Being Prepared to Be Wrong

Ornithopter and creator George R. White

Ornithopter and creator George R. White at St. Augustine. Photographed September 21, 1927.

Whilst thinking about how to approach writing this piece on creativity, I happened to mention the subject on Twitter. When I introduce particular themes to my followers, it’s quite often a deliberate attempt to get ideas bouncing back and forth, in order that I might discover a new angle. On this occasion, however, it was just a passing mention. I mean, I’ve been writing for over twenty years—what could anyone out there really tell me about creativity?

Well, quite a lot, it would appear. One of my followers immediately mentioned Sir Ken Robinson—leader in education, creativity and innovation—and I dutifully trotted along to YouTube to check out his talks. (Incidentally, I highly recommend you take a look; apart from his lectures being very informative, he’s also a very amusing chap.)

Robinson’s focus in the first video I watched was on the way in which we “[educate] people out of their creative capacities”. This struck an immediate chord but, more than this, it was his focus on being prepared to be wrong that particularly hit home. Admittedly, this was in part because it flattered my own creative philosophy, supporting thoughts I’ve had for some time but never really examined (for fear that looking too closely might steal away the magic!), but, also, it struck me as eminently sensible and something that isn’t addressed often enough.

So today I want to discuss being prepared to be “wrong” (please note the quotation marks!)

One of the first things anyone working in any creative field discovers is just how diverse opinion is (and, following on quickly from this, just how willing the majority of people are—whether qualified or not—to share that opinion). Generally, this is a positive. Ideas, opinions, suggestions, these are the things that can, with the right attitude, spark creativity. They can also, however, utterly and completely stifle it.

Peer pressure. We all remember that, I’m sure. A phrase much used when speaking of children. That essentially human need to fit in and be accepted, to not stick your head above the parapet (because we all know what happens when we do that, right?) A folly we recognise very early on, if we are lucky, but, actually—if we are truthful with ourselves—one that the majority of us never completely shake.

Fear of being wrong . . . is the number one inhibitor amongst the many aspiring writers I know.

Fear of being wrong—of doing something somehow “unacceptable”, of producing a too far-out piece of work, of sharing an opinion that might be misconstrued—is the number one inhibitor amongst the many aspiring writers I know. They understand the value of original ideas, but they, as Ken Robinson would quite rightly insist, have been to varying degrees educated out of the risk-taking process that leads to those original ideas. With some, even the very idea of letting other people know that they are writing at all is something they aren’t comfortable with. Why? Well, because, I suppose, they are afraid that they’ll be laughed at—that their spouses, family and friends might somehow think that they are getting above themselves or just living in cloud cuckoo land. (I still very clearly remember some of the looks I used to get when I first “came out” as a writer—so these fears most certainly are not groundless!)

So what to do?

It’s important to look at the terms we are dealing in, first of all. “Wrong”. Just what does that mean? Well, among the Oxford Dictionaries definitions we have “not correct or true” and “unjust, dishonest or immoral”—which pretty much covers it, I suppose. Except that it doesn’t, does it? The terms used to define the original term are actually rather vague and open to interpretation themselves. In order to know what is not correct or true, we have to first decide what is correct and true, and in my experience there are few absolutes in the world of creativity.

This realisation was the real starting point for me. Creativity requires a certain amount of self-confidence—or, rather, confidence in one’s own creative ability, in one’s own capacity to develop those creative skills. This simply isn’t possible if you are constantly asking yourself “what will so-and-so think of this?”, “will my editor like it?” or even “what will the neighbours think?” The first part of the creative process is an awareness that “wrong” is, like much in life, highly subjective—and that hearing that particular word from certain people is the biggest thumbs up you could ever wish for. Understanding this goes at least some way towards creating the necessary fearlessness that anyone working within any creative industry requires . . . that anyone aspiring towards creativity requires.

Risk-taking . . . this is at the heart of any creative endeavour . . .

This isn’t to say that the opinions of others don’t matter. It’s an extremely fine line between taking on board criticism, filtering/disregarding it and using it effectively, and being a prima donna. Who to listen to, what advice to take—these are things that probably can’t be taught in the classroom or workshop environment. Experience, however, is a great educator in this particular arena. As soon as people whose work and track record you respect start picking up on the aspects of your work that you feel particularly original and worthwhile, you start to develop benchmarks to measure by. Before being published, I would often rely upon fellow writers and the few agents and editors who would actually take the time to comment on my submissions to help me gain this vital sense of what was working and what wasn’t. Today, I listen to my readers (though never too much—because that would be creatively fatal!)

Risk-taking . . . this is at the heart of any creative endeavour—however large or small (and, don’t forget, even those terms are relative!) The willingness to embrace that, to be prepared to be “wrong”, is so often the difference between “success” and “failure”. The worst kind of creative failure, however, is to not even try. Simply bowing to that residual sense of peer pressure and never raising your hand to offer your input, never putting pen to paper, never picking up the paintbrush or the palette knife, never telling your boss about your ideas for creatively solving a specific administrative problem because you are afraid of being “wrong” —that is creative failure of the worst kind . . . or, I would even go so far as to say, the only kind.



Gary Murning

Gary Murning

Gary Murning is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better.

His first novel, If I Never, is published by Legend Press and is now available from all major bookstores. Click here to buy If I Never.

His second novel, Children of the Resolution, was published early in 2011. For more information please visit Gary’s Amazon page.

Late in 2011, Gary also set up his own micropublishing company, GWM Publications, with the intention of publishing his own work not considered a good fit for his current publisher. The experience of having full creative control, whilst daunting, is something he relishes. The first GWM Publications release is The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts and is available now for pre-order.

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Children of the Resolution

Children of the Resolution

If I Never

If I Never

The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts

The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts



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