Sunday, December 08, 2013

Creativity - the bane of society, apparently

I'll be honest, I wibbled back and forth about writing this post, for a very simple reason: how does it actually apply to the whole business of being a writer? Does it fit the theme of this blog to actually talk about it?

Then, though, I had a realisation. By even asking myself that, was I not playing into the very phenomenon that the original source story was talking about? By avoiding writing this, was I not actually being averse to a bit of the ol' creativity myself?

Y'see, a good friend o' mine gave me an article to to have a look at, and the article in question sparked something off in my brain. I couldn't help but be intrigued by the idea presented in the original Slate article, that despite all their protestations to the contrary, human beings don't actually like creativity.

Humans can haz creativity allergies

Granted, the original source article is mostly about how corporate culture really doesn't like people who genuinely think outside the box (which doesn't really apply to me, since I'm self-employed; my corporate culture is 'get up, have a brew, maybe get dressed if I can be bothered, get work done while fighting a never-ending battle to keep the cat off the table'), but it got me thinking; might that aversion to genuine creativity be an engrained facet of human nature?

There was one bit of the article that really struck home for me, and it's the possibility that creativity could be discouraged while people are still in their school years, the idea that maybe, society educates the creativity out of them.

Insert obvious Pink Floyd quote here. You know the one...

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear: I'm not having a pop at teachers, here. Teaching's a hard job, one that I honestly don't think I could do; it's a tough, often thankless job, so they have my utmost respect. No, what I'm talking about here, right, is the educational system.

The source link does make a compelling case for the idea that what is rewarded in the classroom is not genuine creative thinking, but mediocrity and, more crucially, conformity. Is there more of a focus on standardised testing in schools, now? I don't know, I'm 36 and not a teacher, but I have to admit that it's a compelling argument. Creativity can never be eradicated, of course, since it may well be one of the things that helped humans evolve intelligence in the first place, but perhaps the educational system is training kids to be that bit more adverse to thinking differently to everyone else.

A Strange Tale

Okay, now I can tie it in to my journey through the life of being a writer; I remember a creative writing assignment back when I was at primary school. I reckon it was in my last year there (before I went to big school), so I would've been 11, and I wrote a story. It was a weird story, and to be honest, it was probably a bit of a crap story, since the whole thing was framed as an "it was all a dream, all along" narrative.

I got a crap mark for it, and the single, solitary bit of feedback I got for it was a note, in red pen, saying "A strange tale".

A strange tale? That's it? That's the reason I got a crap mark for that story that I actually put a ton of work into? Yes, it was a bit derivative, and I'm reasonably sure that one section of it was based on (i.e. stolen from) Fraggle Rock (plus the main plot was about an all-consuming darkness that was destroying the entire world, which was, erm, the plot of The NeverEnding Story), but writing "a strange tale" was the sole reason I got a bad mark, and was therefore, by extension, a bad thing?

Still, I'm now a science fiction writer. I write strange tales for a living, so who won that one, eh, eh, eh?  


Ahem, anyway...

Playing God In My Own Personal Universe 

The thing about this whole creativity business is that it's the very antithesis of conformity; it inherently means taking risks, and trying new things, which is why I'm constantly shocked that I, risk-averse coward that I am, decided to go for it and be a writer. It's not the kind of job that inherently leads to happiness and stability.

As a lot of people (including the Slate article) have often said, you need to be a little bit askew to be a writer, especially a sci-fi writer. You have to see the world a little bit differently to everyone else, the very soul of creativity, and that's a surefire way to feel a teensy bit isolated, in a world that seemingly places a higher value on conformity. So why do we do it? Why would any writer willingly want to get into that?

Put simply, because we have to. We're storytellers by nature (and I do love the idea, as put forward by Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen, that human beings think in stories). We love it, that thrill of creating a world, of populating with living, breathing people, who oftentimes seem more real, somehow (and certainly more understandable), than the actual living, breathing people around us.

In short... well, look at the title of this entire blog.

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