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Craft of Writing, Economy & Society, The Writer's Life

The Golden Age of Creativity: Now or Then?

Book Note: My collection, The Face Maker and other stories of obsession, is finally ready to roll. I’m offering free copies to those of you who have supported my blog over the years by commenting on a regular basis (like at least 10 times a year). Just send an email to jpon@thirdreader.com with a mailing address. For everyone else, the book is available here for a discount ($9.99 instead of $14.99) if you use the code DYESN6EN.

Now here’s this week’s post:

It’s the curse of many generations that they believe theirs is the greatest time in which to live. Granted, today we have more technological advancements than we know what to do with, as well as great strides in medicine and even some social progress here and there, but is that enough to qualify the second decade of the 21st century as the best ever, or even better than, say, the early 1900s?

It’s a question I sometimes ponder while trying to establish a career as a writer. The first decades of the previous century saw war and disease on a scale never seen previously. But they also saw a complete change in virtually every discipline of thought that had existed for centuries. Realistic art gave way to impressionistic forms, both in the visual realm and the written one. The field of Physics advanced dramatically with the development of quantum mechanics (and has gone almost nowhere since 1930). Political and social thought as well threw off the chains of indefensible tradition—the great monarchies of Europe were brought down and replaced by populist governments.[1] Class mobility was born—the average person questioned his place in society, and was finally given an opportunity to change it.

Mostly, it seems to have been a time when the art of thinking flourished.

I think about it because in some ways society today appears to be going in the other direction. Global, instant communication grants us collaborative thought, which widens the idea pool, but often tends towards conformity and complacency—our ideas are focused largely on appeasing mass market interests, rather than advancing knowledge.[2] The days of the individual genius are over. Many of our best thinkers have been shepherded into institutionalized banality, tasked to work with marketing teams to make sure their ideas are profit-focused. Others are submerged in “think tanks” dedicated to promoting a political polemic.

This trend is important to writers, because by nature and practice we are individuals. While we learn from others in our profession and enjoy nothing better than talking with fellow writers, we pursue our craft alone, staring at the monitor or the notebook, oblivious of the outside world.[3] We don’t like being told what to think, or even to have our creativity hampered by popular opinion. So I can’t help wondering what it would be like to be a writer during those explosive times, when creative people seemed focused on rethinking everything.

Was it so much different then, one hundred years ago? No one can say for sure, but if somehow a team of physicists (corporately funded, of course) were to develop a time machine that could take me to that time, I’d surely sign on to take a look.

What period of time would you most like to visit and write in?


Click the image to read an interesting quote from Henri Bergson.

[1] Despite the chaos and violence, this may be what’s going on in the Middle East. But it’s a long and painful process.

[2] The modern version of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

[3] It’s why I mentioned last week that future writers will be assigned to teams in the publishing world of the future—which was supposed to be funny, but sometimes people don’t get my satire.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


28 thoughts on “The Golden Age of Creativity: Now or Then?

  1. Thought provoking post, Joe – and I love the Bergson quote.
    Just ordered your book – thanks for the discount!


    Posted by Linda Anger | August 31, 2013, 2:24 PM
  2. All things being equal, I think the Victorian Era (in which major advancements for women were made) is mine. I hesitate to leave the twenty-first century, however, because things are even better for women now. To a lot of men, I know this would seem like glaring radical feminism, but until you have walked a mile in a woman’s stilettos and tried to maintain your balance, you won’t appreciate the overwhelming significance such considerations can have over the average life. I know you understand, though, as your many comments vis-a-vis women’s equality have shown, so I make this comment to you without fear of being dismissed as a crank.

    Posted by shadowoperator | August 31, 2013, 2:43 PM
    • (P.S. I didn’t mean to imply that I had ever caught you in stilettos, however. As far as I know, you always wear a respectable pair of men’s Florsheim’s. He-he!)

      Posted by shadowoperator | August 31, 2013, 2:45 PM
    • Your comment is echoed by Averil Dean, below. Sometimes we men forget that the doors of opportunity have always been open to us, yet closed to others. It would have been far easier for me to speak my mind in the early 20th century.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 1:49 AM
  3. NOW you tell me?  I bought this 2 months ago!!  Good to see you make it Joe.  I’ve been in touch with Dora and she’s doing well.  Enjoy CA guy – MI climate (economic) sucks big time.


    Posted by Carole McGuire | August 31, 2013, 3:29 PM
  4. Joe, that is very kind of you offering your paperback like that! Thank you!

    Wow, what era would I like to visit and write in? Man, I’d have have to say the 70s, though, as a kid, I already DID write then! :-] Wrote such classic and telling titles as “The Sealed Flesh,” “The Change,” “The Gargoyle,” “The Statue,” and my critically acclaimed (at least in Mr. Spence’s Fifth Period, Eleventh-grade English class), “Crypt Of Vampyres.” What, you’ve never heard of them? Oh, that hurts. See, I have to revisit as an adult and make that right! :-]

    Posted by fpdorchak | August 31, 2013, 6:02 PM
    • Interesting that you should mention the ’70s. I have a story that I included in the collection that is partly a comment on how the open, questioning attitudes of the ’70s have been forgotten. I always thought it was one of my best, but I could never find a journal willing to publish it.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 1:58 AM
      • Huh, interesting. Least you have it out there now, right? Must be quite edgy, or….

        Posted by fpdorchak | September 2, 2013, 3:03 AM
      • Maybe not so much edgy as philosophically dense. It recasts the story of Cat Stevens’ conversion to Islam in the framework of responsibility to one’s followers. The protagonist singer attempts to come back after years of silence, but is hounded by a washed up music critic who has never forgiven him for abandoning his fans. Not the kind of introspective angst that seems to dominate lit mags these days.

