Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

"The Psychology of Creative Writing", Scott Barry Kaufman and James C.Kaufman (eds), CUP, 2009

This book has 20 papers (in sections entitled "The Writer", "The Text", "The Process", "The Development", and "The Education") followed by a useful 19 page summary that indicates where further research might be fruitful. Below are some quotes and comments that caught my eye.

Personality traits

  • "the following personality attributes of writers ... may or may not be present in other creative people who practice their creativity in other fields or domains: (1) ambition/envy, (2) concern with philosophical matters, (3) frankness often expressed in political or social activism, (4) psychopathology, (5) depression, (6) empathy, and (7) a sense of humor" (p.7, Jane Piirto)

Writers block

Blocked writers fall into 4 types -

  • Dysphoric/Avoidant - high levels of dysphoric experiences are associated with writing
  • Guilty/Interpersonally Hindered - social pressures interfering with writing
  • Constrictive/Dismissive/Disengaged - doesn't get on with writing or people
  • Angry/Disappointed - inclined to use alcohol or drugs when writing


  • "blocked writers are significantly more likely than nonblocked writers to report low levels of positive and constructive mental imagery ... Depression and anxiety, in the form of symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are particularly prominent among blocked writers" (p.228, Singer and Barrios)
  • "blocked writers present an impression of holding on tightly to the uncomfortable status quo while simultaneously complaining about it" (p.229, Singer and Barrios)
  • "In general our results that helping individuals generate imagery and sustain it over a week's time proved extremely useful in helping persons overcome their blocks" (p.240, Singer and Barrios)

Writing's bad for you

There's much material supporting the claim that creative writers are more than averagely bi-polar and short-lived. "Poets seem to be amongst the least lucky of creative writers" (p.25, Pourjalai, Skrzynecky, Kaufman) with women poets having the shortest life-expectancy. This latter statistic may be because of copy-cat behaviour or the conflicts imposed by social pressures.

In the summary however, Kaufman and Kaufman point out that "Just because psychopathology is linked to creativity does not mean that it contributes to creativity ... It is also important to note that much of the research conducted in this area is quite inconsistent and spotty". Also,

  • "the fundamental character of great writers reveals significant failure along developmental lines, that is, a basis lack of maturity" (Schniedermann, "The literary mind: Portraits in pain and creativity", Insight, 1988, p.207)
  • "A creative writer whose story reflects his/her troubled life ruminates every time he/she revises his or her work. Such writers are, likely, undermining the health benefits of writing due to their constant involvement in the negative ideas that marks their tormented lives and makes up an interesting story" (p.27, Pourjalai, Skrzynecky, Kaufman)
  • "negative affect appears to facilitate problem finding, a necessary prerequisite to problem solving (Runco, 1994) and a central component of creativity itself (i.e., Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976). Indeed, suicidal thoughts, a clear marker of negative mood, were found to be strongly related to the ability to invent original and interesting problems to solve" (p.45, Kohanyi)

Writing's good for you

  • "We now know that writing can have an impact on a broad range of physiological, physical, and mental states across many types of people", (p.264, Sexton and Pennebaker)
  • "a large meta-analysis of more than 140 expressive writing studies found that expressive writing does have a small but significant effect (r=.075; Frattaroli, 2006). Larger effects are found for studies that used participants who had experienced a trauma" (p.267, Sexton and Pennebaker)
  • "It is known that writing generally does not bring about health improvements through a change in health behaviours, such as exercise and alcohol consumption. It is also known that people do not benefit from writing simply because of a release of emotion (a cathartic effect)" (p.268, Sexton and Pennebaker)


  • "Since the seminal publication of Amabile's (1983) Social Psychology of Creativity, creativity researchers have been aware of the negative impact that rewards and evaluations can have on creative performance. ... Extrinsic constraints, such as rewards and evaluations, tend to drive out intrinsic motivation ... It appears that content knowledge is essential to thinking, that teaching content-free thinking skills is impossible" (p.277, Baer and McKool)
  • "Amabile (1983, 1996) and others (Baer, 1997b, 1998b; Hennessey, 1989; Hennessey & Zbikowski, 1993) have shown [] decisively in a number of very interesting studies [] that when people things in order to earn rewards, they become less creative; and when they do things that they think will be evaluated in some way, they become less creative; and when they do things to please someone else, they become less creative" (p.278, Baer and McKool)
  • "Extrinsic motivation drives out intrinsic motivation ... But the skills and knowledge acquired by continuing to practice or study even when one has no intrinsic motivation may provide the knowledge and skills one will need in the future to do something in a more creative way than is possible now" (p.279, Baer and McKool)


  • "A major question is whether criticism of one's own work in the early stages can help or hurt the writer. Lubart reports a study showing that, out of various experimental groups, the group that evaluated quite early in their work, after only a few minutes of writing activity, typically produced more creative stories" (p.361, Kaufman and Kaufman)


This is "an altered state in which time seems to stop and writing flows through easily" (p.362, Kaufman and Kaufman). it's like being "in the zone". I hadn't realised that it had been so heavily studied. Rituals, silencing the inner critic, and accepting that one's writing a draft may all assist in entering a flow state.

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