Saturday, April 23, 2011

Here is one reason there are so many crappy books in the world

When I decided to write this post about 10 minutes ago, I was trying to find a way to link the "Changing Education Paradigms" video (embedded below) to writing and books. After all, that's why you come here, isn't it? To read something related to one of the two categories?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was 9. That's almost 20 years of storytelling. I'm a fairly introspective person, but it doesn't take much inward thought to pinpoint a devastating change in the way I tell stories, in the way I've changed as an artist. Over the years, I've become less imaginative. Sure, I'm still very imaginative. All writers are, some more than others. But these days I anguish over some of the simplest storytelling challenges.

Test your own imagination by answering this question:

Why did the aliens abduct the girl? 
How many reasons can you come up with? How many of those ideas are any good? (After all, this is a question writers ask themselves, isn't it?) And how many of those ideas will produce a book someone will want to publish?

This is where the "Changing Education Paradigms" video comes into play, particularly about 8 minutes in where Sir Ken Robinson discusses divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to find several answers to a question, being able to interpret questions in several different ways. Robinson states that creativity is "the process of having original ideas that have value." He also says, "divergent thinking is an essential capacity for creative thinking."

We are all divergent thinkers to some capacity. I know I am because when I took calculus I had become a linear thinker, which is the opposite of a divergent thinker. There aren't several ways to interpret a math problem. There is one correct answer. I started doing really well in the class (5 pounds heavier...and an eye twitch later) after I realized not to think too hard. The ONLY thing I had to remember was to follow the formula. If I did that, the problem was EASY, manageable.

The "writing a good book" forumla:
characters+plot+setting+dialogue+100 other components+mix them together=  well written book

There is no formula because there isn't one right answer. If you are a divergent thinker, the possibilities are endless.
I believe a writer's ability to FIND those possibilities can be the difference between a well-written book and poorly written book.
We all know this, right? It makes sense.

So why are there so many crappy books in the world?
Let's go back to the example of aliens abducting the girl. You can probably come up with 10-15 answers within a minute or two.

Here are some of mine:

  • The aliens want to learn about the human race
  • They are human-eating aliens and are hungry
  • They want her for a pet
  • The girl is the long lost alien princess in disguise
  • The girl is the only human who can fix their broken spaceship that landed on Earth
These are all logical to some degree, but none of them are original or very good. If you had to post a comment with your list, how many ideas could you come up with? How many of those ideas would you actually publish in a comment? Why wouldn't you want to include all of those ideas in your published comment?

Because a lot of them are stupid.

That's what you're thinking, right?

Apparently kids can easily come up with a couple hundred ideas off the top of their head. They do not filter themselves the same way adults do. They don't limit themselves to only what's logical. They won't answer the question as if there is only ONE right answer or a GOOD answer. So what happened? We were kids once. We didn't ALWAYS filter ourselves. At one point in our life, we would have said, "The aliens abducted the girl because she is made of cheese and they like cheese." Coming from a kid, it's cute. Coming from an can fill in the blank.

The point is that you aren't going to find a Pulitzer Prize worthy idea within the first 100 or 200 answers to "Why did the aliens abduct the girl?" And many of us will skim right past the bad or wrong idea that may have led us to an award worthy, well-written novel.

But what if...

what if...

there are so many crappy books in the world because of the way we are taught to interpret questions? And where are we taught things?


Was my creativity stifled as I progressed in my "education?" Was your creativity stifled? What about the authors of those "crappy books?"

I'm not blaming anyone for my own creativity or lack-thereof. I'm merely asking a question. Do we want crappy books in this world? Should the way kids are educated change in order to promote divergent thinking?

You decide for yourself. Sir Ken Robinson sums it up far better than I can in this stimulating video:


P.S. Thanks to James for submitting the link to this video in your response to one of our posts!
image borrowed from here