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How we grow out of our creativity

25 August 2012

From The Victoria Times-Colonist:

If you ask a kindergartner to tell you a story, chances are you’ll hear a nonsensical and fabulous tale. If you put a chocolate chip cookie on a counter and forbid the child from using a chair to reach it, chances are she’ll find a few alternate routes to that cookie

Children are born inherently creative. They act on it unselfconsciously when they are young, willing to dance, draw or create at a moment’s notice. We all begin with enormous creative capacity, but how does our willingness to act on it diminish as we grow older?

I confronted this question when I participated in my first fiction writing workshop last year. The instructor gave us a series of prompts, and each time, I stared at a blank screen with unmitigated fear.

. . . .

I called a friend, who happens to teach creative writing, late one night while struggling with this task.

“I can’t do this,” I told her. “Of course you can,” she said. She reminded me that I wasn’t being graded. The story, no matter how badly written, was not going to affect my professional reputation. So, with the stakes so low, why I was so afraid to exercise a new writing muscle? Because I was scared of doing it wrong. I didn’t want to do it poorly. It was safer to stay in the zones where I felt comfortable and competent.

We unlearn creativity, according to Josh Linkner, author of Disciplined Dreaming, A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity.

“Instead of growing into our creativity, we grow out of it,” he said.

Fear is the main culprit, he says. We are conditioned through years of schooling to strive for the “right” answer.

We are punished for making mistakes. We are rewarded for following rules.

“People learn from an early age to get in line,” he said. So, we judge others and judge ourselves when we make a mistake or – heaven forbid – fail. We talk ourselves out of creativity and hold ourselves back from big ideas.

When is divergent thinking valued? When and where are we allowed to fail?

. . . .

My own children were encouraging during my creative-writing fits.

“Just try again,” they would say.

Link to the rest at The Victoria Times-Colonist

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16 Comments to “How we grow out of our creativity”

  1. WHAT?

  2. The key for a good story is to temper your childhood imagination with context and experience. Otherwise we’ll all be reading about the zombie monsters of Planet Brain-Gook. 😀

  3. This is bullsh**.

    The greatest creativity comes with tempering imagination with experience and vision. A child can have the imagination, but could never have the other two qualities.

    No child could ever have written The Chronicles of Narnia. Such a thing takes a grown-up. This columnist needs a lot of growing up to do yet.

  4. I didn’t have a negative reaction to this story, because in large part, I have found what she says to be true in my own life. Up until I was 12, my parents joked that I was going to be a hippy, because I wandered around, making up songs and writing poetry. But school happened, and some family issues, and by the time I was 18, I was convinced I didn’t have a creative bone in my body (a comment which I would routinely make to all and sundry).

    When it came to write my Ph.D. dissertation, I laughed with my sister-in-law (who also has a Ph.D.), that my committee was asking me to come up with an original project and I hadn’t had a creative thought in 12 years.

    It took having my own children, and encouraging their creativity, to find my own. I started writing again at the age of 37. I wrote my first novel (which shall never leave the laptop) just to see if I could.

    So yeah … what she says is true for me.

  5. This writer may have something there, and it works in any discipline. For example, I clearly remember a college art instructor who believed that children are naturally very creative painters. The problem comes, he said, when we start educating them out of their creativity, starting with telling them to keep the paint between the lines.

  6. Part of the challenge is in training our teachers. Years ago, I was asked to judge a local primary school ‘literary’ competition. At the awards ceremony, it soon became clear that the child I had chosen as winner – from the great heap of submissions – had never won a prize for anything before. His story hadn’t been conventionally ‘well written’ but it HAD been vivid, imaginative, original and full of the kind of creative energy that does your heart good to read. It was also clear that he had written it all by himself. The following year, I was presented with six boring, precise and pedestrian stories, pre-selected by the teachers and clearly written by the usual suspects. I declined to judge anything on those terms and they found somebody else. Later, when my own son was at school and writing stories, I was alarmed to see his teachers ‘correcting’ his stories in unacceptable ways. For example, where I had taught him that you don’t always need to write ‘he said/she said’ so long as it’s clear who’s speaking, his teacher had laboriously written in every possible variety of the verb ‘to say’ (probably using a Thesaurus). I’ve seen the same thing happening with art. Most creative people manage to get over the hurdle of school – and of course there’s a sense in which you also need to learn the right technique for all kinds of things. I don’t think we grow out of our creativity, but some people do have it ‘educated’ out of them, especially in those early years.

    • I think this is a pretty fair assessment of arts education, especially at the pre collegiate level. In my experience the people who have a philosophical grasp of their own creativity can use the lessons to hone it. But the rest of the kids get bogged down by the rules.

      I had. O issues with this story. She is not saying authors should write like they are 5, without the benefit of that “training and experience to temper” their creativity. But in terms of sheer, unbridled, unselfconscious creation of ideas? Yeah that gets ground out of us. Hell, I think even writers who make it through school unscathed can get inhibited in their thinking by trying too hard to think up a good story vs letting their imagination run wild and then editing it away from zombies on planet mars. Wih war ponies.

      • That was pretty much my take as well. I have a daughter who just turned 12. She started writing her own fanfic type stories when she was 9 or so. She had an old computer in her room and a few times, she would join in when I would do a writing challenge with a friend. (write for an hour, come back and see who could write the most words–of course they had to make sense in the story–not just random words.)She kicked our butts!Punctuation, grammar and formatting was incorrect, but I remember it being a pretty intense scene. She had written about 800 words in the hour. I was proud of her and the only thing I did was tell her how each speaker gets their own paragraph. The next day, she proudly told her teacher about her writing escapade. It happened to be parent /teacher conferences that day after school, and her teacher pretty much SCOLDED me for letting her write for “hours” when she could have been doing other schoolwork.

        I still see red when I think of that conversation. First, it wasn’t hours, it was hour. Singular, and second, she’s my daughter and what she does in her free time in our home is my business, not the teacher’s. I wanted to tell her not to worry, that my dd had taken her bath, brushed her teeth and finished her other homework before she began writing, but my dd was right there and I didn’t want to get into it in front of her.

        • Your daughter’s teacher is an idiot. Besides not having the right to tell you what your daughter can and cannot do in her home, she couldn’t recognize a creative outburst if it jumped up and bit her nose off.

          Wow. Bad teachers can affect you the rest of your life. My ninth grade art teacher told me I had no artistic talent. I believed him. I would never have been a graphic artist of any kind, but perhaps I wouldn’t hate doing things with my hands so much these days if he hadn’t told me my work sucked.

  7. So you lot have never heard of Ken Robertson and his work re creativity being schooled out us?

    • Ken Robinson’s talk at the TED conference blew through the homeschooling community years ago. I haven’t kept up with him since, but everything he said certainly appealed to my biases.

      As someone with far too many years of schooling and the daughter of a professor, I particularly love the line where he says that to academics, their bodies are the means to take their heads to meetings.

      Here’s he is. Note the post has over 11 million views! Worth seeing again: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

  8. I also didn’t have a negative reaction to this story. As an author I’ve found that in genre fiction we’re often encouraged to stay within the lines when we color. 🙂 I was always rebelling against that and I still do.

  9. I agree with this article as well, and not just for artistic creativity. Schools force an in-the-box color-inside-the-lines way of thinking that inhibits all types of problem-solving. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many great modern innovators dropped out of college or didn’t perform well academically.

    Mostly, I think kids who do well in life do so in spite of their schooling, not because of it.

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