The 7 worst lies about creativity

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Let’s talk about creativity.

The creativity that people like me need to make a living and make our living worthwhile. The creativity that drives us to re-invent things that need re-inventing and to “hit targets no-one else can see.”

It’s easy to become caught up in the tropes and myths that surround people who create things. The misconceptions and pretensions that people tell each other about what it takes to make stuff.

I sometimes wonder how many great creatives were turned off because they didn’t fit these tropes:


It’s All About The Unexpected

One of the hardest obstacles in any creative work is making something unique and interesting. A piece of work that can surprise a user or a reader. It’s hard to break through the jaded complacency of most people.

They can’t help being hard to please — in the digital age, they’ve seen it all.

But creating isn’t all about doing the unexpected. Sometimes, it’s just about discovering what you believe matters and making work that reflects it, honestly and openly.


Your Entire Life Should Be Dedicated To Creativity

For most of us, doing our best creative work is a challenge simply because we work all the time. We have jobs that are stressful, with long hours and long days that blur and blend into each other. By the time we get home, it can seem almost impossible to turn on another screen and pour out even a drop of creativity.

Does that make us any less creative than someone who spends 5 hours a day writing “The Next Great Novel” on an antique typewriter? No.


You Need To Be Magical

There’s a cliché about artists and writers that they have a mysterious magic about them. It’s perpetuated by creatives who insist on quirkiness as their main defining characteristic and look down on people who seem normal.

The truth is, great creative work can be made by artists who wear suits as much as artists who are half-pixie. You can have your feet on the ground, and you can still create amazing things.

You don’t need a Hogwarts letter to be a creative. You just need to work.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash


If You’re “Gifted” It Will Be Easy

This might be my biggest peeve. When people look at something I have made and tell me that they wish they had my gift and could do what I do. It’s invalidating in a way because I wasn’t born a writer or an artist or a musician. I worked hard, my entire life, to build those skills.

I don’t think anyone is born with an innate gift for creativity that makes them the Chosen One of long-form text pieces, for example.

Great creatives make sacrifices and stay up late, and you know what? Other people could too. The idea that all creativity comes from a unique gift is just wrong.


It’s About Being A Tortured Genius

Here’s the thing. You don’t need a crushing drug habit or an open bottle of Jack Daniels to be creative. You don’t need to be the reclusive, slightly mad genius who lives in a run-down mansion and is a bit of an asshole.

You just need to be able to work, and work hard.

The artists and writers who create Pixar’s films don’t do it on the back of self-destructive egotism and drama. They turn up every day and they treat it like a job and they create some of the most engaging and brilliant art of our time.

Note: the tortured genius is a white trope. And it excludes people of colour who don’t fit that mold. Fuck it.


You Have To Wait For Inspiration

I’m finishing this piece at 7 AM on a Sunday morning. You think I’m inspired right now? Think again. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I want nothing more than to go right back to bed. There’s no burning fire inside me at this moment. I’m writing because that’s the job I’ve given myself. Because if I don’t, I’ll never be a writer.

I’ve seen plenty of artists and creatives who give it all up because they say their muse has died. It’s a damn shame. They never had a muse to begin with. What they call inspiration, I call motivation. You don’t wait around for motivation, you create it.

Don’t get me wrong — inspiration does happen, and it’s a real thing. But if you need it to be creative, you’re going to lose this one.


A Creative Is As Good As Their Tools

I think I’ve seen this more with musicians than any other creative breed. They’ll tell you that if they only had that one guitar pedal, or that $1,000 synth, or that brand new MacBook Pro, they could create something incredible. Or they’ll only record their music in an analogue studio on real tape.

The fact is, some of the most influential albums in our history were recorded on a shoe-string budget with hardly any resources. Ever heard of the Ramones?

If you’re a musician, you need an instrument and a tool to record it.

If you’re an online writer, you need a laptop and an internet connection.

Anything else is dressing.



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Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg


Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, Inc, SF Chronicle, TNW. Founder