Don’t Let Conformity Kill Your Creativity

On New Years Day, I posted a short and simple message:

If hindsight were 2020 I’d have never started blogging.

It’s true, and for good reason.

Like much of popular culture, blogging pushes conformity. The bloggers on top, the ones who have figured out the secret, (or more likely just got lucky), have created the rules of conformity for blogging.

The same thing happens in pretty much every creative genre. Top 40 music is completely formulaic and ruled by conformity. In fact, almost every genre of music conforms to specific rules and boundaries, even experimental music.

Plots for books and movies conform to simple repetitive structures repeatedly. There’s usually a hero who has a problem. The hero faces much adversity trying to solve said problem. Just when it looks like the hero is going to win, there’s a major setback. But in the end, the hero prevails.

Of course not every single movie ever made follows this structure, but in storytelling there are seven basic plots. And in order to succeed in fiction or film, you likely have to conform to one of them.

Conformity Kills Creativity

We need rules and structure, it’s true. But in my creative journey, conformity often leads to stagnation, which then leads to a lack of motivation and creativity.

I’ve written songs in several musical genres: pop, rock, country, folk, and blues. I’ve learned the rules of each genre and conformed to them. And after I write a few dozen songs in any said genre, I get as bored as fuck. (Sorry, remember, no resolutions.)

This boredom leads to dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction leads to less motivation to be creative. Before you know it, I’ve all but stopped writing songs altogether. Thus Anderhill, my current experimental music project.

The same logic applies to blogging. You start out full of ideas. But you’re told to work within a specific niche. You write the same 20 articles over and over in different ways. You get bored. You quit. Not to mention all of the other crap you’re told you must do as a blogger: newsletters, social media, SEO, free eBooks, guest posts, podcasts, courses, videos, interviews, rope the moon and pull it down to Earth. No problem.

Try Experimentation and Variety

With all the emphasis on niche and rules, we’re not only killing creativity, but we’re turning ourselves into nothing more than human widgets.

When we conform to our genre’s specific limitations, we box ourselves in. We’re no longer truly being innovative, but we’re simply trying to compete with the millions who have already conformed to the rules. Frankly, I find that sad, and somewhat pathetic. In the process, our creativity goes a little farther south. Derailed.

And this is why I said what I said at the start of 2020:

If hindsight were 2020 I’d have never started blogging.

It’s not writing and creativity that I dislike. It’s blogging. It’s the conformity that comes with blogging. I spent eight years playing the stupid game so that I could have a greater voice on an already overcrowded Internet. But I was losing my creative spark the whole time. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve truly started to let go of all of the crap that comes with the territory.

So I wish I’d never started blogging. The pressure to produce and conform has practically killed writing for me. And now letting go of all of those rules, although freeing, is also harder than you might imagine. I have to be the odd man out, the rebel, a maverick. I have to be willing to kiss off the idea of ever reaching more than a small audience. But that’s okay.

It All Pans Out in the End

So my advice to you is simple. If you’re a creative person, don’t give into the cultural norms of your product. Don’t get stuck doing something that might bore yourself to death. Be willing to take chances and creative risks. Try some of the following:

  • Question your reasons for conforming.
  • Cross lines between a variety of genres or media.
  • Don’t believe all the rules you read.
  • Be willing to sacrifice perceived success.
  • Don’t just think outside of the box, get rid of the box.

In the end, luck is the biggest deciding factor as to whether your book becomes a bestseller, or if your art becomes popular. Chances are stacked against you. So why conform to other’s restrictive rules? Be an original.