competition may negatively affect creativity

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competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby Mira » 10 Jul 2010, 21:29

I was watching a statistics video (I have to prepare for a class in the Fall), and this interesting study was featured. I can't get the full article, but here is the abstract.

http://psp.sagepub.com/content/8/3/573.abstract

Basically, the researcher compared two groups of children, who drew pictures. The pictures were evaluated in terms of creative content by independent experts.

One group was promised rewards if they made the best picture. The other group was just promised a raffle after the pictures were done. The results: the group that was promised a reward showed some technical improvements, but the group that was not promised a reward produced more creative pictures. The conclusion was that extrinsic motivation can interfere with creativity, and intrinsic motivation is more important.

Obviously, this is just one study, although I skimmed some others that seemed to reach similar conclusions, and with children as subjects, but I found it very interesting in terms of it's implication to the field of publishing, which is so highly competitive.

Does anyone have any thoughts about this?

Btw - I don't mean this to be an anti-publishing post. I'm just interested in what works best for writers - others and myself.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby polymath » 10 Jul 2010, 22:11

Writers whose sole goals are the money and fame overlook a large part of the reality of publishing.

Five hundred million native language English readers globally. One billion English readers total, including English as secondary language readers.

Eight thousand full-time career/life track published English language fiction writers, median annual income $36,000.

Tolkien's four-book Lord of the Rings saga sold two hundred million copies.

Rowling's seven-book Harry Potter saga sold three hundred fifty million copies.

Roughly fifty million copies per book for both sagas. One-tenth the potential native language English reader market, one-twentieth the global potential market, not accounting for translation editions.

Tens of millions of writers form the foundation tier of Babel's ziggurat tower. Only one is on the top tier. Rowling, the first billionaire author. Other name authors comprise the second or third or fourth highest tiers. I imagine there's room for another one or two on the top. I'd be happy with adding to making ends meet from writing. I'm not swinging for the fence. I just hope my creativity will one day speak for itself.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby Nick » 11 Jul 2010, 12:57

Doesn't surprise me at all. I've found my writing ever since I started looking into publishing to be significantly weaker than my older stuff. In terms of form, it's a lot better. I'm older, more experienced. But the content itself just feels...empty comparatively. It's not even a case of fame or fortune. I just want to write something that will get published. But in the past year I've been constantly growing frustrated with projects, finding them to be worse than past projects, dropping them due to frustrations, etc. It's a wallbanger.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby Mira » 12 Jul 2010, 17:18

Polymath - I agree that the external rewards for writers are elusive and hard to get - and that's an understatement!

Nick - that sounds really frustrating, and I felt sad reading your post. Sorry! I hope you find your joy again. And I identify with you too - I can get very blocked.That's one of the reasons I post on forums like this. I remember who I am as a writer - I can be serious or very silly - and it helps me find my joy in writing.

I have truly mixed feelings about this whole thing. I don't know about other people, but I find myself highly motivated by writing contests, for example. Competition with other writers brings a sparkle to my eye. I roll up my shirt sleeves, and dig in. But that's all in fun. When the pressure or the stakes get high - when I feel heaviness about writing - I stop wanting to go near it, and I can't think.

I find for myself that writing is best when it has a playful element to it, and the stakes are low - at least initally. I could imagine editing under pressure - but CREATING under pressure? I'm not so sure....but that's just me.....
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby polymath » 12 Jul 2010, 19:00

When I get frustrated, I go back to the books. Learn someting new when I'm missing some unplaceable something, research, intellectually understand whatever it is, read something looking for whatever it is in use, dissect, attempt reproducing whatever it is, ah ha moment. Concept mastered. Frustration resolved. I realized I was entering the outer limits when I started getting into semiotics as it applies to creative writing.

The method epiphanies came fast and furious over the last couple years. It's been a day or two since I've had a good method one. A revision epiphany for a project in progress hit pretty hard yesterday morning. Changing the gender of the deuteragonist took off into new realms and didn't involve appreciable rewriting. I guess my subconsious was doing its thing all along. I just needed to become conscious of it.

