Saturday, April 5, 2014


Anxiety is part of creativity, the need to get something out, the need to be rid of something or to get in touch with something within.

David Duchovny

I have never consciously tried to evolve a particular writing style—or copied anyone else’s, for that matter (I have always had the feeling that a writer’s style should just evolve—and, frankly, was never quite sure how to write like Hemingway or Jane Austin). Nonetheless, I have always made an effort to be as clear as possible—and have long been of the belief that clarity of mind is fundamental to clear writing. After all, it would seem to be self-evident that if you cannot think clearly—what you write will tend to reflect that fact.

Be suspicious of anything that is self-evident or conventional wisdom. Life has a tendency to be squirrelly.

In truth, I’m far from sure that I do naturally think clearly—but I certainly make a great effort to do so despite the endless distractions that litter and invade our multi-tasking oriented lives. In fact, the reality may well be that my mind is a jumble which only writing can convert into the semblance of lucid thought.

Hmm. That notion doesn’t do much for my ego—but I have the distinct feeling that it may reflect what is, indeed, the situation. But could it be that having a mind with the neatness of an unmade bed after a nightmare is actually helpful—and that an orderly mind should not be confused with a creative one?

Let me quote briefly from an interesting article in Inc. magazine by Ilan Mochari.

Yet it's possible--and even demonstrable--that you'll be more creative if your work space is disorganized and messy.

The Argument for Messiness

Last week, at the Yale School of Management's Art, Mind + Markets conference, Kathleen Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota with an extensive psychology background, gave a talk called "Effect of Visual Order on Creativity." Her main point--which she and her colleagues have demonstrated in experiment after experiment--is that you get a creativity boost when you work in a messy space.

Last year, she described her work in the New York Times. In one experiment, she assigned 48 individuals to messy or neat rooms, and asked them "to imagine that a Ping-Pong ball factory needed to think of new uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down as many ideas as they could." Independent judges rated the answers for creativity. Here's what happened:

When we analyzed the responses, we found that the subjects in both types of rooms came up with about the same number of ideas, which meant they put about the same effort into the task. Nonetheless, the messy room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as "highly creative," we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room--these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts.

(These results have been confirmed by independent researchers at Northwestern University, who found that subjects in a messy room drew more creative pictures and were quicker to solve a challenging brainteaser puzzle than subjects in a tidy room.)

Comparable results--wherein individuals in messy room were more creative than those in neat rooms--have occurred again and again in Vohs' research.

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