        Posted by jpon | September 2, 2013, 10:56 AM
      • Ah, controversy….

        Posted by fpdorchak | September 2, 2013, 8:47 PM
  5. I enjoyed the points you made, Joe, but I think writing as a profession has always required courage. I like this era, and am grateful for the plethora of avenues for expressing, and receiving, art. Imagine a world without word processors, computers and online journals.

    Posted by nadiaibrashi | August 31, 2013, 6:02 PM
    • Yes, writing is about courage, but I’ve always felt that the right environment and the right relationships create an atmosphere that produces the greatest ideas. A personal example was from when I was the editor of my college newspaper. We had an editorial staff that was on the same intellectual wavelength, and it helped us sweep a bunch of state awards. I sure couldn’t have done it myself.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 2:02 AM
  6. Great question, Joe. I think creativity is exploding…on some levels. I see it all around me. With social media, the ability for almost everyone to “create” is boundless. Whether those creations are worthwhile is another question. If you ask the question in regard to popular music or mainstream movies, I believe there is very little being done that is really new, as there is too much at stake. Creativity is moving from the ground up.

    Posted by Alan Colombo | August 31, 2013, 8:31 PM
    • Good point, Alan. Real creativity takes risks. It doesn’t rely on what’s safe. And that sure is true for music, movies… and lots of writing. Thanks for commenting.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 1:54 AM
  7. I like this question and I think you have a good point about the commercialization of creativity. But like many women, I can’t think of a better time or place to be. Even a slight shift of time or geography could mean a crippling loss of creative freedom. I’m grateful to be where I am—though I wouldn’t mind going forward a few decades to see where we go from here.

    Posted by Averil Dean | September 1, 2013, 12:59 AM
    • Just when I think I’m an enlightened man, I’m reminded of how easy it is to forget what women and minorities faced through the centuries just to have their voices heard. You’re not the first woman to point this out in the comments. I should know better. Thanks for the comment, Averil.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 1:52 AM
  8. As a writer, I can’t help but feel the time is now–in part because that is when I’m writing (and I’m an optimist) and partly because, as Averil said up there, for women, it feels like new things are/may be possible. Although personally, I’ve always felt like I missed the ’60s and the ’20’s.

    Posted by girl in the hat | September 1, 2013, 3:14 PM
    • I was about 13 when all the freedom and craziness of the 60s was going on, so I know what you mean by missing them. I would have loved to have been part of that time. Hopefully this admission of age will put to rest any speculation that I was around in the 1920s.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 6:30 PM
  9. fascinating post. Your remark about the time machine made me think of an interesting moment in Michael Crighton’s TIMELINE, where the hero says “it’s the PAST that’s interesting — the past is where everything happens.” So off they go to the dark ages….Interestingly, there’s alot of fiction being generated and read/watched these days about the past: either the real past as in THE WHITE QUEEN (which I’ve just read and which is pretty darned good by the way), or the fantasmic version of the War of the Roses which takes place in the ubiquitous GAME OF THRONES (the books are fantastically well-written imho). we seem to burrowing through the historical past trying to find some opening towards some possibility, because the present and the future seem so closed off. As a sometime poet, I find myself increasingly attracted to old stuff — Christine de Pizan and Dubellay,– and old French folksongs, rather than to — say — Ginsberg. These are periods of art-making way before industrialization. Horrible times to live in for sure, but the art looks very fresh. And it’s not just a European thing (although I know that tradition best). This is pretty awesome: http://www.indiana.edu/~rcapub/v17n3/qasida.html

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | September 1, 2013, 4:14 PM
    • It’s interesting that so many books and movies about the future exhibit it as a dystopia. Partly that’s because a good story needs conflict and tension, but some of it comes from, I think, a fear that present society is heading down the wrong path. Those looks back at the past are interesting too. There, we tend to forget the violence and disease that was typically much worse than today, in favor of a sense that the pace of life was slower, and therefore more pleasurable (although the people living in those times may not have thought so). A fascinating aspect of being human.

      Loved the qasida in your link (where do you find that stuff?). It reminds me of the saying that the only thing that really changes is technology. People are still pretty much the same, they just wear different clothes and react to different stimuli.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 6:38 PM
  10. I bought your book long ago Joe! :-)

    As strange as this sounds, I’d like to go back and live right after the Civil War or right after WWII. I imagine the energy of trying to capture what’s just happened and what it’s created.

    Posted by Teri | September 1, 2013, 5:35 PM
    • Hope you enjoyed the book.

      I have to admit, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard choose those times to live. I think it would take a lot of courage to face the carnage and destruction left from those wars, and to start the rebuilding process.

      Posted by jpon | September 1, 2013, 6:42 PM
  11. I think these are exciting time to be a writer. While I agree with everything you write above in terms of great thinkers 100 years ago, the industry rules are being rewritten as we speak. Those who who successfully publish work, whether traditionally or independently, are the trailblazers for future generations. I’ve heard more than once that this is the best and worst time to be a writer. While many cling to the hopes of landing a traditional publishing contract, that route comes nowadays with all kinds of strings attached. An increasing number of traditionally published authors are making the choice to become independent. I’m learning something new almost every day. It’s a scary, yet exciting time.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | September 3, 2013, 12:01 PM
    • You’re certainly right about that, Gwen. I’m signed up to receive writing and publishing news from several services, and I learn of some new wrinkle almost every week. It does make it difficult for writers to focus on writing, but it’s definitely exciting.

      Posted by jpon | September 3, 2013, 6:31 PM
  12. By the way, congratulations on your new book. I appreciate the opportunity to purchase it at a discount.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | September 3, 2013, 12:02 PM

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