One or the Other, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

One or the Other

In any discussions about creativity, there is one overriding myth that refuses to go away. In fact, it is so ingrained in our collective consciousness, that it is blindly accepted as concrete proof that most of us are permanently confined to a noncreative existence. And that is, a deep-seated belief that some of us are born creative and others are gifted with a set of genes that mitigates against any sort of creative output. A few folks were gifted with creativity; the rest of us—not so much!

Truth be told, creativity is not something that is genetically determined. It is not something we inherit from our parents nor is it some “special gene” that our great-great-grandfather from Denmark passed down to us. Creativity is NOT some kind of Las Vegas magic trick, ancient Egyptian secret, or long-ago Norse legend. Nope! Quite simply, creativity is an inherent and natural sequence of actions leading to the production of dynamic ideas. Most of us are creative souls early in our lives, and it is our upbringing, schooling, and work environment that often determine the degree or comfort we have with matters creative. What we have experienced (in formalized settings) frequently determines what we can create. Creativity is never a matter of chance or genetics; it is always a matter of incubation.

The rise of this persistent myth is often attributed to the psychological reality that, as humans, we tend to compare ourselves to others. In a work environment, we wonder how much someone makes if they are engaged in the same job or position as us. (“How come Janice drives a BMW? She’s doing the same job I am.”) In your neighborhood, you may compare your lawn to that of your neighbor’s. (“Hey, look at Jake’s lawn. It doesn’t even begin to compare with mine.”)

By the same token, when it comes to matters literary, we frequently compare ourselves to creative giants—those authors who are celebrated for their creative novels, innovative picture books, or mind-boggling nonfiction: Katherine Paterson and her heart-thumping Bridge to Terabithia, Jeff Kinney and his engaging Wimpy Kid books, Julia Donaldson and her very playful The Gruffalo, Mo Willems and his iconic Knuffle Bunny, and Kwame Alexander and his lyrical novels are all ceremoniously raised upon a pedestal of creative expression that few can ever hope to achieve. They are icons, celebrities, idols, and modern-day gods. We’ll never rise to their level; we’ll never achieve their creative greatness. They are a different breed, in a different universe, and products of a different gene pool. “They are the creative writers” and “I am not a creative writer” thus become two clearly defined groups. If we don’t belong in the first, then it stands to reason that we must certainly belong to the other.

The unfortunate consequence of this mindset is that we significantly diminish our individual creativity. By casting writers into two distinct (and highly unequal) categories, we have a psychological tendency to assign ourselves to the “lower” of the two groups. As writers, we may tell ourselves, “Well, I guess I’m never going to be as creative as Dav Pilkey or Sharon Creech.”

It’s unfortunate that we frequently put those “famous creatives” on an altar that we can never ascend. We tend to see ourselves in their shadow; celebrating their works, but never attaining their glory. Often, it looks as though creativity is so far away—a concept honored but infrequently (if ever) attained. And that opens a door, a door that allows fear, insecurity, and negative self-judgement to enter. We begin to believe that we will seldom generate new and innovative ideas, that any ideas that we do spawn will wither and die when sent to prospective publishers, and that we are burdened with a significant disability that will internally quash any creative endeavors for all of our lives.

Part of this enormous myth is based on the reality that we are a comparative society. (Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Short or tall? Young or old? Female or male? Blond or brunette? Gay or straight?) But, by the same token, the myth is also supported by the belief that creativity is mutually exclusive. It’s a province of a few but unavailable to the many. That thought, as you might imagine, further cements this myth in our consciousness—so much so, that it becomes a self-defeating prophecy.

The reality: We are all inherently creative.

The challenge: Assume the “I am a creative writer!” mindset.

The result: A conflagration of creative ideas!


Tony is the author of more than 50 award-winning children’s books including A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet (Sleeping Bear), Mountain Night, Mountain Day (Rio Nuevo), and In One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails and Salty Tails (Sourcebooks/Dawn). His latest children’s book, “All Aboard!” Starts with A, will be released in April 2021.

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