Where Does the (Creative) Good Go?

Ever since Tegan and Sara’s music featured in the first season of Grey’s Anatomy I’ve been hooked. And as I listened to ‘Where Does the Good Go’ for the twelfth time today, I wondered, where does it all go?

I never was very good at science, but I do remember learning that energy can’t be destroyed nor created, only changed from one form into another.

What then, of creative energy? Specifically, novel-writing energy.

For novels that are published, the equation is simple. The effort put in translates into a reaction in the reader, which in the case of great novels, translates into the reader considering things with a new perspective, which propels them into action and the cycle continues.

But what of the unpublished works? It’s a tough statistic to pin down, but this article takes a good stab at it, suggesting that at any given time in the United States, there are one million people working on novels, and just 50,000 of those being published (in the traditional sense). Just 5%.

Writers expend enormous amounts of creative energy dreaming, thinking, researching, analysing, writing, rewriting, doubting, hoping, editing, sending and waiting. The input is huge, and yet, for 95% of us, it might all have been for nothing?

So I ask again, where does the effort go?

The law of conservation of energy tells us that energy can’t be lost, only transformed. But into what? You could argue that the energy expended has been converted into words on a page, but I could spend two days copying from the dictionary and have 80,000 unpublished words on a page all the same.

The science doesn’t seem to offer any guarantee that the outcome will be equal to the original energy. Anyone who has ever watched a toddler tie their shoes knows that effort and results aren’t always in proportion.

Maybe the energy that went into writing all those unpublished works isn’t wasted, but lies dormant, reserved, waiting. Or maybe it has a bounce back effect, the very fact of having a finished work might re-energise the writer to keep going.

I’m only guessing here, I’m yet to find an answer that feels satisfactory. So I ask you, what do you think? Where does the good go?


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