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Between Academic and Creative Writing

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*Note: I'm not in any way condoning the myth of left-brain and right-brain. This is NOT what this post is about.

So, the good news is that I've finished the first draft of the academic paper I've been working on. It's sent. It's out of my hands for at least a few weeks until I get feedback from my co-authors. I was all set to hit the fiction writing again. I've been moaning and moaning about how I want to be back to writing fiction again. And last week, as if in anticipation for this moment, my creativity has gone blank.

Of course it did.

I've been struggling with this gap between academic and creative writing for a while now. In fact, I've been struggling with the gap between my academic and creative self. I talked before about the fear that I will have to change from a scientific, academic, rational person into a person who wears shawls and is guided by the Muse. Apparently, this fear strikes every time I switch from academic to creative writing. Sure, it's nice not to have to back every single thing you say with a citation, and you can make stuff up. But not being able (or not wanting) to distinguish between facts and opinions, isn't that what got us into the current political mess?

Funnily enough, I met this guy in my fantastic writers' group. I won't name names, because at least some of the group members are reading my blog (ahem. Thank you, by the way!), but he pissed me off. Of course, I didn't know at the time why, and I thought it was the way he regarded my expertise (a PhD in child development) on the same footing as his expertise (he wrote a story that had to do with child development and did some research). I thought I was pissed because he dismissed my hard-earned credentials (there was a touch of feminist rage there, I admit). But that wasn't it. I realise now that my resistance to him stemmed from my fear to become that person who doesn't put much stock in careful scientific consideration. That person who thinks that if you've read something—anything—about a topic you're an expert. That person who is ok with making stuff up for the sake of argument.

I'm reading Brené Brown's book, and she talks about her breakdown/spiritual awakening. She says "I'll tell the story of how a cynical, smart-ass academic became every bit of the stereotype that she spent her entire adult life ridiculing." And my heart stopped. I thought, No, Dr Brown, don't! We can't tell anyone! Serious academics don't talk about the Muse, or fear, or authenticity. They don't make stuff up. They don't make sweeping claims about society based on an opinion piece they've read on Medium. They make careful, testable claims based on years and years of research.

The point is, this guy in the writers' group did absolutely nothing wrong. He's a creative writer. He embraces being a creative writer. Creative writers make stuff up. That's why it's so much fun. That's why everyone wants to be a creative writer. But it's also hard. It's hard to be creative in a society that assumes all artists are mentally ill. It's hard to stay true to art when you need to market it to make a living. It's hard to get to a point where you feel the stuff you produce is even close to being good enough (I'm not quite there yet). And it's hard to overcome years of being a rational academic and start making stuff up.

But here I go.


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