I am not creative. And what a relief.

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May 18, 2013 by bradcharlesbeals

You are not creative*.


And neither am I.

Nothing comes from our heads ex nihilo, out of nothing. The most profound philosophical thought, the most stunning poetic image, the most awe-inspiring (fill in your media of choice) has its prior causes. It may feel like it jumps into the artist’s head fully grown, but there’s no doubt it jumps there from somewhere else.

We are not creative.

That doesn’t mean we don’t come up with new stuff. Rearrangements are new things, and we can even recognize that there is a continuum for qualifying the rearranged. Mozart rearranged notes. I too rearrange notes occasionally. I would present these as the two extremes in rearrangement for the category of musical talent. Mozart was better at it than I am. I get that our efforts differ widely in quality.

But he was not creative.

He was just better at rearranging the materials.

There’s nothing new here. We all know this intuitively. What I want to emphasize this time (i.e., how I’m going to arrange the materials this time) is that this realization is liberating. Yes, it’s humbling because it pulls us back down to our natures, to our “creature” natures. Humbling is good. But it’s also good because it pulls us back down to what is true about ourselves. And once we’re there, once we accept what we are–creatures–and reject what we are not–not divine, not little gods or big gods, not any kind of god–then we can really start to work.

Instead of waiting for inspiration, we can use the senses and sensibilities that God has given us to stir the materials around us. We can do the hard work of collecting and categorizing and arranging our materials so that our eyes and ears might catch something new in the changing patterns.

We are not creative, but we do have widely differing abilities to see new things in the creation.

This is why I pre-write. I want materials to rearrange. Lots of materials. The more I put in front of myself, the more possibilities I see. The more possibilities I see, the better I am at their rearrangement.

This is why writer’s block is a bunch of bunk. Hear this, writer: you have not been abandoned by your muse. You’re just lazy. Put words to paper, even ugly words in bad sentences, and keep doing it.


And rearrange again.

And eventually you will see and hear something new.

So take relief from the fact that you’re not God.


You don’t need to be creative.

You just need to WORK.

*disclaimer: this is an exercise in word and meaning. I am not suggesting that we throw out the word creative. It’s a useful adjective. Creativity is a useful noun. But we tend to make these terms include too much. You can bake a cake, but you don’t create one. You use ingredients that you didn’t make, rely on chemical changes you didn’t invent, and entrust it all to physical laws that you didn’t write. You arranged created elements, but you did not create anything. Not according to this definition of the word anyway. Now, according to the most common use of the word (remember, dictionaries don’t prescribe word usage, they describe it), are you creative? You might be if you present things in new and interesting ways. 

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