As an English major in college, I carefully avoided any “creative writing” classes in my major. I’d seen friends struggling to churn out short stories on demand and concluded that creative writing was both frightening and stressful.
So I stuck to literature while exploring courses in human biology, psychology, journalism, and computer science. When it came it writing, I’d decided early on that I wasn’t the creative type.
Eventually I clued in that creativity isn’t optional in any writing context. Preconceived notions of creativity were holding me back.
Today’s college students and other writers don’t have to suffer the same fate; simply read David Burkus’ excellent The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas to dispel those preconceived notions right away.
This book describes ten distinct myths about creativity, and we all believe most of them. Two of the myths are particularly damaging for writers: the Eureka Myth and the Breed Myth.
Don’t Wait for Eureka!
The Eureka Myth is the mistaken perception that inspiration strikes as a gift from the heavens. (The name references Archimedes in his bathtub.)
Research shows that creativity follows a five step process, which includes immersing yourself in the topic and incubating the problem. Only when that work has been done can the “aha!” moment strike. Once you have the inspiration, you have to get back to work to evaluate whether the idea has merit and then to work with it.
The creative process extends far beyond the moment of inspiration.
A writer who believes in the Eureka Myth may wait for inspiration to strike before getting to work. But this doesn’t happen until you have laid the mental groundwork for new insights. Creative individuals put in a great deal of work both before and after being visited by inspiration.
The “Creative Type”
The Breed Myth is the idea that creativity belongs to a specific breed of people, and not to the common person. You’ve heard it before: “I’m not the creative type.”
We love stories of creative types who worship the inner muse at the expense of the practicalities of life. We imagine the brilliant scientist doing ground-breaking work as an iconoclast who lives beyond society.
Believing in this myth may comfort us, as it lets us off the hook. As a college student, I relied on the Breed Myth to avoid the challenge of an entire set of the coursework available to me.
But it simply isn’t true. Creativity can be cultivated, and it’s necessary in every writing domain. If you don’t try to step outside of your comfort zone in writing, it’s liable to become kind of boring.
Read the Book!
The book offers descriptions of other misconceptions about creativity, including the Expert, Mousetrap, and Originality Myths. Whether you work on your own or in a group, the book is filled with invaluable guidance.
For those of you in the organization context, David has just published another book, Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual. You may never send a late-night email to a colleague again after reading it.