Words About Words – Creative (noun; informal)

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In this series, I’ll be discussing words that for whatever reason always bother me when I hear them. I’ve tried talking to Nate about these things, but he usually tells me that he hears his wife calling him, and then the Zoom meeting ends. So I’m taking my pedantic rants to the street. Welcome, Dear Reader, to Words About Words. Let’s talk about why I don’t like referring to people as “Creatives.”

I’m not sure when we started referring to a person working in the arts as “a creative.” I think I first heard the term being used somewhat in jest during an interview with a comedian who referred to himself sarcastically “as a creative.” The film industry is where I hear the term most often, but it’s started slowly creeping into the business world that I inhabit from 9am-5pm most days. The more I hear it, the more I don’t like it. I have an actual emotional reaction to the word being used in this way, and not just because it’s weird grammatically.

Functional shift (“the process by which a word or form comes to be used in another grammatical function”) is a thing that people often get exercised about, particularly when a verb becomes a noun (invite & impact). But sometimes adjectives become nouns (myriad & fun), and this is also something one could become upset about, if one wished to (many people do).


Fine. Maybe it’s not that weird grammatically, but Merriam’s right. One does wish to be upset about this.

Creativity is a fundamental human trait that we all possess in some form or another. It might not be an exaggeration to say that creativity is so core to our beings that it can actually be detrimental to our physical, emotional, and mental health if we are denied a creative outlet. Engaging in a creative hobby can augment medical treatment of depression and anxiety, which are on the rise. Our society would benefit from encouraging and enabling more people to find their creative outlets.

A workplace that separates individuals into “creatives” and “others” is telling those in the “other” category not to associate the word “creative” with what they do. As society increasingly adopts the term to refer to non-professional creatives, it’s telling those in the “other” category not only that they shouldn’t apply that word to their job, but also they shouldn’t apply it to themselves. The internal perception people have of themselves is powerful. The words we use to describe ourselves can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we should be very careful in choosing them. This is where things start to get personal for me.

I love to write, draw, and play the guitar. To this very moment I struggle with referring to myself as a writer, artist, or guitarist. When I was in high school and college I wanted nothing more than to make a comic. I could never bring myself to do it though, because I never thought I was good enough. I struggled to get better. I couldn’t take criticism. I had developed such an inferiority complex that when I finally did gather the courage to show my work to someone, even the kindest good faith criticism would deflate me utterly.

Eventually, I teamed up with Nate and we started writing. I really enjoyed the process. I learned to accept his criticism and input on stories, and I learned how to give helpful criticism in return. It took a little longer to build up the confidence. If it were not for Nate, Edenverse Volume 1 (available now on Amazon, as Nate would say) would never have seen the light of day. After publishing that, I now feel like I can suffer any public embarrassment that comes my way.

I’m very glad that I didn’t grow up hearing that some people were “Creatives,” and that by implication, others were not. I’m not the best writer, artist, or musician in the world. Believe that my teachers made sure I knew that. In spite of that, I stubbornly am a writer, artist, and musician. If I must, then I shall be a creative as well, but it seems like a waste of time. If everyone is a creative than no one is. The distinction is useless, because everyone is a creative.




I co-host the Words About Books podcast with my writing partner Nate.

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