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Renowned psychologist Professor Jordan Peterson argues that not everyone is creative and that to insist they are, is to devalue the meaning of what it actually means to be creative. Having been ‘cursed by creativity’ all my life, I decided to take a closer look at what being creative actually means…


Being a creative

A little while ago I was doing some research for my PhD when I came across the Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson debate, which was held at the Cambridge Union Society in 2018. They discussed many topics including political correctness, identity politics and, or course, Marxism and capitalism. Billed as the debate of Critical analysis of the debate of the century, it was, by all accounts, a bit of a let down with neither man apparently rising to the challenge of their intellectual capacity. However, this debate did lead me down a bit of a Jordan Peterson rabbit hole. When I say rabbit hole, I mean I watched a few more videos in which he is featured. I still know relatively nothing about him. I have not read any of his journal articles, research papers, or books. Despite this, I was intrigued by one video in which he discussed the curse of creativity and what it is like to exist as a creative human being. But before I take a deeper look at this video, let’s just take a cursory look at what creativity is and why it matters to us as human beings.


What is creativity?

The simple definition of creativity is: the use of imagination or original ideas to create something new; inventiveness.[1] However, no matter where you search for a definition it generally refers to creativity in an artistic sense. Creativity is defined by researchers as a deliberate and identifiable process in which a unique and utilitarian product is created.


Opportunities for creative expression are not equally available or distributed in society. Society commonly discriminates against certain groups that might otherwise produce creative practitioners. Adding to that is the fact that historically, western societies have been ambivalent about, or even opposed to, identifying and nurturing creative talent[2], which is totally ironic now that ‘creative’ has hit the top ten list of soft skills required by modern employers. Creativity has become one of the most important assets people can have in the fast and ever-changing 21st century.


In his extensive research on creativity, psychologist Professor James C. Kaufman developed the 4C Model of Creativity. In this model, he proposed that the ‘Little C’ of creativity measures ‘everyday’ creativity, i.e., whipping up a dinner without a recipe. Next comes the ‘Mini C’ where you are deliberately creative, i.e., making up a story or sewing a new dress. Next is ‘Pro C’ where you use your creativity to earn a living. And finally, there’s the ‘Big C’ or eminent creativity. This is reserved for people of legendary status, those who have made a lasting impression on their specific field of creativity.


So, does that mean we’re all creative? That is possible for all of us to reach the level of Pro C? Or better yet, Big C?


Baby, we were born this way. Weren’t we?

Around 40,00 years ago Homo sapiens began decorating the walls of their east European caves with pictographs of Ice Age animals as well as making shell bead necklaces and inventing tools made of stone or bone, which led to the ‘innovative’ thought process that characterises our species today. This kind of creativity didn’t emerge all of a sudden; rather, this ability to create developed as various natural and biological factors merged and developed over thousands of years. Interestingly, new evidence, uncovered over the past decade, suggests that our ability to formulate new ideas evolved much earlier than previously thought; however, our capacity for creativity smouldered for millennia before catching fire amongst the populations in Africa and Europe. The spectacular cave art of the Upper Paleolithic period clearly indicates the presence of people who thought as we do. More importantly, archaeologists have long viewed the use of symbols as the single most important indicator of modern human cognition, in large part because it attests to a capacity for language—a uniquely human trait.[3]

Prehistoric cave paintings near Montignac, France.
Lascaux Cave near Montignac, France.

In the past creativity was typically associated with people who were engaged in various artistic fields of endeavour. These days, the meaning of creativity is much more diverse and universal and can be applied to people in every industry on the planet as by definition creativity is about using your imagination to create something new in the world.


So, are we all born creative or not?


Peterson argued that creativity isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be and that the reason there are non-creative people is because creative people often died. Creative people do risky things and attract attention from people who would rather they weren’t creative risk takers who attracted attention. Creative people are revolutionary. And tyrants don’t like revolutionaries because they almost always reveal truths that tyrants would prefer remained hidden. While this is so true, and so relevant, Peterson’s most eye-opening revelation was how challenging it is for creative people to ‘monetise’ their creativity. He observed that artists have “hell of a time surviving” and that creativity is a “double-edged” blessing.


These days, Peterson observed, non-creative people are being increasingly replaced by machines because anything that requires creativity can’t really be turned into an algorithm (which raises questions about art and literature that is being created by AI (artificial intelligence), but that’s a topic for another post) and so the demand for creative people in the corporate world is increasing; However, despite this demand it’s difficult for the corporate world to support creative people because ‘systems’ do not nurture creativity. They are the antithesis of creativity.


