Of Creativity and Criticism

I posted earlier about flow. For me, creative flow is an energy. I don't know how to generate it. It just happens.

However, I do know what stops it. Criticism.

Criticism is an odd thing. If we didn't have it, nothing would ever get better--even creative endeavors. However, it does have the power to shut down creative flow.

Anne Lamot, in her book Bird by Bird, encourages people to stop writing as if their mom were looking over their shoulder. (Until Anne pointed this out, I didn't even realize I did this.) The point of writing is that it needs to be authentic--and you can't do that if you listen to voices that might be judging you. (Reading Bird by Bird seven years ago unlocked a writers block that I thought was never going to go away.)

One of the challenges with criticism is that most of the time, it comes in a form that there is nothing you can do with it. The statement "that isn't very good" isn't something you can act on. More sophisticated versions are "you over-designed it" or "that looks dated."

There are ways to criticize so that it adds to a piece rather than stopping it, but it takes serious thought on the part of the critic. What is it you are really reacting to? Is it objective or subjective? Can you break it down in a way that is actionable?

Recently a friend sent me an article to give feedback on. I struggled with the text. I could have written back and said, "It doesn't flow." Instead, I took the time to figure out why it didn't flow. The main thoughts were really insightful. And, I couldn't find a single paragraph that wasn't well written. The challenge turned out to be the organization of the paragraphs and the lack of subheaders. He had written "stream of consciousness." Telling my friend that he needed to come up with subheaders and arrange the paragraphs under them is an actionable thing. "It needs better flow" isn't.

Here's another thought...I've found that many people who can't create, criticize. (My personal theory is that they've listened to their own internal critics for so long that their natural creative flow has stopped and criticism is the only way they can participate.)

We have a saying in our office, "No critique without contribution." If you can't put a live, viable alternative on the table, don't whittle away what's there. Because at the end of the day, a Grade B idea with Grade A execution is worth far more than the other way around. (To quote Stephen Covey.)

My advice? If you are in the critic position, analyze until you get to the actionable. If you are in the creative position, find the criticism that stopped the flow and throw it out.

And, if you feel you are not creative whatsoever...ask yourself, do you have an internal critic that stops you? Because, my friend, deep down, we were all designed to be creative. Maybe not painters or writers, but something. Find the something where you feel the flow.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall