Technical Transparency

In fairness to both CoSy and FirstClass, I should say that both have come out with more recent versions. VMS CoSy was always a port from the unix version which was the main one. Now the program exists in a graphical, client-server version that is considerably easier to learn and to use.

FirstClass now has a version 3.5 client which has resolved some of the problems mentioned below.


It has already been mentioned that CoSy had only a line editor. Using a line editor was an interesting exercise for students who were writing poetry. Line editors were originally developed for use by programmers. But writing computer code and writing poetry have several features in common. Both are very compressed modes of writing and require that a lot of attention be given to small pieces of it. Furthermore, in both cases, the line is a fundamental unit of composition. These may be good enough reasons for suggesting that a line editor be offered as an option in conferencing systems. But to have it as the only real interface was cumbersome and distracting.

Some of CoSy's most important functions required the user to type in command lines of several words.

FirstClass (Client v.3.0)

There are some things it doesn't have

a. Can't follow threads both ways or filter users

b. Can move files out of message base but can't use Search list to do the same. My administrative capabilities are restricted to less than what I would be willing to do.

c. Ability to quote a message in a reply

d. Having a FirstClass account doesn't mean you have an internet email address or that you can send email out. This gateway is available as an add-on.

e. Does it notify you of new messages? You have to be logged into the server; then you can see a red flag.

f. Won't change font size default.

g. The folder alignment command doesn't work

h. Experience with FirstClass suggests that a well designed DOS App might be preferable to an inadequate GUI. To begin with, make the simplest commands correspond to the most basic functions. Pay close attention to the menu structure.

i. Ease of administration is especially important as inexperienced people may be operating the system.

j FirstClass chat is buffered, i.e., it holds the message until it is complete (but it only gives you three lines). I am not sure what it does with other messages that are sent while one is being composed and would like to explore solutions to and applications of this.

k. But FC doesn't permit taking the results of a search and moving or copying them to a new conference.

Management Issues

Conferencing software will engage you in the management process. If your school is still cutting budgets and angling for productivity, then managers may be hoping to offload some of their responsibilities onto you. Managing even a small conferencing system can be a lot of work, and in some cases it is being undertaken by people whose computer skills were acquired mainly OJT and depend mainly on experience with specific systems. Change systems on them too often and you may increase the number of mistakes. The costs of being a pioneer have to be limited.

For your part, you may be willing---even be hoping to do most of the work for your own class. That may entail creating and deleting accounts, creating and deleting conferences, having space to save and get feedback from your colleagues on the reusable parts of your conference--and making up your own mind about what the system allows students to do and what it prohibits.

You may even have the idea that you want one or several of your students (like grad students) to be able to take on special responsibilities with your course. These considerations lead very rapidly to questions about security.

A lot of what is missing at this point from the conferencing and bbs software that I have looked at comes under the heading of management--not so much management of the system as a whole, but management of one's particular conference and group of students. See "What I want from a conferencing system."

If your course or your conferencing system is "on the internet" you may want to consider what you will do when 2000 people sign up to attend. The "elitism" of limiting registration has to be balanced against a very rapid decline in quality when too many people are jammed into the same "space."

How big is a chat room? How many people can it hold? If we reason that a chat room is a space in which everyone can hear what everyone else is saying, then some limits become clear right away. If we recognize that a conversation in which three actors were present was actually an innovation in Greek Theater, then it would appear that 15-25 people (5 or 6 conversations of 3 or 4 active participants) is about all that we can tolerate within hearing distance. That's a chat room. More than that gives an impression of being "packed." It becomes impossible to determine who is responding to which thread of the conversation. There is too much information.

Security and Registration

Most faculty members do not think about security more than wanting to be able to prevent cheating among their students and illegal access to their records. But the questions that come under the heading of security are more complex--and more compelling than that. Do you want to put your whole course on the WWW? Security problems increase as you get more users. Will students be allowed (or required) to use aliases. Will partipants be registered and verified by a system operator? or will they go through an automatic process of filling in a form with the necessary information? How security questions are answered plays an important, perhaps the dominant, role in determining the feel and ambience of a system.

Are messages censored? By whom? Are users treated fundamentally as responsible adults? or as problematical children? Is management shared? This is an especially sensitive question on a system which has collaboration as a goal. Is collaboration monitored? How much control, for instance over file settings, do ordinary users have?

I was once part of a system on which entire conferences disappeared from time to time. I eventually came to believe that this happened at the convenience of the system manager who felt threatened by some of the discussions that took place. Maybe I was just paranoid. But the issue was never discussed openly, and hundreds of messages would disappear overnight and without warning.