And here’s the crux of Peterson’s argument. We often hear people say that everyone is creative. Peterson disagrees. Believes it’s wrong, just as wrong as saying everyone is an extrovert. He argues that being creative means you have to be smart otherwise, remembering that the definition of creativity includes the ability for innovation, you will just arrive at what other people have already arrived at. You also have to have the capacity for divergent thinking, which is an inherent trait. They are “highly motivated to do creative things, to experience novelty, and to chase down aesthetic experiences, to visit museums and art galleries, to enjoy poetry, to enjoy unconventional music, etc. These aren’t trivial differences. And so, it’s a real misstatement to make the proposition that everyone is creative.” He likens this labelling to suggesting that everyone is intelligent and that doing devalues the meaning of what it means to be intelligent. If you can apply the term or label to everyone, it no longer has any meaning. Therefore, Peterson argues, creative people really are different to non-creative people.


An abstract artwork that comprises cello tape, a rule, a pencil and a cylinder.
Divergent thinking.

For centuries the Buddhists used creativity tests (known as koans) to select gifted and talented candidates for training. The ancient Chinese and Japanese people identified their geniuses by asking them to create poems.[4]


Despite Peterson’s argument, some researchers believe that creativity is not a gift that has been bestowed upon a lucky few and that it is possible to unearth the creativity we had as a child, revitalise the creativity that was somehow buried or forgotten as we grew into adulthood and the requirement of falling in line with society’s demands. Yet other researchers believe that creativity is something that can be taught and/or learned.


The creative process

How many times have you heard a story about someone coming up with a brilliant idea while standing in the shower? More than once, I’m sure. However, it’s a cliché that is rooted in more than just anecdotal accounts.


Creative discoveries are often the result of a process beginning with thinking about a problem and how that problem might solved followed by a period of time in which you stop thinking about the problem. The actual lightbulb, problem solving moment comes after that period of not thinking about it, and often when you are doing something mundane like standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes or standing in the shower washing your hair, or in that moment between sleeping and waking from a dream. It’s in that non-thinking stage, which is considered to be the incubation stage, where the magic happens, and our unconscious mind gets to work on the problem ‘behind the scenes’.[5]


So, what does all of this mean?

As an author it’s no longer enough to just write. The old adage of ‘build it and they will come’ or in our case ‘write it and they will read’ simply no longer applies. The reality is that these days authors are responsible for a large part of their own promotion. You can apply all of your creativity to writing the book, but the reality is you then have to get someone interested in reading it or will simply sit on a shelf or lie in a box gathering dust. When you’ve finished writing your manuscript, you’ll need to have it edited and/or proofread. You’ll also need to have a website and a social media presence that has followers who are not just family and friends. Then, when your book is finally published, you’ll need to promote, promote, promote.


And this is the point Peterson is making when he says that monetising creativity is virtually impossible.


The average income derived from practicing as an author in Australia is $12,900 per year[6]—if you’re lucky. Nine times out of ten, authors need additional sources of income to survive. Very few authors can afford to be in it for the money.


As a child I was never good at anything other than creative/artistic things. And while I have been employed in ‘regular’ jobs all my life, these regular jobs have, at times, almost killed me. And I don’t mean that flippantly. Many of those jobs were soul crushing enough to make me contemplate the nature of my existence and the ultimate purpose of my relatively short life here on Earth. So, when I heard Jordan Peterson speaking about what it means to be a creative person, I understood what he was saying. Completely.


Peterson likened creative people to fruit trees that are constantly bearing fruit. And just as a fruit tree cannot prevent itself from bearing fruit, neither can creative people prevent themselves from being creative. He said that if creative people can’t create, they are miserable. More than that, without that vitality they will literally wither on the vine and die. They have no choice but to create—despite whatever attempts society might make to suppress this need within them.


And so, creatives are cursed with living in that space between needing to create and needing to eat.

It’s a state of being that many people do not understand.


But it’s not all bad! There are definitely some positives to being creative. It affords you experiences that other people might not have. It pushes you to explores things that others might not be game enough to explore. And best of all, you get to create things! Which is the point of being creative! It doesn’t matter how many people see it or watch it or read the thing that you create—just being able to create it is the reward itself.


So, how can I help you?

Peterson says, “don’t be thinking that creativity is something you would want to curse yourself with.” Creativity is a curse, but it is also a blessing. Creating things is what creative people live for. And if you’re anything like me, you will live for that blessing.


