The creative impulse is what moves the human race forwards, and so it’s hardly surprising that we find the question of where it comes from endlessly fascinating. Some people say that creativity comes from having lots of knowledge. It’s certainly true that knowing lots of stuff can help you be creative: the more words I know, the more I am able to be creative with them. The more books I read, the more I can draw on the voices and ideas of other writers. Some people say that creativity comes from having lots of skill or technique. Certainly being skillful at something will help you be creative at it. I must form coherent sentences if I want you to understand my ideas. But if creativity came from knowledge or skill, we would expect to see a correlation between people who have most knowledge/skill and people who are most creative. And we would not expect to see creativity in small children, since they don’t have much in the way of knowledge or skill at all.
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 7 is called ‘The Sugar Snow’. The sugar snow is very special, because it is the best kind of weather in which to make maple syrup, by tapping the sap from the trees. Laura and Mary sit on Pa’s knee as he tells them about the process. Pa describes how grandpa spends all winter making wooden buckets in which to store the sap. He explains exactly how grandpa makes the little trough that he will hammer into the trees. The process is long, and complicated, and grandpa needs a great deal of knowledge and skill to get to the sap. But the sap is already in the trees – grandpa just needs to set it free. Knowledge and skill might help us get to creativity, and shape it once we have found it. But I think creativity is inside us all already. Place the bucket; hammer in the trough. And let the sap run free.