I invited David Guest to write about the media and creativity. As a lifetime journalist and editor, David knows the field well having ‘worked for every publishing company in London once’. His piece is satirical, literary and full of critical insights. In 2002 David: ‘bought into a small, local publishing company, and found to my surprise that it was an ideal introduction to the online world and social media’. He is currently editing his first novel.
Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work – Flaubert
‘Creativity’ is one of the growing group of words to have been devalued by contact with the marketing industry. The dire consequences of this brush with contemporary capitalism are apparent from the casual grammatical misuse that ensues. Any muppet capable of switching on an Apple Macintosh is apt to describe him or herself as ‘a creative’. A creative what? Well, at a minimum, a creative muppet.
On a slightly more elevated level in this happily self-satisfied hierarchy you will find individuals who characterise themselves as ‘ideas people’. This implies creativity of a high order. It often indicates a correspondingly high reluctance to actually do anything. A committed ideas man will always find others to do the work. Nonetheless, he will consider his bank statement every month and reflect: “Because I’m worth it.” He has found his happy.
I work alongside creatives and have often picked up scraps from the tables of ideas people. A journalist, I am regarded as something of a drone in this company – hence, no doubt, my tone, which may mistakenly be regarded as embittered. It is, however, nothing of the kind. Regular contact with creatives (the singular form of which Microsoft Word, bless it, insists on treating as an adjective) reinforces my sense of the value of work and prevents me getting ideas above my station. On the contrary, it prompts me to look twice at anything I produce that at first glance could be construed as an idea at all.
Genuine creativity in journalism is rare. All writing consists in putting one word after another and any activity that involves repetition tends towards drudgery. Where the reader can sense drudgery, the writer has failed. The challenge is to find the right word, every time and in every context, to do justice to the original idea.
I haven’t the time to stop after every word and search my memory (or Roget or Google) for the mot juste or the ideal allusion. I have to hope that the brain, on auto-pilot, will supply something good enough for the moment. If, in a later revision, extended reflection yields something else, so much the better.
The only way for most of us drones to make this haphazard process work is to read fine writing. If ideas are to be communicated through the medium of words, good writing can only enhance our appreciation of the possibilities. And since fine writing is stimulating, it’s reasonable to hope that creativity will be improved at the same time.
Does the remorseless, repetitive nature of journalism tend to stifle creativity? It’s easy to see how a journalist might be at a disadvantage as a creative writer. Features are often commissioned purely to attract advertising, in which case the writers may have no more than a passing interest in their subjects. It can hardly lubricate any synapses to have to address on a regular basis such topics as fitted kitchens, uninterruptible power supplies for computers or advances in glazing technology.
On the other hand… the list of people who have combined the roles of journalist and writer includes some very distinguished names: Dickens, Orwell and, more recently, Martin Amis and Will Self. My own favourites are both American – Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe. Berkhamsted’s favourite son Graham Greene often gets a mention in this context, having begun his career on The Times; but Greene was a sub-editor, and the words are already in some sort of order by the time they reach the subs’ desk.
Some wonderful writers also worked in advertising and would fully merit the job title ‘creatives’: Salman Rushdie (‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero), Dorothy L Sayers (who worked on the Guinness account and is sometimes credited with the ‘is good for you’ line), Fay Weldon and her eggs, Emile Zola and many others.
Perhaps the individuality of great creative artists makes any generalisation void. Perhaps a routine, easily characterised as crushing to the imagination, is not without its benefits. As Flaubert said: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
In next week’s blog KATIE WILLIS writes about how her early life as a ballerina was redirected by ME into being an author.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir and a collection of lyrical essays. In brief: ‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. Both are innocents who have to learn more about long-term love and commitment, earning their independence through a series of revealing and closely-observed relationships. Purple is the first part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. Boosted by their ‘wider network’ they take secondary partners, throw parties and observe the dance of relationships amongst their friends. But finding a balance between power and restraint, and handling shared love, proves difficult… Blue is the second part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Blue here.