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The Theft of Creativity


Anyone who has wanted to be a writer from a young age may occasionally ask himself or herself this question:

‘What is it that restrains a writer from behaving as one?’

As a child, I used to be madly creating all the time. For me, every inanimate object in my surroundings had a personality, or a fragment of one: door knobs would look at me a certain way, lampposts would glance down at me, even bars of soap would do their best to smile. When actively inventing stories - as was usually the case - I would find inspiration in anything: if there could be a superhero called ‘Green Lantern’, then why not one called ‘Green Cushion Man’ (based on a silky green cushion on our settee, which gave the bearer strange powers)? Why could not the pattern in the carpet represent the streets of a village, along which my toy milk float would deliver milk? And what did it matter if my invented television programme ‘Doctor Zennik and the Zybrotron’ had exactly the same concept behind it as the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’, even down to the same theme music? Copyright, relevance, and appropriateness were always trumped by creativity. I reckon I’d invented at least fifteen reasonably cohesive (in my own head) worlds by the time I was ten - there were probably many more than that, but who was counting?

So what happens to these boundless waters of creativity that we (because I’m sure I’m not the only one) sailed upon when we were young?

Firstly, in my case at least, they are encroached upon by the continents of solid land called ‘schooling’. Unlike the free oceans, the land of education takes so much time to cross and occupies so much of our attention growing up. Obviously, we have to learn basic language and arithmetic and so forth, and have our eyes opened to the wider world to some degree, but did I really have to spend valuable hours learning all about rainfall in Papua New Guinea?

At the age of 12, I set about writing my first full-length book. It was a scarcely-disguised ‘Doctor Who’ rip-off. I would set up a little wooden table in my back garden in a desert town in Australia, open up a small typewriter and type away for an hour or so every evening. After about three months, I had a proto-novel, all about a race of sinister super-robots seeking a golden city hidden in the Sahara, only to have their rather transparent plans foiled by the clever Doctor Zennik and his plucky companion Paul Hillman (named after our car at that time). I was so proud of this achievement that I took it to school and the teacher (allegedly) read it and showed it to his fellow teachers who also (allegedly) read it. But soon after that I had to go to High School and so was caught up in the hormonal hothouse of the following five years. It took every creative atom in me to stay sane. I think I failed on a number of occasions.

Then came university, then life. Somewhere, in the quieter moments, writing and drawing continued. But inanimate objects lost their glamour, and when I saw faces in the wood grain of walls it wasn’t pleasurable but a sign of the onset of neurosis.

We probably stay sane to the degree that we can freely create. Perceiving personalities in things was never a problem while I had time to make up stories around them; it became confining and negative when the time ran out, but the personalities were still there.

Arguably, children are natural creators. Many of us travel the solid continents of society as older people, looking for moments in which we can indulge in the primal impulses to create which we experienced as children. Some express themselves through music, others through art, and many through words. Some fail to create any more and become part of the scenery, going into orbit around circumstances they hate but cannot escape.

To answer the original question, ‘What is it that restrains a writer from behaving as one?’ then, I conclude that it is theft. Life steals from us, with its conventions and expectations and patterns, the ability and desire to create conventions and expectations and patterns of our own. It’s a theft done by stealth, over a long period of time, mostly without us noticing. Like a persuasive and persistent bailiff, Life enters our world and removes, bit by bit, our time and our space.

To behave as a writer once again, to sail the seven hundred seas of imagination again, one has to steal it back.

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