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Creative creatures

Columnist Richard O’Leary says when you get creative, making mistakes is all part of the process – the important part is just doing it.


Creative creatures

Richard O’Leary says when you get creative, making mistakes is all part of the process – the important part is just doing it.

When I was a kid, I used to put so much effort into my school projects. I’d get my parents to buy a project book. The left-hand page was blank for drawings and pictures and the right-hand side was lined for writing.

And I’d turn over the cardboard cover and write my summary of what I’d just discovered in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

That’s when the problems would start.

Invariably, I’d mess up the heading by spelling a word wrong, smudging the gold lettering (weren’t gold pens the best?) or running out of room for all the words. Any of these would mean I had to tear out the page and start again.

The project book only had 24 pages, so by the time I’d finished ripping out my false starts, it would shrink to a two-pager approaching perfection.

My boys have no such troubles. If they make a mistake they just cross it out and keep going. My eight-year-old (happy birthday for Wednesday!) regularly writes rap songs and there are just as many scribbles as stanzas, but the final product is always spot on. He has no fear of making errors, he instinctively understands that’s just part of the process.

It’s taken me many more years to learn that lesson, but I now freehand when I sit to write a few more pages of the book I have committed to completing. It means if I make a mistake, I just put a line through it and keep going. The result is a page that looks unattractive, but where the writing flows freely, the opposite of what can happen when I use a keyboard.

So I enjoyed a recent article in the Guardian, where writers, artists and other creative types talked about what’s the key to their creativity, and Marina Abramović, the performance artist who inspired the novel The Museum of Modern Love (read it – absolutely brilliant) offered this: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

But in my humble opinion, the process of creativity was best summed up by author Ben Okri: “Creativity is our normal and fundamental way of being. It is everything else – our education, our social conditioning, our cultural mores, our upbringing – that imprisons our creativity.

If you don’t believe me, watch a child at play. To them, all things are possible because they have not learned that some things are impossible. We don’t need to learn to be creative. We need to unlearn not being creative.”

So stop reading this column and go create something, and remember it doesn’t matter a damn if you make a mistake.


Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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