Listing the Monsters of Ink

Nothing kills creativity like the word list. So it’s counterintuitive to write a post about creativity in an itemized list.  

Why? Does it remind us of grocery lists, to-do lists, checklists and task lists? All that is work, all that is banal, all that is everyday, all that is the enemy of the ethereal muse? Or is it the spectre of the idea of a structure that sits like a phantom on Inspiration in a haunting list that makes us fear it?

Yet, today’s post on creativity is a list.

It is a list because it makes me see more clearly the false dichotomies we set up for ourselves between the romantic, escapist ideas of writing and everyday work that prevents many of us from being productive. In the words of Agatha Christie, “The best time to plan a book is while you are doing the dishes.” If that is so, why should writing be any less routine than dishwashing?

So here’s a list of a few of my favourite boogie monsters that stem from a romanticized idea of creativity. Feel free to add your own.

  1. The idea of perfection: That’s the spectre that haunts us while we remain unable to produce good enough drafts. But where does perfection exist in the realm of writing?
  2. The pleasantly fallow mind:  That’s what lies in wait passively for inspiration as the months go by and risks turning into a wasteland simply by doing nothing.
  3. The whimsical muse: That’s what becomes an excuse. Inspiration is romanticized way too much by writers and readers alike while epiphanies come to only those who practice waiting for it.
  4. The idealization of some existing trend: That’s what traps us. Lack of courage makes many of us keep trying to produce something new by going over and over the beaten tracks. I’ve found Carlos Fuentes’ words useful in this repect, at least as a reader: “Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a writer, not a genre.”
Monsters, Inc. main characters
Monsters, Inc. main characters (Photo credit: xiangxi)

25 thoughts on “Listing the Monsters of Ink”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. I’m very much enjoying yours. 🙂

    I’m not sure how feel about lists. Mine (the ones intended to actually matter – usually the shopping doesn’t fall into this category, but you never know) are either very life affirming and kick my ass into gear, or they’re embarrassing attempts at procrastination. Your list has some good, interesting points to mull over. Regarding perfection – I don’t think it’s something that’s actually possible, least of all in writing. We all respond differently to texts and we all have different conceptions of perfection, neither of which are constant – which I think rules out a global perfection or even an individual one. Not sure that this is as reassuring as I’d like it to be, but still.

    And creativity – something that just comes to you, or something that needs to be worked at like anything else? As I get older, I lean more and more towards the latter. Your list is a great reminder to just go forth.


  2. I actually like lists. They focus my attention, give me a sense of accomplishment when I’ve crossed everything off, and free me from the ‘what have I forgotten?’ feeling that sometimes stops me from be free to create and write without worry.


  3. I think you hit the “monsters” right on the head (with Hilary’s astute assist). And you used just about my favorite writing quote ever (the one by Agatha Christie–I’d add folding laundry to the dishwashing).

    But I love lists. If I’m stumped, I list things that happened today or are irritating me. Wacky tangents from the mundane can lead to fascinating places. If I have lots of ideas, I list them all. Then I go back later. Or if I’m confused, I list things. I can then prioritize the items on them, cross items out, add things. Lists can be very creative. 🙂


  4. My whimsical muse is a perfectionist bitch! Taking on NaPoWriMo or NaNoWriMo are the best ways I’ve found to defeat both of these monsters. It is absolutely the daily discipline of writing that makes the difference for the muse. For me, it’s also the “pressure” of a self-imposed posting deadline that drives me to write and not worry if it’s any good or not. I’m beginning to like the idea that I post poems that I’m not thrilled with. I’m learning to see beyond the crap writing that does happen and move on to the next thing – whatever that may be!

    Thanks for naming my monsters – now to shove them back under the bed and write some more…


  5. Hilary Green’s comment to this post really epitomizes my writing. My whole life, I have struggled to get everything else done before taking the time to write. Egads, I had no idea there was Puritan in me! I’m sunk.


  6. Certainly most (dare I say ALL) writers struggle with these things. We always say, I can’t release that yet, it could be better. Fear of, not good enough, not great enough hampers us all in one way or another. Good post and thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you enjoyed the story.


  7. Number 1, Number 1, Number 1! The eternal trap, comes with so many names and slightly different labels, but essentially all the same treacherous killer of words. 😦


  8. I love how Anne Lamott debunks those in BIrd by Bird…I still struggle with the fear of writing shit. I fight the perfection fear all the time. I think it’s because I idolize seriously fantastic writers and know, even before I begin, that I’ll never measure up.


  9. Some really interesting thoughts here.
    The idea of perfection: Goodness is not perfect, as Iris Murdoch wrote (about morality and God) but let’s apply it to writing too. Good is good enough, it doesn’t have to be outstanding.
    The pleasantly fallow mind: Be receptive by all means, but also make yourself receptive. Be active in getting the subconscious to solve little problems for you, these are the kernels from which stories spring. I’ve written about how using constraints can stimulate one’s creativity – there’s all sorts of ways to sow the seeds – see the Art of Writing on my blog.
    The whimsical muse: definitely. Treat writing like a job. Write every day, and then the muse will turn up!
    The idealization of some existing trend: don’t worry about it; trends are so last summer. Produce what you can, have faith in your own abilities, because that’s how writers write books.
    Good luck with your writing!


  10. The wrap up a great post or article with some kind of lesson so that the reader doesn’t get to decide for himself. (this writer is guilty of doing that sometimes…and then regretting it… :))


  11. Also, creativity can be hard work–at least, for me–and I’m kind of fond of that pleasantly fallow mind. 🙂


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