A Killer of Creativity
I swear I’ve written this a thousand times before, but it is something that I feel so strongly about. There are often times when I’ve sat and wondered what went so horribly wrong to my creativity, and then one day I worked it out—and it was a sad truth to discover.
When I went to university, I went with the idea that it was going to be an incredibly creative course. In fact, I couldn’t picture a more creative course than Illustration. A lot of people go to university with a career in mind, so when my tutors walked in and told us that we were all in competition with each other, I didn’t really protest. I knew I wasn’t a competitive person but the world of illustrators and artists is competitive.
Thing is, it needn’t be, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. Competition can be a great fuel but other times it can be the very thing that stifles us. We’re not all in an artistic arms race.
See, after this announcement, my tutors then expected a group of young adults to give peer feedback constructively. Imagine my surprise when a whole room of thirty-plus people had nothing to say about someone else’s work. I wasn’t surprised at all, actually. No one wanted to better their ‘opponents’ work, and no one wanted that perceived competition to get more challenging.
It took two and a half years to shake that mentality from my mind. Even though I knew I was never going to be competitive enough to get a job as an illustrator, I knew that everyone else in that room was looking at me like I’d steal their big break. The criticism was far less than constructive, and I resented my tutors for poisoning the well of what could have been a very fruitful experience of sharing creative minds.
Fast forward a few years and my illustrations aren’t exactly selling, but I knew that all along. I still only share my works with non-illustrators and their feedback has been wonderful. The issue I now face is with writers.
There are a few writers I know that are published, and some are lovely while others grind on my creative mojo. There’s this sense of elitism that comes from being published that I hope to never experience, a sort of privileged point-of-view that one can only achieve if they’ve been published. These are the very authors that I’d refuse to discuss my work with because I know that their responses would be far too similar to the ones I received at university.
They don’t want the competition.
Or they’re convinced I will steal their ideas, which is just insulting.
We need feedback. Authors crave the very thing they fear the most, and that’s opinions about their work. Good authors are searching for five star reviews on Goodreads… great authors are searching for the ones and twos. They’re looking for how they can better themselves and how they can make a more satisfying story for next time. They accept when their work needs improving, and that even though they’ve been published that doesn’t mean they should stop refining their craft.
Not only that, it wasn’t long ago when Young Adult novels started flying off the shelves. Suddenly everyone and their mums were publishing a YA novel with a young woman fighting a dystopian regime. Then out came all the critics that started shaming all the authors. Now, I’ll admit that some were published simply to ride the trendy train, but some weren’t. Quite a few were an author’s debut novel. The novel they may have spent years writing, years before the YA genre became popular. Now they’ve got themselves being compared to The Hunger Games, constantly. They’re being compared to well-established authors with pretty strong fanbases and that simply isn’t fair.
I know the world isn’t fair, but how can we tell people not to compare your first chapter to someone else’s edited and proofread last, when we do it all the time? When critics are regularly comparing new, fresh-faced authors to the likes of Stephen King and Suzanne Collins, to JK Rowling and George RR Martin, they are ignoring this simple fact. Practice makes perfect, but writing a novel isn’t like illustration, I’ve learnt.
I could draw the same eye every day for a year and see a noted increase in skill, I can put them back to back, and eventually I could sketch that eye in a matter of minutes to a respectable degree of realism. You can’t knock out novels the same way. You can’t write a novel a day for a year and then have the perfect novel by Christmas. No, it takes a lot more care and, most importantly, some decent feedback.
I’ve gotten better. I started going to a writing group and at first was terrified to show my ideas. I went in expecting people to be snobbish and elitist like my published writing peers, but it wasn’t like that. I’m not saying every writing group is the same, and some days are harder than others after an artistic blow to my self-esteem, yet it feels worth it.
Earlier this year I went through a drought of creativity and stopped writing my manuscript completely. But once I started taking in my work to the group again I suddenly felt fully charged. I’ve nearly finished my manuscript. Sometimes I feel unstoppable.
To me, we’re not in competition with each other. It shouldn’t be about competition, it should be about an end goal. If I can help someone achieve their dream of getting published then that’s amazing, even if they achieve it before me. Even if they outsell me every step of the way. For the same reason I wouldn’t hide the cure for cancer should I ever, for whatever fantastical reason that is, acquire it. It’s about bettering the world, bettering the lives of others and not feeding this isolating frenzy that someone’s out there to steal your work.
There are people out there who will never help others because of this sense of competitiveness, and fear that someone could ‘out do’ them. It is such a shame to see creativity being so casually killed by such unnecessary insecurities.
© 2016 Lannah Marshall
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.