Backups and Deletions

Ask your local computer dealers how many machines they have sold recently with multi-gigabyte harddrives and no RAID, no tape drives, no provision whatever for backups. Many new computer users suppose that because Word Perfect or Word keeps a "backup" version of every data file that they needn't worry about backups.

You can bet they aren't using floppies to do backups.

This is not a good assumption where conferencing software is concerned. The messages on a system can quickly become the largest consumers of space, and keeping extra copies is impractical. During our first year with First Class, we had two instances in which an entire conference in one case and most of a conference in the other were deleted unintentionally--one because of a bug in the program, one because the Administrator had not been aware that messages would only be retained for 30 days.

The email client, Eudora, keeps a copy of all deleted messages in a Trash folder and allows the user to decide when that folder is emptied. This might lead an inexperienced user to expect the same from a conferencing client. But First Class throws out the trash at the end of every day and only the Administrator has access to the folder. So if you delete a message by mistake in Eudora, you can go to your trash folder, find the message and move it back to your In folder. In First Class, if you delete a message by mistake, you will have to go to the Administrator of the system before the end of the day and get her or him to retrieve the message for you. Prudence suggests that daily incremental backups should occur before the trash is emptied. Alas!

If messages or a whole conference are deleted by mistake, there may well be nothing you can do.

Conferencing systems generally allow the author of a message and the Manager to withdraw a message. But this is a feature that you should ask about before your organization spends lots of money on a licensing agreement--or lots of time on messages.

Automatic deletions--accounts, messages

So you will probably want to know how the conferencing system handles the trash and whether or not the timing of backups is such that one day's trash is backed up and carried over to the next day. You will also need to know whether or not there is a time limit on accounts, passwords, messages, conferences, or anything else. More important, you may want to devise some way for you and your students to save what is important to you somewhere other than on a system that is out of your control.

Number of simultaneous users and relation to other networks. This is the one that killed me. Multi-user software is sold specifying how many users are allowed simultaneously. You buy a 5-user license or a 100-user license or a 1000-user license. Each software company has its own numbers. They have to be designed into the software. You pay a lot more for a 100-user license than you do for a 5-user license. Make sure you are on a system that will carry the number of students you have in your class. I remember one year we had 15 machines in the lab; I had 30 students in class. But one or two machines were always down for repair, so I had to run the class three times to get every student through a class one time. You don't need advanced math for this, but you do need to ask the right questions.

Is email internal only? Many people are confused on this one. Some email is internal. You can send a message down the hall to someone else who is, in fact, connected to the same server as you are. But sending email to someone across town, in another school or company, may entail a different kind of connection, different software--something called a gateway. Ask lots of questions.

Dial in access. Being able to login to your conferencing system locally requires a LAN connection; dialing in requires both of you to have a modem. Different route, different hardware, different software.

Forms and questionnaires. Making up forms is very simple on some systems, on others it requires some programming and access to system directories and an effort on the part of system employees that will cost extra money--even if the form itself is simple--and that assumes that they are willing and able to make the effort at all.

Personal settings. If someone wants to save their email to a floppy instead of on the system-managed harddrive, how difficult is this going to be? If a 40% blind student wants to have a desktop with 20 point type, is this going to entail a repeated expenditure of energy? Some students may prefer to have their internal email forwarded to an offsite account (thus freeing up storage space for the school or employer. Is this going to be easy? or a pain in the ass?)

The system's audience (clientele). If your clientele is entirely internal, there may be no reason for internet access. Do you really need for 75 million people to have access to your files?

Support for primitive equipment

If one of your goals is to make your conference available to as many people as possible, then you really have your work cut out for you. In the real world, there are people who are still actually using 286s, Ataris and Amigas. I know one professional writer who still uses a CPM Kaypro.

This is the sort of information that system managers don't like to see getting out to uninformed users. Playing to that audience makes their jobs a lot more difficult. Some would rather spread a little harmless misinformation and adopt the persona of a techno-snob. "Anyone still using a 2400 baud modem or a machine without a GUI is a dinosaur living in a cultural backwater." I met a chemist the other day who actually believed that unix had disappeared because of Windows 95. Lynx-friendly web pages are probably not going to go away. It's going to be a real challenge to those who like the rhetoric of diversity but are unwilling to support users whose Netscape isn't capable of frames. The questions of elitism and access are real and rooted in people's attitudes.

It may be easier for you just to concede that you are *not* trying to reach the widest possible audience, that, in fact, the only people you are trying to reach are students who have access to equipment provided by your school--an anyone else who has that level of equipment.

