the void while facing a blank page with the intent to write. I feel a swirl, a wild tug in several directions and as soon as I submit….stuff happens. And I can’t stop until it’s done. And sometimes it’s not half bad!

    Thanks, Tim.

    CAPTCHA: frantzen rity

  2. Usman Says:

    That describes me for sure, where the chorus of chaos has brought me to a halt. POV, character, tone? What do I do with all these different aspects of my story? What have I done…Written a first draft, and hit the wall.
    All advice welcome, as well as criticism; since self flagellation is at an advanced stage.

  3. Suzanna Says:


    Do you have a trusted friend who could read your first draft and help you figure out some of the questions you have about your story?

    Please don’t beat yourself up. You’ve written a first draft. That’s a big accomplishment!

  4. Dana King Says:

    This is why I prefer edits to first drafts. I’ve done it before, so I understand about the chaos, but it’s still a little scary, and a tedious process. Molding something that already has some form is a lot less intimidating.

  5. Usman Says:

    Suzanna, thanks for your advice. At this point, I am radically changing the storyline. I realized there were some inherent flaws; the biggest one being that the ending was too melodramatic, without the necessary ingredients for melodrama.

    To answer your question, I am unfortunate that I do not have a readily available beta reader. Living in Pakistan makes that a bit of a problem.
    I have to indulge in self-criticism myself. And that is a terrible form of self doubt that eats at you.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Interesting in this regard: “Chaos Theory” in physics finds repeating patterns and designs (like fractals) in natural phenomena of all kinds ranging from micro to macro, that were previously assumed to be completely random. So what appears to be or feels chaotic is really just a matter perception at the moment and isn’t the underlying truth.

    If we, like Usman was saying, know that we retain the freedom to keep changing what we’ve written until we don’t feel the need to change it any further, then some of the fear of the chaos becomes unnecessary – as we know we will resolve it one step at a time.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    These are great responses, and I thank Gilda Frantz for kicking it all off with her essay, from which I lifted only two paragraphs.

    Cynthia — I have no idea where a painter or sculptor (or composer — what about it Stephen?) gets his/her ideas. Stories always begin for me with a person, even just the glimpse of a person — in the cast of what may be the new Poke book, a six-feet-tall male angel walking through a Bangkok slum and going into a bar. Don’t know where it came from, but for now I’m following it (him) to see what happens. But other forms of art — I don’t know what form that first sliver takes as it emerges from the void. (Anyone want to answer that?) One thing I am sure of is that we all hover over chaos (or at least obscurity) when we begin to work, and that the keys to the work are retrieving something and finding the form for it.

    Usman, it’s terrible you don’t have someone to sit beside you whenever you need to try something out — but I think that’s a late stage in the process, because first you need to have something to try out. I understand being stopped by the chorus. It happens to me all the time. The thing (I think)) is not to respond to that emotionally, but rather to be as analytical as your nature will let you be: back up, outline what you’ve done; ask yourself where it went off the track; ask “what if” this or that had happened in the story, and follow it. ABOVE ALL, go back to the germ — the thing that interested you so much that you thought a story could be woven around it, and ask yourself how (or whether) each part of the story you’ve written presents or sharpens or furthers that germ. If a scene or a chapter doesn’t, then cut it and replace it with something that does. And be ruthless without freaking out — you created the first pass, and it’s you who’s improving it. There’s no failure involved until you give up. And even then, you can learn from the experience and it can help you stay on point next time. And I’ve read your work, and you have a lot of talent, which you should always remember.

    Stephen, you’re right, as always. The world isn’t actually random, although it appears to be — there are underlying patterns of order, of cause and effect. And certainly, no idea our minds pull from the void is without order, since I think the primary function of our minds is to find or impose order on the world in which we live. Whatever we pull up is going to have a center, the little shiny bit that attracted us in the first place, and the challenge (it seems to me) is designing and executing the setting for the shiny bit.

    And I think we all get lost every time we do it. I love Dana’s approach to editing that first pass — it’s the easier part, and (of course) it’s inevitable that what we produce is going to require editing, or even a complete rewrite. I personally enjoy writing the first draft much more than any of the processes that follow, although it’s always fun to see what my editor thinks and to try to impose her changes on my work. It’s kind of like being handed a flashlight that picks out the ratty bits.

    And we all produce ratty bits.

  8. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Re: Where a composer gets ideas:
    Since music is such an abstract and flexible medium, the initial spark can vary almost without limitation. It can be a fragment of melody that suddenly appears in the inner ear – or a rhythm pattern, a novel scale pattern, a thought about how a series of chords will connect or a totally intellectual concept about the use of musical materials that cries out to be tired. Anything that moves the composer to sit down and start the process will do the trick. Of course, external factors like having an assignment, and internally being well tuned physically, spiritually, emotionally are important in readying the composer to face the music.