One of the best things about being creative is that you get to be creative. However, there are times when we all struggle with our creative expression. There are times when we need to step back and look at our work objectively. Or to seek advice from an expert.


If you could do with a bit of a helping hand, I'm here for you!


I love writing and I love helping fellow authors to achieve their writing goals. So, if your characters are a little muddy or your plot is losing its way, get in touch. I'm now offering a range of author services so let's work together and get you and your story back on track.


I can't wait to hear what you're working on!





[1] https://www.lexico.com/definition/creativity [2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2162-6057.1992.tb01175.x [3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-origin-human-creativity-suprisingly-complex/ [4] Donna Y. Ford & J. John Harris III, The Elusive Definition of Creativity [5] ttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00215/full#:~:text=To%20conclude%2C%20several%20studies%20suggest,with%20creative%20ideas%20and%20solutions. [6] https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/australian-authors-earn-only-12900-from-their-writing-a-new-report-says-20151006-gk2ft4.html

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Updated: Jun 3

I don’t know about you, but 2021 has been rollercoaster ride with so many ups and downs I’ve got whiplash.


Traditionally when my family and I gather together at Christmas we take some time to reflect on the past year and consider the things we’re grateful for—as well as the things we really could have done without. In that spirit of reflecting, I thought I’d share a few of those things with you today. So, let’s rip off the BandAid and start with the losses...


Losses

My job. Like many people in the wake of COVID-19, I was retrenched from my job. Through no fault of my own, I have now been unceremoniously kicked to the curb by no fewer than three employers since 2016. Apart from looking dismal on the resume, being ‘let go’ doesn’t make me feel all that great as a human being. Like many authors, I need to find work that gives me a steady income, but which still gives me enough time to write and/or study. Sessional teaching work is fantastic for this because it allows me to find a balance between work and creative practice.


However, in the wake of COVID-19, universities shut down courses and retrenched hundreds of staff. Unlike other industries, however, there was no government assistance for retrenched university employees. We were left to fend for ourselves. I’m lucky that I have family to support me, mentally and financially. I know there are plenty of people out there who aren’t so lucky, and my heart truly, truly goes out to them.


My mother. Goodness, it’s hard to write this… But at the same time, I need to write it. In late November, my dear old mamma passed away quickly and unexpectedly. She was kind and generous and was always there for me. She was smart, wickedly funny, and honest to a fault. I could always count on her to tell me the God’s honest truth about a new hair cut or a new outfit. We were very close, and she was always happy and ready to support me, no matter what kind of hare-brained scheme I was working on. It’s hard to believe I’m never going to see her again or talk to her again. She was a good person, so I know that wherever she is now, she’s in a good place.


Gains

My PhD. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be well aware that I commenced my research degree at Federation University in June. Completing a PhD has been a long-time dream of mine, but securing a higher degree by research place, at any university, has been challenging, least of all because I was applying to universities when most were shutting down courses and retrenching staff. The odds were against me, that’s for sure, but I persevered and was eventually offered a place at Federation University.


My deal old mother was over the moon. She knew how badly I wanted to achieve this goal and was very excited for me. I am truly grateful to Federation University and the three fantastic supervisors who agreed to supervise my research project.


The Village Views. The Village Views project was conceptualised in the wake of my retrenchment from Victoria University (more about that later…) As a writer, it is literally my job to comment on things that affect us. So, with that in mind, I thought it would be fun to get a group of word slingers together to write about life in lockdown, after all, there’s hardly a person or country on the planet that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic in some way. I approached some of my former students, as well as some writer friends, if they’d like to participate in the project. Thankfully, most of them said yes.


The result of this project is a fantastic E-book and print-on-demand anthology and visual novel of flash fictions about life in lockdown. Some of the stories have been crafted in a realistic style. Others are whimsical or even magical. However, be warned: not all stories have happy endings. The E-book and print-on-demand versions will be available in early to mid January 2022. The visual novel will be available shortly after that.


Social Media. There’s an old saying that you may or may not have heard: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. No problem. A couple of months ago, I got out of the proverbial kitchen that is social media, specifically Facebook (now hilariously rebranded as Meta in line with their planned world domination) for two reasons: 1) collectively, social media platforms are the greatest waste of time that have ever been invented, and 2) they are magnets for trolls and unsavoury types who hide behind anonymity and/or the relative safety of the internet in order to exercise their right to free speech in order to spew their ignorant, hate-filled bile all over others.