Competition pressures don't allow time for those kinds of creative growth processes on deadlines.

Editing, though, double-checking the nuances of something complicated, like direct or indirect, tagged or free, speech or thought, serve me well. I just copyedited a transcript where the punctuation was for an indirect free thought spoken aloud, but it was a direct tagged thought spoken aloud. I suggested switching where the commas fall. Transcript styles in some ways resemble Cormac McCarthy's dialogue and thought depiction methods.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby PaulWoodlin » 16 Jul 2010, 10:18

What's throwing me off as I become more concerned about getting published is that I start thinking -rush, rush, rush - and guilt trip myself on days I don't write. And I find myself thinking, wow, I've got a cool idea, but who would publish it? Or, wow, what a cool idea, how can I dress it up as something publishable?
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby AnimaDictio » 16 Jul 2010, 17:47

This seems to have a simple explanation. Competition implies judgment. A judge will have expectations. There will be pressure to comply with those expectations. Creativity comes from freedom but expectations (rules, structure, criteria, etc.) imprison you.

My solution: write for fun. Write what's cool. Then find a competition that suits the work. Find an audience that shares your idea of "cool." Every writer was made for a certain readership.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby polymath » 16 Jul 2010, 18:16

In my experiences, expectations liberate more than imprison. Freedom comes with its own set of shackles. A hobo is the freest being in society, but never free in any meaningful sense from poverty, disease, hardship, and heartache.

Once audience expectations, as fickle as they can seem, are appreciated and fully realized, there's a liberation akin to the moment legal age of maturity is reached, freedom to decide for one's self the course of one's existence, what to drink, who to vote for, whose company to keep, when to go to bed, where to work, who to listen to, but others' expectations contend with and complicate free will. Human beings are, after all, social entities who at least must meet shared expectations in order to be welcomed in society, welcomed in publication.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby HaydnsGabe » 16 Jul 2010, 19:37

As both a teacher and student of creative writing, I think about this a LOT. I've been in fiction workshops where the atmosphere was absolutely stifling, because not only were we judged on the quality of our own writing, but the quality of what we SAID about writing by others. And everyone had to have some criticism that was unique and different, and then people would start one-upping each other to get in the best dig, and, before you knew it, the writer felt like absolute crap. I know I did, almost every time. It wasn't until I went away from all that and started my current WIP that I finally decided just not to give a $%*(). In fact, I actually wrote against the workshop. I decided if they wanted to trash my stuff, I'd write the trashiest, least literary thing possible. The irony? People seemed to like it. A lot. But then there were department competitions and the beasts were yet again unleashed.

In my own workshops, I really try to emphasize each person's uniqueness and encourage CONSTRUCTIVE criticism in a NON-COMPETITIVE atmosphere, but you know, sometimes the students still end up competing anyway, regardless of what I say. And I've noticed that the more ambitious a writer is, often the less focused the draft is at first, and the more likely the students are to SLAM it. On the other hand, when someone is very accomplished, the students tend to nitpick that person too. I try so hard not to let it happen, but it seems inevitable somehow. And I admit that I struggle with the green-eyed monster myself, and that's not good for creativity either. In general, comparison only gets us down.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby polymath » 16 Jul 2010, 20:23

Guidelines I wrote for writing workshops require all spoken comments respond only to virtues: Vices can only be remarked on in conscientiously typewritten responses composed in advance and distributed after discussion ended. Vitrolic commenters are expelled from the group. I tried it out in a small, private study group style workshop conference. It encountered heavy initial resistance. The group came around when they developed stronger critique skills, and the writing quality overall made geometric leaps. The group dissolved mostly from lack of forward momentum--everyone hit private creativity walls--in part because we went our separate ways, in part because the demands of disciplined structure didn't suit certain creative sensibilities, and in part because I don't like being a monitor for unpleasant personalities.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby Down the well » 16 Jul 2010, 20:50

HaydnsGabe wrote:It wasn't until I went away from all that and started my current WIP that I finally decided just not to give a $%*(). In fact, I actually wrote against the workshop. I decided if they wanted to trash my stuff, I'd write the trashiest, least literary thing possible. The irony? People seemed to like it. A lot.


