“I have to write a piece for Monday, but I’m having the hardest time coming up with something,” I say.
“Who says you have to write anything?” he asks.
“I do. I have a deadline,” I reply.
I explain to him that I have lots of ideas, just none of them seem like they’ll work. “The trouble,” I say, “is I keep feeling misanthrophic. I keep thinking negative thoughts. And there’s nothing that makes it harder to write than that.”
I tell him that when my brain gets into that particular rut, when I get negative, otherwise good ideas die in place. I’ll find myself getting annoyed by my narrative voice. And being unable to see the upside of past situations. Let alone a productive lesson.
“What I want to write right now is either something romantic and uplifting — or something that teaches a lesson,” I tell him. “But right now, I’m just incapable.”
“Well, why don’t you write about that?” he suggests.
“About what?” I ask.
“Your struggle to see through the negative. The misanthropy you’re struggling with,” he says.
“Oh!” I say. “That could be a good thing. What a good idea.”
I go to write the piece and I freeze.
“Crap,” I say. “But how? Where’s my hook? How do I get into it? What kind of approach should I use?”
He thinks for a moment before answering, “How about you write down our conversation?”
“Yes!” I say. “That’ll work.”
“And maybe you can bring up negativity bias, link back to your old piece, frame it that way,” he says.
I nod. “Good idea. Because that’s what it really is.”
Negativity Bias Isn’t Helpful for Being Creative
As I mentioned in a previous post, human beings are predisposed to focus on the negative. This is known as negativity bias — and while it basically exists to defend us from predators (it’s better evolution-wise to risk running away when you don’t need to than to make the opposite mistake and get eaten), in the modern world it tends to lead us astray more often than not.
And particularly when it comes to creativity, I find negativity bias to be a complete nuisance.
You might indeed be different, but I find that I work more easily — and do my best work — when I’m feeling neutral or positive. When I’m not consumed by self-doubt or plagued by a feeling of negativity towards other people. Or, at my worst on the toughest days, misanthropy.
Negativity tends to shrink my analytical field down to a tiny speck of what it should be. And it also causes the act of creation to be more fraught, full of self-criticism and doubt.
It’s quite interesting actually. Other people can’t tell what sort of mood I was in when I wrote a certain piece. Whether it was authored on a day where the words came easily — or on a day where it was excruciating and slow-going.
I’ll know of course. Although I’ll be pretty much the only one.
But negativity bias has a way of convincing you that everyone else will feel the pain and self-doubt in the finished product as well.
And a way of convincing you that no one cares what you have to say anyway and that you might as well not put yourself out there in the first place.
None of this is conducive to being creative.