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Writers Talk About Writing

Why You Shouldn't Fret About Creativity

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, 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 one and he practices more than 40 hours each week. He suffers through injuries and rehab and training and auditions. Opera singer? My son is at university, studying the art. This means foreign language classes, sight singing, late-night rehearsals and endless painting of scenery and set-moving.

We, as "outsiders," think these careers look glamorous and creative but the hard work required lurks just underneath, like a fox waiting for 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 last year in the 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 article sent me following a trail of breadcrumbs to the International Centre for Studies in Creativity. If creativity interests you, browse through their video page and see if you can find something useful.

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.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Sunday February 22nd 2015, 6:14 PM
Comment by: ROBERT S.
Thank you for the insight and inspiration! :-)

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