Sunday, November 30, 2014

Great things are coming..

Yes, it's been quiet here since March. But (please, sir! please, sir!) I have an excuse!

During the past 8 months, my brain and creative mind have been entirely geared towards writing, submitting and, finally, presenting my PhD. Creative Temperament has, I'm afraid to say, been pushed out of the way during that time.

The good news? I am now a fully fledged Doctor.... in Robotics.... for all the good it'll do me. If you have any sick droids then feel free to send them to me.

The better news? Creative Temperament is going to be moving to pastures new. I'm currently putting this blog through a complete overhaul. It's getting a completely new design, moving to a new home ( and getting  some new focus in the content.

At the start of the New Year (2015), I'm going to migrate all this content over to the new platform and start the "new look" Creative Temperament with an exciting blog series on the figures of rhetoric.

Hope you're as excited as I am! See you there.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Handy Archetypes: A different approach to character development - A Workshop

Last week it was my turn to run the Madrid Writer's Club again.
Here's a link to my post with exercises and handouts on developing "Handy Archetypes" for made-to-order character development.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

What is Creative Temperament?

It’s been five months since I started posting here again, at the conservative rate of 1 post/month. I’ve discussed various things ranging from presentation skills to received wisdom and creativity itself. However, there’s one thing that really requires addressing:

What is "Creative Temperament"?

I first decided I liked the phrase back when I was an overly serious seventeen year old (now I’m just an overly serious twenty-six year old). I probably came across it in The Great Gatsby, which we were required to read for school. I enjoyed the book, probably because I read it during the holiday before the inevitable "dirgifying by English Comprehension" which sucked the life out of it in the classroom. 
The phrase "Creative Temperament" comes up in a description of Gatsby on the first page:
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of ‘creative temperament’ - it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”
For the narrator, Nick, people with Creative Temperament are empty and wooly, a phrase used to justify characters who are easily influenced by the world around them. People who feel like they’re on the pulse of the contemporary world by mere virtue of the fact that they call themselves “creative”, and because the role of an artist is to make comment on modern life so they must have that insight that they profess. Nick takes this empty personality to be “creative temperament.” Gatsby, he asserts, is truly on the pulse.

But at 17 years old, my ideas were different from Nick's. My idea of creative temperament was intertwined with beatnik USA and Gonzo, a culture in which I was seeping my adolescent brain with as much as I could read.

It was around that time that I made a cigarette holder by melting two felt-tip pen lids together so I could bite it between my teeth and chew it like Hunter S Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The same time as I strutted around, imitating his Gonzo silly walk and peering at things with eyes which couldn't even imagine the drug addled state that I was imitating. 

Creative Temperament for me at 17 was the seedy diners and smoke filled cars of 1950s Beat Generation America and the death of the 60s. Creative Temperament was being shit-faced drunk in front of a battered old typewriter and producing gold from the tips of your cigarette stained fingers.

Far away from the lifeless, clinical definition of Creative Temperament defined in the California Psychological Inventory (CPI). Just as it defines Dominance, Empathy, Self Control, etc, the CPI defines Creative Temperament as a scale on which people are placed. People with Creative Temperament have:
“Poise and confidence, Individualized and non-conventional personal values, a liking for the unpredictable and improbable, and progressive social attitudes”
High scores in this part of the CPI suggest an individual who is "imaginative, individualistic and unconventional" whilst a low score "suggests persons who have narrow interests and a preference for routine and traditional approaches." 

But is it right to look to psychology for our definition? Well, in fact society often links Creative Temperament with, essentially, mental illness. That Hunter S Thompson might have been bipolar just adds another notch to the common stereotype that creative minds, with artistic temperament, are hedonistic,  impulsive and prone to mood swings. Some studies show that:
"Despite the disabling and often lethal effects of mood disorders, remarkably high numbers of eminently creative individuals appear to suffer from depression and related illnesses, particularly bipolar disorder."
I find this correlation interesting, but myself I'm not going to leave my definition there. You can if you want to.

These days, I take Creative Temperament slightly differently. Just as I saw it in Hunter S Thompson typing furiously, hunched over a stained typewriter so I see it as being the very opposite of being an “empty fa├žade” described in The Great Gatsby.

For me Creative Temperament is the exact opposite of a vacant display. It's not as tangible or definable as something that can be placed on a scale, or necessarily as frenzied to be reserved only for cyclothymic minds. However, instead of it being the act of typing furiously in itself, as I'd seen it at 17, it's the spark of pure drive, which then causes that act of typing to be a necessity .

