Creativity vs. Isolation

Here is a fun poster with a fun quote about creativity. It will look good on your classroom wall. Feel free to retweet this. Maybe add Garfield.

So I’m sitting around yesterday, wasting time on Twitter, and someone I follow retweeted this from FBISDEducationalTech: “Creation in isolation is the same thing as turning in a paper to just the teacher.”

That sounds pretty, doesn’t it? It speaks to everything we like to talk about in our current world with its focus on collaboration, the Web 2.0 of everything (is that term even in vogue anymore? It sounds about as hackneyed as “cyber-“) and the authenticity we all seem to crave. But–and I know this will come as A COMPLETE SHOCK to you–I’m a little annoyed by this statement.

I’ve written before on how I think that papers are still a worthwhile writing experience and assessment and I will stand firm until the day I finally leave the classroom on my position that there is valuable in turning a paper into a teacher, that just because you, as a high school student, aren’t putting the paper out for the world to see, doesn’t make it any less valuable. That me, as a teacher, who, last time I checked has a beating heart and other internal organs, is an authentic audience. And we can debate that for all eternity for all I care, especially since I’m probably in the minority that many of those who brag about their students’ authentic experiences are in it for the recognition it gets them as much as they are for their students’ experience.Because, you know, human nature and all that.

What annoys me more is the idea that creation in isolation is somehow a bad idea. Now, I may be misinterpreting this one sentence “quote” that’s destined for a poster (Successories! Another joke I can beat into the ground!), but being a person who considers himself creative, I can personally say that quite a bit of my creative product comes as a result of isoation; furthermore, if it weren’t for said isolation I wouldn’t consider myself half as creative as I do. Despite my outward smart-assy voice here, I do have a tendency to be a bit of an introvert IRL, and that definitely comes out when I am writing. For nearly two decades now I have carried around a spiral-bound notebook with the words “creative writing journal” written on the cover. It was a habit that started with my creative writing class in high school (and they say you never learn anything in high schooL) and has proven to be incredibly rewarding. In that journal are drafts of stories and blog posts, handwritten first copies of entire novels, and sketches and ideas for things that have gone all the way to publication or have remained untouched for years.

If I hadn’t had the opportunity to create inside my own headspace, to work out drafts and revisions, to scrap things that were terrible and move forward with things that were great on my own merit, I wouldn’t have any confidence as a “writer” (and I put that term in quotes because honestly, I’m not a writer, I’m just a schmuck who blogs). I’d be constantly second-guessing myself or pandering to an audience, or worse … crapping things out for the sake of crapping them out (like this blog). What this quote does is confuse creation with publication. And that’s dangerous because it complete discourages creativity. I have an entire novel that I wrote but which will never see the light of day. It was abandoned about halfway through a revision because I couldn’t get it to work and realized as a whole it wasn’t very good.

Did that make it an experience that wasn’t worthwhile? No, because I had experimented with different types of characters and different types of storytelling and there were things that I still like about it and things that I don’t. Ultimately, though, I felt that I wrote it because I wanted to write it, even if I was the only one to ever see it. It was creation in isolation. People aren’t always confident when they create, and the quickest way to kill someone’s passion for something is to constantly focus on product and not process. They should be allowed to fail and succeed privately because then, perhaps, they will want to fail and succeed publicly.

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