At mystery readers conferences, I sometimes hear people introduce themselves as "only a reader." As if there's some huge difference between readers and writers. I honestly think the only difference is how much time the writers have spent writing. In other words, I firmly believe that every human on this earth is teeming with creativity.
Some of us have it beaten or cajoled out of us, or maybe we have had a teacher who drilled it away to some far off place. Or maybe we had a fabulous teacher, under whose tutelage our creativity blossomed. But the innate ability to imagine things that don't exist, to put things together in new and different ways, is a fundamental component of humanity. Here's why I think so.
I spent far too much of my life believing I was smart, but not creative. It started with my dad, who taught me that art was somehow less real than science. The belief crept into my heart and has taken a long time to fade.
Then, I had a boyfriend. You know the kind. Ambitious, driven, and anxious to let his partner know how much better he is than she. Some women, I hope, never go through this phase. Some of us learn from it. I certainly did. But before we parted ways, his relentless descriptions of me as "good at math" or "good at expository writing" and never as a creative or imaginative person, left their mark. That's my fault, of course. In particular, I took one of his comments too dear to heart: "Oh no, don't write movie reviews! You'll write the kind of reviews I hate."
As an adult, I'm still not quite sure what he meant. But I thought I wasn't creative, even after we broke up.
I became a software technical writer. I used my cleverness and expository writing skills to make computer programs slightly easier to understand and use. I never thought of it as creative.
At long last, I decided to try screenplays. The writing of them requires iron-disciplined minimalism, a deep understanding of story structure, and creativity. I was counting on being wonderful at those first two, hoping to hide my lack of creativity.
A funny thing happened along the way. People praised my writing, including the creativity. I wrote about a gay cowboy in the actual old west several years before Annie Proulx wrote about one who lived in the 20th Century. That's pretty creative.
I finally shook other people's wrong opinions out of my hair for good just this year. At work, my boss showed me that it was my creativity at work that earned me a promotion from technical writer to content strategist.
Me, creative! Who knew?!
So the next time you meet your favorite writer, don't call yourself "just" a reader, or "just" anything else. Whether you know it or not, a fabulously creative person dwells within you, just waiting for his or her chance to express your unique view. And no matter your age, it's never too late to get in touch with that person.
How do you express your creativity?