The nut, the moron, the stylist, and the critic

I liked this bit from Susan Sontag’s journals. Apparently, the LitHub post from whence this came was in violation of something, so it’s gone.

Rules for Being a Writer
from Sontag’s journals, December 3, 1961

The writer must be four people:

  1. The nut, the obsédé
  2. The moron
  3. The stylist
  4. The critic

1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence.

A great writer has all 4—but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.

Obsédé means the obsessed person, or the fanatic. So not nut like “poop smearing,” nut like “can’t stop looking at this thing no matter what else happens.” This is aligned with the concept of creativity in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention:

The first [phase in the creative process] is a period of preparation, becoming immersed…in a set of problematic issues that are interesting and arouse curiosity.

Csikszentmihalyi (what a name!!) makes it clear that, while this sounds benign, truly creative individuals who have made a significant contribution to culture generally are immersed at a level that is unusual. Obsédé.

The second phase of the creative process is a period of incubation, during which ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness…the third…is insight, sometimes called the “Aha!” moment.

The moron.

The fourth component is evaluation, when the person must decide whether the insight is valuable and worth pursuing.

The critic.

The fifth and last component of the process is elaboration. It is probably the one that takes up the most time and involves the hardest work.

The nut + the stylist.

NB: the featured image, which reads “Theater Square of Susan Sontag,” is from this Flickr account. It turns out that Susan Sontag “actively participated in the creation of the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia.” Who knew?!