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'Creativity' and its Synonyms: Selecting Terms

Make, Create, Invent,

Form, Fabricate, Construct,

Produce, and Generate

by Alana K. Asby  

   Making  is the most general of these terms, and can function as a substitute for any of them. However, because it lacks specificity it is best used to refer either to a very concrete physical process ("making a picnic table") or else to the Universal Idea of makery. It can also be used in very simple writing, such as in children's literature, popular apologetics, texts that are meant to be read swiftly and understood at a surface level, or high literature in which simpleness of diction is called for on account of some aesthetic effect that is aimed for. 'Make' can be rather primal in effect, perhaps in part because it is an Anglo-Saxon word and not a latinate one, and perhaps also because of the euphemism 'Maker' for God - as in, "he went to meet his Maker."

   Generation takes place by natural processes. Literally, it refers to what we now call "reproduction," although that term is really inapt. To generate is to beget and/or bear (a child.) Metaphorically, it is used to refer to the bringing forth of new items through processes which are not being looked at as purposeful or guided. Generation tends to be somewhat predictable, but has surprising elements just as nature does because it can appear spontaneous.

   Production takes place through guided processes. The word is very similar in origins to 'generation.' We still use the word 'produce' to refer to fruit and vegetables, while 'fructation' refers to the end 'product' of plans or situations. However, 'production' (perhaps due to gardening) is used when the processes which bring forth the new items, situations, or entities are considered as guided or pre-determined in some way. Since the industrial revolution, it is often used of making inanimate objects , but can also be used for the results of systems. Therefore it is best used when either the impersonal or the biological must be stressed.

   Formation is the shaping of something which already had substance. To form something is to give it boundaries, so that it will have a shape and will function, containing its substance in an efficient and appropriate way. Use it to emphasize the making of patterns, and use it when the maker's design is particularly in view.

   Design, coming in from the French, originally meant "appoint, select," and is related to "designate." As recently as the 1960's, to "have designs on" a person was to formulate some intention regarding them - often involving death or romance. In artistic settings, it is used when whole elements are combined within a larger item to create an overall effect, which reflects back well on those individual elements. Use it when the activity in view is aesthetic, selective, and intentional.

   Fabrication involves the re-combination of incomplete elements to approximate an item which might otherwise be found in a natural form or more appropriately made through standard practices. It is used of cheaply made homes, lies, and plywood. 'Fabrication' is related to 'fabric,' which refers to a textile that is produced by weaving strands together. 'Fabricate' tends to be pejorative now. Use it when the difficulty of putting the item together is in view, or when the item is unsatisfactory. Do not use it when whole items have been combined into something larger, as in design.

   Construction is building. Like fabrication, it is also a re-combination of elements, but most importantly it is a process that is performed on items which ought to be constructed. Construction is like fabrication, but not pejorative. Use it when something is being put together in an appropriate way, when the item is satisfactory, or when the only way to have the item is to construct it.

   Invention is a complex idea, comprising both discovery and original devising. Use it when the cleverness and intelligence of the maker is in view and when both some original thought and some discovery were involved. Invention, unlike generation and production, does not just make new items, but makes new categories of items. 'To invent' came into the English language from Latin in the early 16th century. The Latin, invenire, meant both to arrive at, discover, and concoct (originally.) We use it of what is commonly called "creative writing," because to make inventive literature is an intellectual and imaginative activity. The aspect of this word which calls up discovery also fits particularly well that side of literary invention which is due to inspiration. Inspiration, regardless of its real sources, is experienced as discovery - as finding something that was already there but which had been previously unrecognized - rather than as true creation.

   Creation is a simple idea, but a hard act to follow. Like invention, creation brings forth not just new items but new categories of items. However, creation does even more. It brings forth whole new kinds of items, previously unthought of. It is not properly used of the mere combination of elements, whether whole or incomplete. It is the only word we have in the English language to express the idea of making something which is utterly new, both in material, substance, form, idea, qualities and kind.

   In other words, it properly refers to an impossible activity. Use it sparingly, and only when what is in view is in some sense regarded as a divine activity, and when the surrounding textual style will allow your reader to intuit that you are speaking hyperbolically and somewhat mystically.

   We object to the term 'creative writing,' because it both raises and lowers the bar to unreasonable levels, in different regards. It combines a pedestrian term with a mystical one, in disharmony. Mere writing is not what we are aiming at - we are aiming at literature. Mere writing, additionally, is never creative, even in a relative sense. On the other hand, literary invention can be quite useful, entertaining, and delightful without arriving at the level of actual creation.

   Therefore 'creative literature' can be guardedly used, as a description of a narrow tract of really inspired writing. 'Inventive Literature' can be used with confidence as the term for a whole supergenre. 'Inventive writing,' can be used, but only to refer to the act of writing inventively or to something that has failed to rise to the level of literature, but which has achieved genuine invention.

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