Creative Temperament is that part of the self that drives us to produce. Drives us to create. Drives us to form those barely formed wisps of perfect wisdom which float past and behind our consciousness and turn them into something which we can hold out in front of us and say “This! This is what I’m talking about! Come on humanity... Look at this! Learn!” 

That’s Creative Temperament for me anyway. Right now at least.

So there we are. Which definition is right? None of them? All of them?

The definitions we have are:
  1. Creative Temperament as defined in The Great Gatsby:

    The “flabby impressionability” which typifies an empty display of professed insight into life.
  2. Creative Temperament as defined by me at 17:

    That personality held by people who live on the fringes of society and type furiously, producing stream-of-consciousness words, drinking bourbon and chewing cigarettes.
  3. Creative Temperament as defined by the CPI:

    A defined scale on which anyone can be placed, anywhere between “conservative and unoriginal” to “individualistic and unconventional”
  4. Creative Temperament as defined by other psychologists and society:

    Bipolar mania as experienced by creative people with mental health disorders.
  5. Creative Temperament as defined by me now:

    The moreish drive to create original things for no reason other than the act of creation in itself.

There’s one more definition, which is a pun really and also the tag-line for this blog.

  1. Creative Temperament:

    The process of heating and cooling one’s creativity to improve its hardness and elasticity.

This is a pun on Tempering. Tempering is a process used on metals in which they are heated and cooled to improve their material properties. You can also temper chocolate - remember that scene in Chocolat where she spreads the chocolate out on a stone? Tempering Chocolate gives it a nice snap when you bite into it.
The idea of this pun with Tempering and Temperament is that by continually doing exercises to “heat” and “cool” your Creative Temperament you become more flexible (elastic) in your ability to create and stronger (harder) to the difficulties of creativity.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

How to Pretend to be Positive

When my sister and I were kids, my mum had the infuriating habit of making us say positive things when we just wanted to be grumpy. For example, if I said:
"I hate school and all my classes are crap."
She might respond, feigning a sweet voice: "Now say that in a positive way (?)"
Of course this wouldn't instantly change our mood. Often we might shout something like:
"I positively hate everything and I positively don't want to talk to you."
Sometimes though, it might change to "I didn't like English today, because I got told off for talking." and then (having been coaxed out of the angry mindset) adding "...but Physics was ok... and we had pizza for lunch."

Now, years later, I've suddenly found myself bothered by people who tend towards looking on "the dark side" of situations (that's not a Star Wars reference, I mean the opposite of "the bright side"). I sometimes try to invite them to look at their situation more positively, but more often I'll just zone out and let them get on with it.

The problem is that, in the end, the tendency to look at things in a particular way starts to seep into your unconsciousness unless you actively avoid it.

Now, I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, a really positive person. But I realised that I might have an advantage, because my mum's "annoying habit" taught me the ability to notice when I'm using negative language. Many people, I guess, don't even know when they're saying negative things.

In fact, I've always thought of my mum as a generally positive person, and many people would agree with me, so it was a surprise to me to find out the other day that she viewed "everything as a problem" for most of her life. When I was about 6 years old, she actively made a decision to stop using negative language.

But if we say negative things, does that mean that we are a negative person?

Is is possible that by changing what we say, we can change how we feel, even if we don't initially believe what we're saying?

Time to break out the research.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The New Year's Anti-resolution Resolution Paradox

Making New Years Resolutions has fallen out of fashion. In fact its even become popular to make an anti-resolution resolution, by saying “This year I resolve not to make any resolutions”, which has the double advantages of being both confusing and having its assured failure inbuilt, because you have to break the resolution in order to make the resolution which resolves not to make any resolutions. Of course you could always resolve to “not make any resolutions after this one”, which would solve the initial paradox, but is probably as just as doomed to failure as the resolution to “give up cigarettes after this one” or “start eating healthy after this Mars Bar”.

By why do we make even make resolutions? Humans must have had some reason to start making them in the first place.

Well, it appears that the history of New Years resolutions started in Rome around the time of Julius Caesar, and generally took a moral flavour. Things like “I will be good to others”, something which is generally taken to be a sign of good morals. After Christianity was adopted in the 4th century the focus changed, from moral resolutions to prayers, to fasting and to a feast on January 1st which held the worrying name of “The Feast of the Circumcision”. I shudder to think what might have been on the menu.