What I’ve Learned…

Creative Writing and Psychology.

At first glance, it may seem like there isn’t an inch of overlap between these two lines of work, but I can assure you that there is. There are several ingredients for success in the world of creative writing, but my own experiences have taught me that these ingredients can be applied to other domains as well, and there are ten, in particular, that have helped me on my journey to becoming a productive psychologist:

 1. Know Your Audience.

            Just as it’s important to know your audience when starting a new writing project, it’s important to know your audience when communicating knowledge and ideas in academics. Whether I’m leading a discussion in a classroom, preparing a poster for a conference, or giving a talk to the department faculty, I’ve learned the importance of presenting the material so that it’s accessible for those on the receiving end, and this skill will serve me well both as a researcher and as a teacher.

2. Plot Carefully.

            Planning is everything, regardless of whether the focus is on the rising action of a novel or the methodology of an experiment. Attention to detail and meticulous organization at the design stage can prevent a lot of problems and save a great deal of time and effort later on. 

3. Take Charge.

            A novel won’t write itself, and theories aren’t born on their own accord. A big part of being a writer is taking responsibility for your own success, and a big part of becoming a productive researcher is being a leader among your peers and colleagues. An academic must be as willing to try something that’s never been done as a writer is willing to put those first words on a blank page.

 4. Avoid Clichés.

            A worn out phrase can ruin an otherwise beautiful sentence or paragraph, and worn out ideas have no place in psychology, a field that depends on innovation and creativity to advance our understanding of the mind and human behavior. While it’s certainly worthwhile to investigate questions that have been asked by others, sometimes it’s even more beneficial to ask a new question altogether. 

5. Be True to Your Characters.

            Authors have a responsibility to the characters they create, just as scholars have a responsibility to the populations they investigate and the minds they mold. What makes a professor stand out is the ability to conduct quality research while still making his/her students feel like the top priority. As an academic, it is important to balance these two spheres.

 6. Clarity is Key.

            Clarity of written expression is just as important for a psychologist as it is for a fiction author, because even the most groundbreaking study will be shunted aside if its core concepts are not communicated effectively. Quality writing cannot be underemphasized, so be sure to proofread and polish.       

 7. Seek Advice.

            Though it may appear a solo endeavor, the practice of writing benefits from constructive criticism, much like scientific research benefits from collaboration. Talk to others about your work–their input is invaluable.

 8. Revise, Revise, Revise.

            The work is never done, because no manuscript or article is perfect. Revision is essential.

 9. Reach People.

            In other words: publish, publish, publish. The goal of research is to contribute new information to the scholarly community, and the goal of creative writing is to establish an audience of readers. Even if it means starting small, publish and get your name out there.

 10. Tell the Story You Want to Hear.

            This is perhaps the simplest lesson of them all. I only write novels that I would want to read, and I’ve chosen to pursue a career doing memory research because therein lie the questions that I’m most interested in answering. It is important to love what you do.

 

These are just some of the ways that being a writer has helped me to become a better psychologist. But the usefulness of our experiences in creative endeavors are not limited to specific domains. Whether you are a novelist, painter, graphic designer, sculptor, or poet, you can apply the things you’ve learned as an artist to other areas of your life. And the reverse is also true: even if you have no creative experience, don’t let that stop you from trying something new. Reflect on the professional or personal knowledge you do have, and you may be surprised at how relevant it becomes when you pick up a pen or brush.

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