  9. Usman Says:

    Tim, thanks for the great advice. I have been analyzing my work, and realize there are places where I’ve pushed too hard: that is made my characters do something they couldn’t/shouldn’t have.
    Also I’ve realized, the story needs a bigger concept. The initial germ of the story is still there, but there needs to be more ooomph…or a higher concept. The search for that high concept has lead me into territories that I fear to tread. Perhaps I need more self belief. Your kind words about my talent certainly help.
    Thanks a bunch.
    PS: the day I start rewriting my blog, my link here shall be activated.

  10. Usman Says:

    Stephen, I have recently started to hear music with an ear for the notes. Before I just listened.
    Like you say music is so flexible, and I agree; it is almost liquid in that you can take it where you want to (?) How do you decide the final shape, the composition; where shall the guitar speak out, loud or quiet? Is it all intuition, or is it something more formulaic?
    I am trying to learn how music/lyrics may be reflected in writing prose.

  11. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Usman, you can take your musical ideas where you want to but, like Tim says about his characters, they have a will of their own -(with music it’s harmonic and melodic gravity)- one can bend this will but ignoring it often produces uncommunicative results. At first in my process, it’s like taking dictation – I hear ideas and I write them down. Ultimately, intuition is the referee that looks at all the material that has been freely accumulated and put into a ball park structure and then decides what’s going to move the piece forward and what’s indulgence – or what’s missing or not convincing. As you implied, reserving the freedom to keep throwing stuff out is vital to the process, often brings clarity where there was murkiness and helps to keep priorities in order.

    For me, the “final shape” and all the multitude of decisions within, are dictated by the music. I keep shaping it until I can go through it without being stopped by either something that isn’t working or by seeing (hearing) a way to squeeze more music out of a passage or make a transition more convincing. It’s never a formulaic decision.

    There are many parallels between writing words and music. In both, the sense of flow and rhythm is vital and I think, having learned from either, it can be transfered to the other. Also, the creative processes, as we’ve been discussing, apply to both and seeing the similarities, I think, is freeing.

  12. Usman Says:

    Thanks Stephen for a great reply. I loved your point that ignoring the ,internal demands’ of the process is counter productive.
    I guess the learning curve tells us what to keep and ignore. Your answer is useful for me, since one of the problems I am having is trying to discover the voice I need to use for this WIP.

  13. Larissa Says:

    Wow. I am constantly overwhelmed and amazed by the amount of wisdom that gets dropped on this blog like spare change out of a leaky pocket. It’s great! And it keeps happening!

    Tim: thank you for posting those excerpts. It’s an interesting perspective on things and it’s really true. That moment of freefall when you think that you’re either crazy for trying or you’re so consumed by a curiosity or a concept like Stephen was talking about that you step off and sort of forget that you’re going to be falling for a while before anything makes sense…

    Self-expression is something that a lot of people put a high value on-almost as if it’s a commodity or a talent instead of something that is inherent to everyone. I know I revere singers-or almost anyone who can bring themselves to sing in public or in front of their friends even-to me it shows both a level of confidence and of self-expression that I am striving towards achieving. I’ve just recently been able to take people that I feel are truly expressive and creative off of their pedestal and realize that I can get there too…I just have to apply the butt to the seat and the brush to the canvas and all that other good stuff.

    It truly is chaos in a lot of ways. But it’s beautiful. (c:

  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Vot a bunch. Great stuff, great dialogue, and Stephen is, as always, clearer than most of us on his creative process. And it shows in his work.

    Usman, you have the chops, the talent, and the energy. What you need to do is stop letting the inner critics get to you. Haruki Murakami, one of my two favorite living novelists, says about running a marathon: “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” And it applies to writing. The inner critics can make you sting, but you don’t have to let them make you suffer. The important thing is to ignore then while you’re getting it all down, and when you do finally pay attention to them, just be dispassionate — see what you can use, and toss the rest. We all do it every day, even in the way we arrange our rooms or choose our clothes, and we don’t let it make us suffer.

    Heyyyy, Riss! I’m lucky to know a lot of creative people, and I’m happy to sit back and stir the conversation from time to time. “Freefall,” as you call it is for me simultaneously the most terrifying and the most liberating part of the process. You let it go without knowing where you’ll land. I think it helps to consider the possibility that the entire work already exists, complete and perfect, somewhere in your mind, and that you’re actually uncovering it as much as you are creating it. As my friend, Robb Royer, said on the CREATIVE LIVING thread, he thinks of himself as more an archaeologist than an architect; it’s there, and his job is to uncover it.

    All of this is a GREAT lead-in to what’s coming later this week — the great PLOTTING VS. PANTSING thread, in which a bunch of really good novelists tell us whether they plan in advance or just sit down and make it up, why their particular choice works for them, and where they think their stories come

    Coming right up,

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