Friday, June 16, 2017

On Creativity and Judging Quality

Professor Dean Simonton is an academic who's been studying creativity, and has come to some conclusions that'll surprise a lot of creatives. My favorite quote:

One of the attributes of creative people says Prof. Dean Simonton – a University of California academic who’s been researching creativity for over 40 years –- is that they have an extraordinarily poor sense of whether the thing they’re creating, inventing or making is any 'good' or not.

In fact, Simonton thinks that it’s virtually impossible for anyone involved in a creative project to know for sure whether they’re making a masterpiece – or just a mess.

And when they do feel 100% sure –- they invariably get it wrong.

Dean and Kris have been saying this for years. A writer is the worst judge of their own work. Keep writing, keep submitting and/or publishing, write the next thing, submit or publish that, and keep going. Don't stress out over whether something's good enough or not; you don't know. No, really, you don't.

Remember, Shakespeare thought his plays were popular crap, and was very bitter that hardly anyone paid much attention to his poetry, which he considered his real art, the good stuff. If he couldn't tell which of his writings were masterpieces, fated to be beloved by millions for centuries, you and I have no hope. Which is good! No point worrying about it, just keep writing and putting stuff out there!

Thanks to Rob Cornell for the link.



Charles Gramlich said...

Strangely perhaps, I'm not sure this gives me comfort. If I'm not able to judge my own work then I feel like I'm standing on quicksand in an earthquake. But maybe there is a difference between the immediate qualities of a story, and the future qualities of one. I like to think that I can reread a story that I've written and determine whether it is professional enough, whether it is likely to sell to particular markets, whether it will entertain readers who are like me. But as for whether it has any worth on a larger scale, any impact beyond the immediate, then I guess I agree that I have no idea.

Angie said...

Charles -- my first thought is to just finish the story and submit it. Or indie publish it. Or submit it, then indie publish it after the exclusivity period expires. If it's good -- by the only measure that really counts, that of readers reading it and liking it -- then it'll sell. If not, it won't. I can't do anything about it either way.

And seriously, have you ever heard some writer griping about how their own favorite story, something they worked hard on and knew for a fact was Really Good, either didn't sell, or was published and then sank like a rock with no particular notice from anyone, while some piece of "crap" they just cranked out because whatever, sold like crazy and got great reviews and an award and whatever all else, and the writer was just insanely frustrated by the whole situation? I have, more than once. Heck, I've had that happen to me. [wry smile] Clearly I don't know what's "good," or what the readers will rave over versus what'll just make them shrug.

I find it kind of freeing. I can write what I want and send it out into the world. The only person I have to worry about pleasing is myself, since I have no idea what'll please anyone else. I can focus on my own work, write what grabs me, and not stress out about what happens after.

And I think another important point from the original article is that the writers who had a lot of great success, for the most part wrote a lot of stuff. One hit wonders like Harper Lee are actually pretty rare. Writers who had substantial careers and were known for great work were often known for like ten percent of their actual output. The rest of their stuff was okay, but nothing to jump up and down about. Even people who are capable of writing great works rarely do it every time. So the take-away is that you should write and publish a lot, in hopes that you'll get your five or ten percent bull's eye rate.