Cracking the Lone Genius Myth

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What if god had kept it to himself?

I came up with that phrase while I was in college. Ironically, I have never shared it until just now. As a creative, I am naturally petrified of sharing the things I create for fear of rejection and ridicule from the notoriously merciless online community. When it came to my work, I employed a limited-engagement strategy — sharing only completed, polished projects without revealing a sliver of the voodoo it takes to create them or the lessons I learned along the way.

Recent events have led me to recognize the flaws in this approach, not the least of which was reading Austin Kleon’s treatises on creativity in the digital age, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work.

Austin argues that most creatives have a tendency to be hoarders. They spend their lives squirreling away ideas and inspiration for fear of being robbed of their creativity. This unhealthy behavior is perpetuated by the misconception of the artist as a “lone genius,” obsessing over her creations in solitude.

“There are a lot of destructive myths about creativity, but one of the most dangerous is the ‘lone genius’ myth: An individual with superhuman talents appears out of nowhere at certain points in history, free of influences or precedent, with a direct connection to God or The Muse. When inspiration comes, it strikes like a lightning bolt, a lightbulb switches on in his head, and then he spends the rest of his time toiling away in his studio, shaping this idea into a finished masterpiece that he releases into the world to great fanfare. If you believe the lone genius myth, creativity is an antisocial act, performed by only a few great figures — mostly dead men with names like Mozart, Einstein, or Picasso. The rest of us are left to stand around and gawk in awe at their achievements.”

This was revelatory when I first read it because part of me had always suspected that this was how it worked. Austin asserts that great ideas are rarely produced in a vacuum but rather born from a network of creative individuals influencing and motivating each other. In this model, creativity becomes an organic, collaborative process — the result of a meeting of minds on a large scale.

“Being a valuable part of a [creative community] isn’t necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute — the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make and the conversations you start.”

He invites us to stop asking what others can do for us and start asking what we can do for others. Simply getting your work out into the world is a great first step toward doing this. It forces you to take a different perspective and invites criticism and dialogue, ultimately letting you grow far beyond what you could have if you had kept your ideas to yourself.

I’m starting this blog to take my first steps into the creative community. I intend to force myself out of my comfort zone, draw attention to the things that inspire me and offer a glimpse into the mind of aspiring digital storyteller in hopes that I’ll learn something in return.

Here’s a short list of what you can expect to find here in the coming months:

  • Influences: My sources of inspiration in creating, thinking and living
  • Thoughts: Theories about journalism, technology and art
  • Lessons: Tips and tricks on storytelling, creativity and code
  • Stories: Glimpses into my work, my life and my experiences

Life is all about the connections you make with the people who inspire you; but to receive, you first have to give.