6 Misconceptions About Writing – No. 6

This is the sixth and the last in the series of essays by Rebecca McClanahan about the vocation of writing.

Ms McClanahan is an author, educator, and public speaker specializing in essays and memoir, the craft of writing, and the creative process.

Rebecca McClanahan

Misconception # 6: Writers are smarter, more sensitive, and more creative
than other people.

Ms McClanahan says: “Hm. This is a tricky one. Since, for the moment at least, I am the writer and you are the reader, I would very much like for you to believe this. But I have to admit that it just isn’t so—in my case, or in the case of most of the writers I’ve
“Let’s start with the intelligence issue. When you judge intelligence solely by
academic criteria, writers don’t always fare well. Most writers, so research
studies show, were B , not A students; my educational experience bears this
out. Maybe this is because writers tend to be more interested in questions than
in answers. Granted, it takes a keen mind to ask interesting questions, but this
doesn’t mean that writers are necessarily more brainy or intellectual than other
people. Perhaps they are simply more curious, less afraid of venturing into
unknown areas, and more willing, as Proust said, to ‘become stupid before the
“As for the claim that writers are more sensitive than the rest of us, while it’s
true that some writers are sensitive people, the same can be said for nonwriters. Sensitivity is a human trait, not necessarily a writerly one, and it manifests itself in any number of ways that have nothing to do with writing.
“Perhaps the only area is which writers are more sensitive than other people is in
the area of language. Just as musicians are sensitive to sound, painters to colour
and sculptors to form, writers are sensitive to words.
“When people tell me they’re just not creative enough to write, I usually
answer, ‘There is no such thing as a creative person. There is only the created
act.’ This is not my original idea; it comes from Rollo May’s The Courage to
Create. ‘Creativity,’ May writes, ‘is basically the process of making, or bringing
into being.’ As such, ‘creativity can be seen only in the act.’
“This theory may get your hackles up. You might argue that this just isn’t so,
that creative people do indeed exist. You might cite your nephew, who, in your
opinion, is one of the most creative people on the planet. ‘Okay,’ I’d say, ‘I’ll go
along with that. But first tell me how you know he’s creative. What evidence do
you have?’ For without evidence of something made, something brought into
being, there can be no creation. Even the God of Genesis wasn’t creative until
he created the heavens and the earth. Your nephew, or mine, isn’t creative
simply because he daydreams a lot, likes weird movies, or has fluorescent
tricolored hair. Unless, of course, his hair is a created act, a work of art.
“Those of us who aspire to art—writers, painters, sculptors, designers—like to
think of ourselves as creative individuals. The truth is, we are creative only
because we create. Even if our creation never comes into the public eye, even if
it never reaches completion in terms of what the world considers complete,
nevertheless it is the process of its making that makes us creative. And only
that process.
“How does one become creative? One creates. What freedom exists in that
thought, what possibility! Yet, as our parents warned us as they handed over the
car keys, along with freedom comes responsibility. If creativity resides only
within the process of making, we must toss aside the excuse that we aren’t
creative enough; we’ll have to find a new excuse not to create. But if, on the
other hand, we’re still basking in the haloed memory of some grandfather or
teacher telling us how creative we are, we must ask ourselves what we’re
waiting for. The playing field’s been levelled; we’re all chosen for the team.”

As I listen to Ms McClanahan’s arguments, it seems to me that what she says is correct. But I think there is one characteristic that distinguishes ‘creative people’ generally, and that it imagination. The thing which is created is, if it is on any interest, will tend to be different that other things that already exist, and it is imagination which accounts for that difference. What is it that accounts for imagination in a person? Is it ‘lateral thinking’, or the product of the right hemisphere, or is it a rebellious nature, or just frivolousness? Or is it some of all of that?

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