The myth of creativity

Thanks to the magic of marketing, artistic talent is often seen to be the province of the gifted, those ‘born with it’. While there are undeniably people who fit into this category, I think (and indeed hope) that the vast majority of artists, musicians and writers were not born under a special star.

Two things spurred this thought out of me. Firstly, a post at reBang. He’s a bit miffed with the rather gimmicky ‘create your own inlay’ packaging of the new Beck album:

“The problem I’m having is that the whole idea of anyone even needing to use clip art or peel-and-stick images reinforces in my mind the generally-perceived notion that regular people don’t have the wherewithall to truly do-it-themselves. It seems to reinforce the idea that art and design are for those who were supposedly born talented; that it’s a gift. I don’t like that perception because a) it belittles those who work hard to become competent at their craft and b) it suggests that the so-called average person will never be able to acquire certain basic skills because they weren’t “born talented” – when the truth is that pretty much anyone can develop those skills with practice.”

The post goes on to lay into point-and-click/WYSIWYG culture, and makes some good points too, but it’s that bit that leapt out at me. It catalysed something – people talk about their minds ‘clicking’, but I actually felt something shift this time.

Which brings us to reason number two – as mentioned yesterday, I’m trying damn hard to actually finish my first short story, rather than bail out half way through in frustration as I have done so many times before. Since Tuesday I’ve spent probably seven hours hacking away, trying to get the story out of my head and into words on this here LCD screen.

And f*ck me, it’s blo*dy hard work. Not to mention slow going.

The reBang post made me realise that I’ve been kidding myself that blogging is genuine creative writing, an equal skill to the real thing – whereas it’s more like primary school collage compared to storytelling. To truly *create something*, something original, is not going to be the frenzied work of an hour or two.

I’ve always known that, really, deep down. But it’s easier to make excuses for your failure to carry through with your dreams than to actually chase after the damn things. I started blogging to get myself into a discipline of writing every evening – that at least has been a success, as I spend three or four hours a night sat at my ‘puter doing my various bloggy tasks. But those very tasks have rapidly become my excuse for not doing any more serious writing, despite that being the original point of the exercise. And those excuses are a cover for the nasty deep-down truth. Ladies and gentlemen, a confession:


So afraid to fail, in fact, that I’ve avoided trying at all, using some of the most inventive means possible. Classic procrastination syndrome. Do something easy and claim to yourself that it’s just as good. All due to a subliminal belief that *artists are born that way*, and that I wasn’t.

Where that meme comes from, I have no idea – partly from modern culture, for sure, but maybe it goes back to tribal times, the shaman protecting his unique skills by claiming them as god-given powers. Who knows?

One thing is for sure though – writers seem to be a lot more honest about this than some other artists. A lot of musicians, for example, are very blase about their talents – I guess it fits with the image that the industry likes to present of the creative outsider. But in the last half year of following author blogs, I can’t think of one person who ever claimed they were born to write. Born wanting to write, perhaps. But not gifted, touched by the gods. None of that. They’ve all said that dedication, discipline, simple plain old hard work, blood and sweat and tears are the only route to achieving the mastery of storytelling they have acquired. And for that, I thank them all.

There are so many pseudo-creative options available to a person sat at a computer – the internet is laden with them, like meat marbled with fat. I’ve taken a great many of them – and they’ve been a lot of fun, as well as educational in some ways. But they’ve been a palliative against the true hard work and discomfort that awaits an aspiring author. I have allowed the Sirens to seduce me away from the long journey ahead.

I’m not going to quit blogging (which I hope you’ll not consider to be bad news). But I am going to change my patterns of work. My stories won’t write themselves, and meanwhile there’s a million bloggers out there churning out posts at least as interesting or informative as my own. If I want to be something more than that, then it’s up to me to put the blo*dy effort in, to make the time.

I’m not content with creating a cut-and-paste inlay any more. I’ve always wanted to write and record the album inside of it. Maybe I’ll never make it that far – but I’ll never know unless I try. There is no ‘creative gene’, no fortuitous alignment of planets, that separates me from the authors I admire. What separates us is guts, courage and effort.

I get the feeling that those are going to be difficult things to learn. But it’s time to walk the hard path.

One thought on “The myth of creativity”

  1. Now if you’d just listened to me in the first place………………………… 🙂 If one is afriad to fail I find it always pays to spend your time becoming good at something that nobody else you know is good at. As i may have ranted about before, this is all exactly what infuriates me about music software like Reason and ‘all in one’ music making kit. It convinces people that they no longer need to put in the agonising years of writing crap music in order to write something that is really good quality. Why bother when with a couple of mouse clicks you’ve got something that convincingly mimics the last Prodigy album? It just means that people are willing to accept crap as being the real thing and the general level of quality control drops constantly. Either that or i’m just bitter.

Leave a Reply