Each week when sitting down to write my blog I stop and start about fifteen times before actually getting a whole sentence down. I know this because I have counted the amount of times I have laboured over a paragraph, a sentence, a word even, before re-reading my work and unceremoniously selecting the lot and hitting delete.
Unfortunately my addiction to the delete button does not stop at blogs. Press releases, copy of any description, even emails are all subject to intense and unrelenting scrutiny, and if the words don’t make the grade – delete. As you can imagine, this type of behaviour turns even the smallest writing task into a project with a difficulty level on par with summarising Tolstoy’s War and Peace in ten words or less.
I know I am not the only one who performs this type of behaviour when writing, ‘writer’s block’ is a well documented phenomenon, however it is the causation of this behaviour which has me puzzled. Writing academic papers at university was a relatively painless exercise in comparison to writing creatively in my professional life… and in that statement I believe I may have found the cause of my writer’s block.
Creative – what does that mean? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be creative is “having the quality of creating, given to creating, of or pertaining to creation, originative”. So if creativity is a quality- then it stands to reason that not everyone will be gifted with it. Correct?
Well, that was my train of thought until I decided to challenge this belief which had become so rigid in my thinking and was obviously restricting my creative output. Why should creativity be reserved for so few? What is it about creativity that builds and maintains a type of mystique which convinces us mere mortals that work of that calibre – be it art, music, or innovation – is completely out of our reach?
Some insist creativity is an innate attribute, that is some people have it, others don’t. ‘It’s a right brain thing’ they insist. I disagree. The right brain/left brain myth is exactly that – a myth. True- the two hemispheres of the brain have differing functionality, as observed in clinical studies of ‘split-brain’ patients in the 1960’s, however considering the issue practically it would be false to assert that creativity is a right brain attribute. The brain is an incredibly complex organ, the cerebral hemispheres are connected by the corpus callosum which allows the two halves to communicate, and in addition, scientists have yet to pin point the area of the brain responsible for creativity.
If the biological determinants of creativity are unsure, should we look to a behavioural causation? In the 1970’s behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted extensive animal behaviour studies at Harvard University. What began to surface from these studies was the emergence of new novel untrained behaviours from minimal unrelated training. What was concluded from these studies was that novel behaviours rely heavily on prior knowledge – that is, the new novel behaviours exhibited by subjects was truly new, but the particular behaviour that is enacted in a new environment depends on previously established behaviours.
In short, creativity is not something mythical and magical, it has its genesis in what we already know. American psychologist Robert Epstein believes that all of us continuously generate novel behaviours, yet these behaviours are only interpreted as ‘creative’ when it holds some intrinsic value to society. If a behaviour holds value it would seem that the enactor of this behaviour would receive benefit from performing these behaviours. So the painter paints, the writer writes, the musician plays, and with each enaction develops and hones the ‘quality’ we term creativity.
So it seems the only way for me to cure my writer’s block is to write and write, and then write some more. Problem solved! Be on the look out for many more blog articles from me – Aoife Doolan, budding creative genius – in the future!