Ha! Good for you. That's the same approach I took with my WIP this go around. I'm writing it to please me. If, in the end, someone else likes it, great. If not, well, it's happened before. Knowing I only have to make myself happy has been very freeing, and I think my characters have had more fun too.

As far as competition negatively affecting creativity, I think there is some truth to it. The bookstores are littered with second and third books by debut authors -- usually part of a big, multi-book contract -- that died on the vine for want of more nurturing.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby AnimaDictio » 17 Jul 2010, 04:03

New postby polymath » 16 Jul 2010, 21:16
In my experiences, expectations liberate more than imprison. Freedom comes with its own set of shackles. A hobo is the freest being in society, but never free in any meaningful sense from poverty, disease, hardship, and heartache.


I tend to agree with you in an abstract sense. The Somali government has less structure than ours, for example, but that "freedom" brings mostly pain. Also, I'm aware that concreteness spurs thought in ways that abstraction doesn't. For example, people tend to more easily name "ten white things in their refrigerator" than "ten white things" according to research I've read about.

But you may be over-generalizing here. I was talking specifically about competition criteria that takes us away from what inspires us. The children who worked for external reward were less creative. In my mind, the writing analogue to that is the writer who no longer writes what he think is "cool." It's the writer who walks away from his muse, from his inspiration, for the sake of publishing hopes. That forces the writer to change his definition of "success." Such writing is too left-brain, not enough right-brain. It's too much science, not enough art. Of course, this is just an opinion.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby polymath » 17 Jul 2010, 07:09

"Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty." Henry M. Robert of Robert's Rules of Order.

Children, adults, whomever for whatever reason who work solely for external rewards creatively pursue external gratification with little thought for else, including one another's sensibilities. External rewards tend to be coercively purposed in essence and contrary to their underpinning purposes. Little more than bribes.

Reconciling paradoxes, cognitive dissonances, or counterintuitive paradigms asks for more than self-serving superficial thought.

Paradox: the reward is the goal, the journey is the reward; the latter the real inherent value of a poet's progress. And, yes, a poet seeks to provide for public sensibilities and from succeeding provides for private sensibilities. If a poet seeks solely satisfaction of private sensibilities, it's a cutout. Where then is the benefit to society? And where does that leave a poet? Perenially outside. That way lies justifications and motivations for antisocial acts. Crimes against society, at least, if not against humanity.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby arbraun » 17 Jul 2010, 19:05

Competition always makes me work harder. When I friend other authors and peruse their phenomenal work, it makes me think hard about giving the editor exactly what he wants instead of being unoriginal or writing something too off-the-wall. Also, the rejections I've recieved in the past let me know that the competition isn't slacking, and I have to challenge myself and strive for perfection.
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Re: competition may negatively affect creativity

Postby HaydnsGabe » 18 Jul 2010, 23:14

post by polymath » 17 Jul 2010, 08:09 Paradox: the reward is the goal, the journey is the reward; the latter the real inherent value of a poet's progress. And, yes, a poet seeks to provide for public sensibilities and from succeeding provides for private sensibilities. If a poet seeks solely satisfaction of private sensibilities, it's a cutout. Where then is the benefit to society? And where does that leave a poet? Perenially outside. That way lies justifications and motivations for antisocial acts. Crimes against society, at least, if not against humanity.


Agreed. I struggle with this paradox a lot, especially since I am a very slow writer (or have been on this novel). There's so much time I'm putting in and I keep wondering what it will bring to the world if I'm NOT published. I try to look at it as a learning experience even if I fail, but I feel that constant push to get the work out into the world, not for money, but for what it can DO.
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