How Creativity Research Makes Me A Misfit. Again.

Last weekend, I read an article that listed six ways to boost creativity. The suggestions made are all based on scientific research, but after I read them I came away feeling confused. I’ve been uneasy ever since.

Boiled down, these are the six suggestions:

1) Write by hand (with pen and paper) in order to write faster and strengthen your memories.
2) A messy desk will help you generate new ideas.
3) Write all your ideas down somewhere.
4) Exercise.
5) Work in an environment with moderate background noise.
6) Take advantage of the odd connections your brain makes between sleeping and waking.

Nothing here is outlandish or unreasonable. But I found myself balking all the same. I kept arguing with specific points: “There’s no way I can write faster with pen and paper than I can type!” or “I like silence. I work best when things are really quiet.” Sure, I’ve got the messy desk. But anything that requires napping is going to be a challenge for me.

I feel like the content I produce when writing by hand versus typing on my computer isn’t necessarily better or worse. It’s just different. The different physical activity opens doors to a different way of thinking.

Writing on a typewriter is different from using a pen or even a computer.
Writing on a typewriter is different from using a pen or even a computer.

I have found that honoring my ideas by writing them down, good or bad, increases how many ideas I have. I’ve also plotted out book chapters while exercising, although I get the best results with repetitive, nearly mindless activities like pushing the mower around the yard.

So I agree with some of their suggestions, but not all of them. Science says these are the best ways, but my experience says that isn’t so.

If I believe the article, then I do not fit in. Emotionally, I flash back to my awkward painful teenage years when I seemed doomed to say the wrong thing and to discover that people I thought were my friends thought I was a joke.

I am on the outside, all alone.

The fallacy here is that because science says it is so, then it is so for everyone. But in the end, any scientific results are based on statistics. A majority of the people they observed were more creative with a messy desk, not every single person. That majority could be a mere 51% . Of course, it should be higher than that in order for the results to be worth reporting, so let’s assume it was 75%. Out of 100 artists, 25 would be more creative with a clean desk.

That’s a lot of people who don’t fit in.

I am not in the majority, but I am not alone, and I get a little consolation from this thought.

Most people are more creative with moderate levels of background noise, but not all of them. Some people write faster by hand, but some don’t. It makes me part of the minority, not the majority, but at least I am not alone in my preferences for the methods science dismisses.

If I have to be different, I can do it quite happily with other people like me.

4 thoughts on “How Creativity Research Makes Me A Misfit. Again.”

  1. I take science with a grain of salt. Why? Well, maybe the messy desk is more of a correlation and not causation. I can’t stand a messy desk. I can’t write on a messy desk. And what about the psychologists, with their own studies, saying messy surroundings mean a scattered brain? To me, a scattered brain can’t handle the task of writing. Being creative takes spontaneity AND thought.

    I stopped reading articles like this long ago. I listen to advice from other writers. If it sounds intriguing, I try it. But if it doesn’t work for me, I let it go (hope that doesn’t start an earworm for anybody 🙂 ). What matters is that i write. Period.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who looks at this list and thinks “Really?”. I think science is great and worth paying attention to. The question is: does psychology count as science? I guess it depends on who is doing the study and how.

      Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. And happy writing!

  2. Psychology is absolutely a science. HOWEVER, internet articles are NOT a good way to learn what science is currently reporting! This is true for all forms of science! (I studied science journalism/communication in college and have followed up consistently since). What happens is a study will say “well, this works some of the time for some people and it’s statistically significant in these scenarios” and then some media outlet (old tech or new tech) will go “OMG SCIENCE SAYS DO THIS.” The “top X…” list articles on the internet are the newest and probably worst offenders of this type.

    Please, please do not let click-baiting headlines and designed-to-get-viral-attention article writing make you feel bad about yourself!

    Sorry for the aggressive tone, but this is a huge issue for me. Bad reporting is a special form of bad writing and it makes me full of rage in general and now especially on your behalf.

    1. Excellent points! And I tease psychology… Years of math/chemistry/physics in college makes it easy to pretend psychology is all hand-waving and guess work. But to be fair, I never bought it when they tried to sell me what they knew about particle physics (it was the 1980s) because there were too few experiments. Science requires lots of tests, lots of results, before you can draw any conclusions. n of 1 is an anecdote, not an ironclad conclusion. (And that’s my science rant!)

      But that’s all avoiding the key thing you said that I heard: too many writers misrepresent scientific results as irrefutable facts. And irresponsible writing especially about science is the worst.

      For what it’s worth, I’m not actually feeling bad. I felt off until I figured out what was going on in my head. Then I was able to explain to myself that I could ignore what I’d read and get on with my life. Sharing it today didn’t hurt any, either. Everyone has been so supportive!

      Thanks so weighing in. You made some great points.

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