I suspect that a critical management mass also exists. It may be that the relation between them has a regularity about it too, so that a relatively large management group can compensate for low traffic by generating most or all of the traffic themselves. Here is the question of finding your audience.

But what I set out to say about management is that unlike something like, say, word processing software, computer conferencing software is practically impossible to be run by a single individual. Once the software is set up to the satisfaction of a hardware technician, then some fundamental questions have to be answered. Is the system to be broadcast and promoted on an Internet-wide basis, or will it be a closed system for subscribers only. How will it look to someone who doesn't have a password. Will there be guest accounts or open areas for people to wander about in? What is it going to look like to someone with prodigious computer skills? What is it going to look like to a newbie?

So what I mean when I say that there is a critical management mass is that maybe a conferencing system should be set up by a group that is willing to role-play the different types of people who are going to have to use it. If you study the subject, you will find that the issue I am tiptoeing around here is security. Teachers do not commonly head straight for the security questions. But how you answer these questions largely determines the style and ambience of the system you set up.

The other side of this discussion focuses on maxima. At some point we have to tear ourselves from the screen, wipe the digits from our eyes, and say, "Thanks. That'll do it for me." A management group should probably not be larger than a dozen. That is already a step beyond the pale. Five is more like it for a max. Three is really good if you have people who are pretty consistently involved.

I tried to run CoSy with five. Diversity was an important principle that we were not quite able to meet. It was important that the management group *not* be all faculty, because faculty tend to be attached to the same basic rhythms of the academic year and leave the same gaps in availability. We need support most when we are least available (i.e., already overcommitted) ourselves.

Wayman's experience with a situation in which there were three teachers has already been mentioned. They were buried in traffic. There is a maximum message density beyond which human attention is simply overwhelmed. This is a very rich medium; a little bit goes a long way.

There is probably a limit to the number of people you can have in a conference and still have meaningful communication. More important, there is probably an optimum for each teacher, each class, each specific purpose.

Seth Godin, of Yoyodyne Entertainment, claims to answer 150 email messages per day "though people say I'm too brief!"On the other hand, the capacity of a conferencing system to generate greater traffic density than a person can keep track of means that much of the activity will be beyond the scope of single individuals and has a potential to create the kind of overloading associated with burnout.

These systems generate a lot of writing and that can be very positive and very creative. One student used the FirstClass system as a word processor and storage place for assignments for other classes as well as for the presentation of his portfolio. So one approach to high message densities is to "let the good times roll" and don't try to monitor and control everything that everyone is saying.

Still, people are paying to take a class, and it is the course designer's business to optimize opportunities for participants to have meaningful feedback, especially from the teacher. The word "optimize" here may be justified in relation to group size. There is a too much and a too little. Somewhere in between is a number which is just right.

Oddly, this views the purpose of the creative writing class as something other than producing a lot of good creative writing. One learns about workshopping, about reading as a writer, and struggling with words in order to take up the reins of one's imagination so that one may fly somewhere with it. I think it is a valid enterprise.

Getting information about what, if any, computing equipment and Internet access the student already has can assist the teacher in planning.

Appendix E: What I Want from Conferencing Software

As a sometime Selmer tenor sax player, I have the experience of playing certain difficult maneuvers and feeling in an instant that the designer of the horn had played before and understood the difficulty. It was as if the horn through the subtlety of its design reached out and met me halfway. I have felt something similar using a Leica M4 and again with my hybrid bicycle. As a teacher, I have never felt that about any of the software that I have had to use to do my job over some 10 plus years as a writing teacher and computer user. As a writer, MaxThink comes as close as anything I have ever used to reading my mind. So here is a subjective listing of what I would like to see in a conferencing system that would make my work as a teacher go more smoothly when I am online. This is only part of the picture; everyone has a piece of the puzzle that has this unbalanced, particular, and idiosyncratic aspect to it. Accommodating it has been called "individualism" but it is only part of the picture. Like the three blind men crawling around on the elephant.

This rather pretentiously titled appendix is part of a larger discussion of criteria, a territory which has been tentatively mapped by my one of my Selkirk College colleagues, Lyle Olsen. I include a link to it here. Lyle, this is not finished. There is a still larger discussion that Buskas knows about and I will be including it as soon as I get the info.

The Editor

In a writing class, this is where teacher and student will spend most of their time. So it's important to have a good one. What is a "good" text editor in this context? First of all, it is a full-screen editor. Probably the full-screen editor is one of your own choosing is best because a good system would simply have  a  hook that  allowed you to hook your own editor onto the system. Many people feel uncomfortable learning a new editor for every application. And why should they have to? Maybe the system would "provide" a line editor. I think that line editors, like unbuffered chat, are an important choice to be able to make in special cases. The educational environment is full of special cases. But most of the time most people will want full-screen.

