Are creatives born or made?

Image taken in Joshua Tree by: (copyright)

When I was a kid, I had a little Crayola art set for drawing and colouring in. I loved that set and fondly remember attempts at drawing various animals — including the cast of Pokemon.

I say ‘attempts’ because the drawings were, well, not great. My older brother was a fantastic artist and I often found myself thinking how unfair it was that he was born a better artist than me.

Fast-forwarding a decade or two, I’ve built a career in both writing and photography. I still can’t draw, but I like to think of myself as a ‘creative’  — whatever that means.

It makes me wonder. Are creatives born or made?

Born with a gift or skills honed?

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It’s often assumed that our talents are gifts — we either have them or we don’t. There are no in-betweens — you can either draw or not draw, write or not write. But, the truth is, even the best artists and writers would agree that talent is developed — it takes practise and work.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point is, “What is your genius?”

It’s all too easy to assume that the celebrated creatives of our time — Stephen King, Andy Warhol, Ian Fleming, Nicholas Sparks et al. — have superhuman qualities and innate talent.

What you often don’t know about are their knock-backs, the evolution of their style, and the hard grind they went through to gain their eventual success.

It’s never too early — or late — to cultivate a talent. Practise makes perfect with things like musical instruments and sports, so why don’t we apply this same theory to things like drawing, painting, and writing?

Creativity must be practised

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Jack Kerouac wrote a passionate piece in Writer’s Digest back in 1962 under the headline “Are Writers Born or Made?”. He leaned a little more on the “born” side of the debate.

But Kerouac’s focus was on the most exceptional writers — what he dubbed originators or geniuses. The first line of his piece: “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write; but geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.”

What should be remembered is that originality, by definition, requires breaking out of the common canon. “Geniuses” are often subjected to ridicule and rejection before they come to be revered.

Think J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter was turned down 12 times  (which, maybe doesn’t sound so bad nowadays ) before it was published. JK is now revered as one of the all-time greatest authors. Was she born a “genius” or did she hone her craft to become the billionaire she now is?

The hardest part of writing is learning how to write like you… I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a natural writer. To me it’s like saying that somebody was born a natural plumber. Storytelling is a craft and a trade. It takes ten years and one million words to build a good writer and when you’re not good, you’re bad.” — Luke Preston

As creatives, we are each on our own path. Some days we’ll trudge through the treacle, other days we’ll find those rare moments of creative flight. The notion of reaching the apex of a creative career is debatable.

One element of creativity is simply finding ways to fill yourself up with experiences and ideas so there’s material to work with. You can make processes to get more creativity in and out through your brain.

Just because you don’t know how your creativity works doesn’t make it impossible. Your content gets better with process just like your technical ability to display it. They’re intrinsically tied together.

You’re born with it

Image taken in Monterey by: (copyright) — This building inspired “Doc’s Lab” in John Steinbeck’s book “Cannery Row”.

Everyone is born with at least some level of creativity — it can differ in intensity, but we all have some level of it.

“If what you’re doing isn’t working for you creatively, do the opposite. It’s so easy to get caught up and stuck in a rut. Break free from the cycle and ditch the structure for a while.”

This creativity develops as we grow and begin to observe the world. Our experiences shape our perspectives. Since everyone grows up in different environments, with different beliefs, and different values, there is a difference in the way we ‘view’ the world. You could say that creative people are ‘made’ through their experiences.

Hence, creativity is an ability developed with experience.

Can anyone be creative?

Image of Jack Vettriano taken by: (copyright)

In a nutshell, yes.

Our minds are different. I can practise drawing — I’m probably (definitely) never going to be the next Van Gogh . But any human has the potential to choose to use their inherent knack for creativity. This requires a great commitment to practice the skills required.

“If your hands are moving, your brain is roaming, and I’ll bet you anything that you’ll enjoy the art of creating over the strain of consuming.”

Each mind is naturally more inclined towards certain crafts and skills. Within a small margin of natural talent, craft will have more impact than your biology.

If you want to be more creative:

  • observe more
  • implement your life experiences into your craft
  • let go of your wish for magical natural talent — it doesn’t exist

You can find more inspiration in my article Creative Juice: What to Do When Your Creativity Is Low

What are your thoughts? Are creatives born or made?

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