Now, some might say that abandoning social media is a dangerous move considering it is the now an expectation when promoting yourself or your work. But I’m no longer interested in investing my time in the digital realm in that way. And I’m certainly not interested in being yet another target for trolls and unsavoury elements. Now, I might be a little hypocritical here, and I own up to that, but I haven’t abandoned all social media platforms. I’ve still got profiles on Instagram (which I had before the Metaverse takeover), as well as LinkedIn, and Goodreads; however, I don’t use any of them very much.


But what have I gained from abandoning social media and has it been worth it? Yes. Resoundingly yes, it has been worth it because what I have gained is my sanity and my self-respect. Social media constantly prodded me to do better, be better. Needless to say, this wasn’t good for my mind, body, or soul, so I closed most of my social media accounts and now live a happier life that is no longer clouded in social media anxiety.


Here’s to a better New Year

I’m going to be honest and say that I’m not going to miss 2021. Despite the gains, I will be looking forward to putting 2021 firmly behind me. With luck, 2022 will offer a sense of much-needed normality.


So, with the holidays rapidly approaching, I’d like to say Happy Holidays and wish you a safe and Happy New Year!

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Updated: Jun 3

It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I have a very good excuse. No lie, I really do! Read on to find out what I’ve been up to…


PhD

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m now a PhD candidate at Federation University in Ballarat. Given the university sector’s current state of affairs, and the fact that I was made redundant from Victoria University, I am fully aware how lucky I am to have this opportunity.


I commenced full-time study in July. My supervisors are wonderful, and I feel I’ve made a great start. As yet, I haven’t been able to visit the campus (shakes fist: damn you Covid-19!); however, I am enjoying the student experience and am loving the research process.


There are times when I catch myself wishing that I had done it years ago, but all things work out exactly as they should (don’t they?).


So far, my research has taken me down many a philosophical rabbit hole and I have to admit that I’ve succumbed to bouts of imposter syndrome on several occasions. However, my desire to achieve this goal is a powerful driving force and those moments of self-doubt usually don’t last very long, thank goodness!


So, I hear you ask, how is the researching going? I’m glad you asked…


Deafening Silence

Several years ago, I was walking through my local shopping complex, in a hurry, as usual, when a glowing advertisement on one of those free-standing, monolithic-type digital signs placed just inside the entrance caught my eye. The text on the screen listed the number of Australian soldiers who had committed suicide since returning from the conflict in Afghanistan. I stopped in my tracks and stood and stared at it because the number was staggeringly high.


Time slowed and I became aware of the dozens of people walking past me. I also became aware of the fact that I was the only one who had stopped to read it. No one else gave it a second glance. I reasoned this was because they were busy, had other things on their mind, or perhaps had simply become blind to the overwhelming amount of advertising pervading their everyday lives. However, I was deeply saddened when I read how many of our ‘diggers’ had taken their own lives—a number greater than the total number of military personnel who had been killed in the actual conflict.


As I stood there reading these tragic figures, I knew I had to write about it. And I did. I wrote a short story called The Roos are Loose that was published by Dixi Books in Open Wounds, a mini collection of my short stories.


I loved writing The Roos are Loose and was more than happy with the story turned out. However, I knew I had only just touched the surface of a deeply complex, and potentially polarising, narrative. I wanted to know more and needed to write more. So, after I completed work on This is Not a Lie, I knew I wanted Deafening Silence to be my second novel and the focus of my PhD research.


The writing and the research are coming along well. and I can’t wait to share the final product with you in the few years.


The Village Views

Apart from Deafening Silence, I’ve been working on a digital writing project called The Village Views. The Village Views is, in fact, a visual novel about life in lockdown, which sprang to life in the wake of my retrenchment and—no surprise here—the endless cycle of lockdowns that were imposed on the people of the city of Melbourne.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the government doing it’s best to protect us from a killer disease, but 260 days, give or take a day or two, in lockdown is enough to make anyone go stir crazy! I hadn’t yet commenced my PhD and felt lost without my weekly writing sessions with my students. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to work on something new.


When I was studying for my master’s degree, I developed a short visual novel called Stained Glass for one of my classes. It was a fun project and I really loved working on a project that had a visual element to it. I wanted to do another visual novel-type project, but something that was a little different. So, I came up the with idea of getting a bunch of writers/creators together to write some flash fiction stories about life in lockdown.


Set in a fictional apartment building, there is a ‘true to life’ element about some of the stories, while others are pure fantasy/fiction. However, all of them make a comment on life in lockdown. What began as a humble little project to fill in a writing void is now in the process of becoming a fully realised project that will ultimately be released as a digital visual novel as well as an E-book.



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