New Blog Project: Creativity


Earlier this year, someone linked to this article: Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking. I read it and I sort of hated it. Does everything have to be a damn list? I realize lists are popular on the web, but can’t an article on creativity make a more creative choice?

Well, catch a whiff of hypocrisy, because I am going to go through the points on that list in a series of posts, because creativity is something I’ve been meaning to address here. Some points will get their own post, some will be grouped together, based on nothing but my free time and how much I have to say.

But why do it? Well, occasionally I get emails from people praising the originality of my Twenty Palaces books, and the tone always seems to suggest that it comes from some characteristic I have, okay? As though there’s some innate quality in me that allows me to create unusual stuff for my books. Other people hate the choices I make, for example calling this or that predator lame, and that’s totally cool. At least I know the thing they hate is something that (mostly) came from me.

However, there’s nothing innate about it. So I’m going to use this guy’s article as a springboard for the discussion I want to have. What’s more, I’m not planning to talk very much about generating story ideas. You can find that stuff anywhere, and it’s not very difficult. Story ideas are so common that I give them away (just click on the “seeds” tag in the sidebar; if you see an idea that intrigues you, run with it).

Instead I’m going to talk about using creativity within the story itself, especially to solve story problems in ways that the reader might not expect or to create a setting that gives your characters the opportunity to do interesting things.

I’m not going to go into the research very much. It’s all over the web and it’s very interesting, if you can get past the how-can-we-make-our-corporation-more-successful crap.

So let’s start off with the first of the Twelve Things You Were Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking: You are creative.

Sounds very affirming, doesn’t it? If you take the trouble to click through and read this paragraph, you can maybe see why I don’t like it. Lines like this: The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. sound like the advice thin people give about weight loss.

But the point is not that you believe in yourself, or that you decide to be creative, or that you make the effort. What the writer should have talked about was self-identity.

There was a study that came out many years ago (I tried to Google it up but it was too deep) that measured people’s creativity. What they did was give people a test to measure their capacity for creative thought. Most people–having no need to be creative in their everyday live because they work in offices all damn day, bust their asses taking care of their families, and cluck their tongues over the current state of things–were no particularly creative.

No surprise, right? Well, I wish I could link to the study but I can’t so let’s pretend I remember it very well because I do.

What happened next was that the same people were test questions, but this time they were told to answer as they imagined a creative person might–a French painter, a hippy, a science fiction writer–and this time their answers were incredibly creative. Once they’d freed themselves from their own self-image, they were capable of surpassing their limitations.

I know what you’re thinking: Why a hippy? I honestly have no idea. Apparently people think hippies are creative? I guess? That was one of the details that made the research stand out in my memory.

So, the article writer is correct. Any of us can be creative if we put our minds to it in the right way. It’s not about avoiding something new, it’s about understanding how to get to that new thing.

More in the next post, when I get a chance to write it.

2 thoughts on “New Blog Project: Creativity

  1. Duncan Eagleson

    The initial claim – that anyone CAN be creative – does have some validity, I think. But the author has missed the boat with the whole belief thing. Not that belief in your own creativity doesn’t help – it certainly does, and, yes, disbelief can discourage you from trying. But (IMO) desire is more important than belief. Just anecdotal evidence, of course, but all the most creative people I know are compelled to create by an inner impulse that just won’t be denied. If they’re not full time professional creatives, and they work a boring 9-to-5 rent-paying job, then they write novels on their lunch hour, they paint on the weekend, they spend their nights and weekends playing music, or whatever. When others are kicking back to watch the game, or going out to clubs, or playing frisbee in the park, those folks are pounding away at the keyboard, practicing their chords, working at the easel.

    I’ve seen plenty of previously “non-creatives” try their hand at various artistic disciplines, some do well, some do poorly, but all of them either keep at it or give up based not on their belief, but on their desire. If you want it bad enough, you’ll keep at it, learn to do better.

    For the most successful creatives (“success” in this context meaning “creative success,” not “commercial success”), it’s not about the result, it’s about the process. Cool as it is to show off your new painting or share your latest song or short story (and yes, it’s very cool, we all have egos, or we wouldn’t be doing this stuff…), what really keeps these folks going back to the easel or keyboard is the high they get from the process of creating something. If that high grabs you, you’ll be compelled to come back to it, whether you believe your results are “creative” or not.

    Now, I’ll grant you, neither desire nor belief is enough in and of itself. I’ve known (as you probably have) people with a ton of desire and a buttload of belief, who just can’t get their perspective or anatomy right, or whose stories continue to be cliche-ridden and boring, whose music is awkward and derivative. But that’s not about “Can you be creative?” so much as “How do you get better at it?” Which I’ll leave alone for the moment, since it’s addressed in subsequent paragraphs.

    Just my own .02.

  2. I wanted to make a couple of responses here:

    First, this is going to be a series of posts, so I’ll be talking about working in the near future. It’s separate from the issue of whether a person *can* be creative.

    Second, once you start talking about how people become successful, now to define success, and what motivates successful people, you venture onto very thin ice. None of this is simple or straightforward.

    Third, saying “Hard work is required” is probably the easiest thing a person can say. It’s a wide-accepted truism that feels extremely comfortable; it fits very nicely inside our cultural norms. We hear “You have to *want* it” from sports casters, teachers, employment counselors, and so on.

    But it’s OT for this post, if you know what I mean.

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