Why you shouldn’t fret about the creativity thing…

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Are you a writer who wishes you were more creative? Maybe you’re wishing for the wrong thing….

People often have the totally wrong idea that they need to have been born creative in order to write. While being born certain ways can help your writing a lot — being born wealthy means you may not have to worry about money; being born a good proofreader means you’ll catch most of your own typos — creativity doesn’t even count on the list of concerns you should fret about.

Here are three reasons why:

1) Hard work always trumps creativity. Name any “creative” profession and I’ll show you the hours of work that went into it.

Pianist? There’s no risk of me becoming a professional at this career, but at least I’m studying it now. And I can tell you that much of the work is mind-numbingly boring. Also, I often don’t feel like playing the piano at 7:30 pm, my self-allotted time. But I play for at least 30 minutes every day.

Ballet dancer? My nephew is studying to become a dancer and he practices more than 25 hours per week, while going to high school. He suffers through injuries and rehab and training and auditions. Opera singer? My son is at university, training to become one. This means foreign language classes, sight singing, participating in a required choir he dislikes and endless painting of scenery and set moving. (The photo at the top of this column is from a production of the opera The Florentine Straw Hat he was in last week. That’s him, far left.)

We, as “outsiders,” think all of these careers look glamorous and creative but the hard work required lurks just underneath, like a fox waiting to pounce on a vole.

2) Much of writing has nothing to do with creativity, anyway. A typical book is somewhere between 65,000 and 100,000 words. Having the stick-to-itiveness to organize your thoughts and write them in a coherent way is much more a product of determination, organization and discipline than anything to do with creativity. Even a mere 500-word piece requires planning, interviewing and the application of your seat to the bottom of a chair. “I write when I’m inspired,” said Peter de Vries,  “and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Doing that — while making sure that each sentence has a verb and all the words are spelled correctly — sounds more like diligence than creativity to me.

3) Creativity can be learned.  Did you know that creativity is the new “it” program at university? And, at last, it’s being viewed as a teachable skill. Let me repeat that. A teachable skill. Here’s a fascinating article on creativity published in a recent New York Times. I love the way the writer describes creativity as “the ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions.” To me, that doesn’t sound much like waiting around for one of the nine daughters of Zeus to swing down for some inspiration. Instead, it’s more like using our brains in a targeted way to get a specific result.

The New York Times sent me following a trail of breadcrumbs to the International Centre for Studies in Creativity. There, I saw a fascinating 15-minute video on creative leadership. You don’t have to watch the whole thing but it’s worth spending about three minutes to see the crazy-looking wheelbarrow that actually works! (The clip is currently the “featured video” on the multimedia page, linked above.)

Maybe you thought “not having enough creativity” was a good excuse for getting out of writing? Not so fast, my friend! Writing doesn’t require much of it. And, when it does, you have the ability to come up with it.

If you want to. That’s the key.

Do you see yourself as creative? Does it matter? If you comment on my blog by Feb 28 you’ll be put in a draw for a copy of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)