The Finite Well (Mistake #93)

“You can’t use up creativity,” said Maya Angelou. “The more you use, the more you have.”

I imagine Angelou was thinking about fiction when she made this remark, but it applies to non-fiction and magazine writing too.

Coming up with ideas is a creative process. You may think of a subject first, then develop an idea, and then develop an original angle from which to approach your idea, targeted to your market. You are creating – and hence this is creative.

And the more you practice creating, the better you get at it. At some point, it will become second nature. Whether the fruits of this creativity are any good – or are saleable – is another matter, but the production line should be unaffected. Once you learn how to cook, you’ll always be able to turn out a meal.

And if you can always turn out a meal when you know how to cook, you can always turn out an idea for an article when you’ve learned how to be creative in non-fiction.

Quite a few new writers appear nervous of the future. They may have struggled to come up with ideas for their first few articles, or their first sale may have been based upon a life-changing experience which, once has been told, they might feel cannot really be told again. They feel scared of ‘using up’ all their good stuff early on and having nothing left to write about.

This is the opposite of what it’s like. The more you write, the more you will have to write.

An article is a small thing – it is specific and right for the time it is published and for the market in which it is published. If you’ve written it well, and you’ve focused on your theme and not strayed into ‘off topic’ material, then you’ll have a lot of that material left over by the time you’ve finished. That could inspire another article, for another market, at another time. If you over-research – as I tend to do – you may have material for several articles, even dozens of articles. Re-angling an article for another market, and another market, and another … this can keep you going for months too. Mistake No. 12 from the vaults has some rough examples. That first-person piece you’ve told? You can tell it again, to a different audience, from a different angle.

The more you cook, the more adventurous you may want to get with ingredients and dishes. You get confident; you experiment. Same with writing.

If your well were to be finite, then every writer’s well would be finite too, and writing would finish.

Writing will never finish. And neither will your ideas and creativity.

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