The Five Enemies of Creativity

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“I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. ‘The first thing,’ I said, ‘is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.” ~ Aldous Huxley
 
Every aspiring writer will acknowledge the truth of Huxley’s advice. The only way to write a novel or a short story or poetry is to start writing. But days, weeks, months pass; and you find you haven’t started yet. And even if you start writing, your sporadic efforts are usually stillborn.
 
What prevents you from acting on your dream of writing in spite of your deepest creative urge? The biggest reason is the common perception that creative work is not practical. You laugh when Bob Hope described his early failures: “I would not have had anything to eat if it wasn’t for the stuff the audience threw at me.”
 
And yet, you fear the same fate. So you heed the words of your family and friends and choose a “real” profession and a “practical” career, though it may be unsatisfying and frustrating. Eventually, even if you decide to write fiction only during your spare time, you still find your efforts constantly stymied by your inner demons.
 
Five Foes of Creativity 
Most wannabe writers find their creative endeavors blocked by five formidable foes. What makes these foes even more destructive is that they are linked to each other.
 
1. Fear: This is the biggest foe that every aspiring writer has to face. Fear can take myriad forms: fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of being less than perfect. In the words of H P Lovecraft, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Even established and successful writer have to confront these fears.
 
2. Perfectionism:When you manage to overcome the fear of failure and start writing, you come face to face with the second roadblock to creativity: your irrational need to be perfect. Nothing you write seems good enough to your internal critic. The enemy of GTD (Getting Things Done) is the obsession with GTR (Getting Things Right). In her novel-writing course, Holly Lisle teaches this simple mantra to her students in her very first lesson: “Safe never starts; perfect never ends.”
 
3. Procrastination:An insidious way to give in to your fear of failure and perfectionism is to put off writing, day after day. Procrastination can prevent you from starting to write and from finishing whatever you start. The trouble with procrastination is that it can become a habit. You become more and more creative at finding imaginative excuses for not writing!
 
4. Disorganization:If you fail to set specific writing goals, your writing career may never take off. Without a coherent plan, your creative journey lacks direction and a destination. However, excessive planning can itself be a method of procrastination. So, it is important to strike a balance between planning and action.
 
5. Lethargy:The fifth enemy is plain-vanilla laziness. You may just be unwilling or unable to do the creative work of writing often because of fear or lack of focus. Laziness is usually due to lack of discipline or motivation.
 
Every writer who wants to live a creative life must confront and conquer these five opponents every single day. In the words of Susan Jeffers, “We cannot escape fear. We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our exciting adventures.”
 
Among these five foes of creativity, which ones are the most troublesome for you? And how do you overcome them?
 
20 April 2011


Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.

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