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Mood and Creativity

The Rich Writer: Mood and Creativity

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mood and Creativity

PenCupPurple Mood and creativity, creativity and mood: It seems that all too often, I stumble across the bias that creative people have to suffer for their art.

My take on it? Phooey.

Yes, there is a correlation between creativity and struggles with depression. There’s also a correlation between creativity and other serious psychological issues, such as Van Gogh’s cutting-off-the-ear syndrome.

But the more researchers tackle the topic, the more they discover that depression is a major blocker for most creativity. One study found that recovery from depression, not depression, inspires creativity. Personally, this is no big surprise. It’s hard to be creative when you’re using all your energy to get from day to day. Cynthia Leitich Smith posts a link to a wonderful article about Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy of the Horror Writer’s Association. In it, Etchemendy talks about some of the common symptoms of depression and how to fight it.

But what about less extreme mood swings? Do these impact creativity and flow?

The answer seems to be yes. In another study at Penn State University, researchers  looked at how playing a video game impacted test subjects’ creativity—and found that when the video game put the subject in a positive mood, he or she tested as more creative. However, they also found that creativity was enhanced in subjects who had a negative mood.  The least creative were those who felt relaxed or angry.

How does this work? Well, researchers think that positive and negative moods affect creativity in different ways. Professor S. Shyam Sundar, who worked on the study with grad student Elizabeth Hutton, believes that “When you are highly aroused, the energy itself acts as a catalyst, and the happy mood acts as an encouragement. It is like being in a zone where you cannot be thrown off your game” A negative mood, on the other hand, he believes makes a person more analytical—which is another key aspect of creativity.

Perhaps that explains Mark Peters’ essay A Happy Writer Is a Lousy Writer?, in which he discusses the work of University of New South Wales Psychology Professor Joe Forgas. From Forgas’s work, it appears that a bad mood might make us more careful and alert in our work.

When I put this all together, my conclusion is that it’s okay for writers to be happy…although it might be good to tone it down a notch for line editing. Creativity CAN coincide with a cheery afternoon.

So there: I give you permission to be a joyful writer. Aren’t you glad?

:) Cheryl

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