Finally, the system itself, should represent multiple languages. This means that a person who comes onto it with their own personal French-language editor, for instance, should be able to post without restriction or obscurity. English-speaking people treat this as if it were largely a minor or a non-issue.  It is neither. The Balzac-l list was dominated by discussion of this subject for several months. Monolingual  Anglophones appear not to 'get it.' This comes from speaking the language that has colonized and now protects the planet. Most netizens appear  willing to let it go and  to treat English as if it were the language of the Net. Are they giving away the farm? They don't really seem to have any choice. Is this where education for the Information Age begins? You will speak English. I don't want to get behind that kind of energy, however unintentional it might be. Computers can handle complexity. Let them begin with this one. Then we will be ready to talk  about graphics.


Email can be confusing because there  are several kinds. If you are on a LAN, then there is the email you get from other users of that same LAN. You may also get email from your Intranet--a wider area than the LAN, but still 'internal' users. Finally, there is a variety of emails that are of the Internet variety--out there, not internal or proprietary. SMTP and POP are the one's we need. If your system doesn't support them, then it can be very difficult for users to work offline. This can put a strain on dial-up and other online resources.


A choice of buffered or unbuffered chat. By unbuffered chat, I mean the type that goes up on the screen one letter at a time as the writer writes it. As I writing teacher, it helps me to assess the student's writing abilities better if I can watch them work in this way. Where are the mistakes and uncertainties. How much is just typos. Of course, in a social situation you want the buffering. At Athemoo, we call this "output suspenders." I hardly ever wear the big fancy ones, but for normal conversation I can set up things like line length and page width to do the job. Some clients provide buffering and error correction. Windows95 telnet provides a kind of "worst of both, but better than nothing" approach that is similar to the way governments like to work here in LotusLand. But that is part of another discussion.

I want multiple views of a conference. For instance, I want to be able to type in a participant's name and find out how many messages s/he has sent, how many s/he has received. I want have the option of a more detailed view of that information, i.e., msgs sent to? and re? plus msgs received from? and re? plus length, time and date.

The more detailed lists should be readable by clicking on the item in the list. It should be possible to mark such a list and save it somewhere for further consultation. It should be possible to set the system up so that such lists are accumulated automatically. I should be able to look at this list with the student in question and go over it with them and only them--a security feature. Should, should, should.

I want someplace I can write notes and record data on the student in a format that will simplify the process of determining a grade. Maybe a gradebook integrated into the system. I want to be able to view the students one at a time and collectively, by assignment sorted by grade or by student name, and also using certain analytical aspects of the grade, e.g. tone or diction or imagery. So I could call up a score or grade on the imagery aspect of all 10 assignments for a particular student or for the class as a whole or for just one assignment or a pair.

I want an easy statistical interface that will give me some correlational information, i.e., some help in figuring out what the student's strengths and weaknesses are, what my own strengths and weaknesses are, and how to improve both.

I want to be able to *work with* results of a search, i.e, move them or copy them into a separate conference so that I can view, say, only the traffic for the haiku writing assignment or only the lead up to the dramatic monologue, or only the haiku themselves and not the discussion. I say move or copy because last fall I found that I really needed to do something to reduce the size of the main conference so that we could work with it. I wanted to move one thread out altogether, and to make a new conference of it.

I want to be able to go through either the raw conference itself or one of the lists selected from the conference and to post that either as a separate conference or as a simple printed document, so that I can, say, select two or three pieces of student writing and one or two of the student comments re: each and print up something the whole class can look at and discuss...


I want to go through the whole list of comments on the haiku assignment and pull out all the ones that say, "I really liked it. It was good" and post them (with a tally) so that students can see what is common and mundane, and so that they can appreciate (and begin to strive for) what is more difficult and useful to the writer.

I want useful output from comparisons of several drafts of the same piece. And a congenial way of working collaboratively on a common document. Indexed messages would be a big plus.

That's for openers. I don't think these are especially exotic features. Anyone who works with databases will recognize what I am talking about. Much of it I could do it for myself. But that is not the point.

At no time in my work with that course do I say to myself, gee, I wish I could include a URL here. It's not a bad idea; I can see uses for it. But the ideas I have listed are better as far as I am concerned, and as far as my courses are concerned, they are more urgent. Including URLs would amount to using nails because someone found it easier to give me a hammer than to provide the tools I really need. (This is a comment about WebBoard in particular.)

So the point is I want to see a conferencing system that will do these things. Otherwise there is too much traffic in a form that is too complex to process for FC (or WebBoard) to be useful. I could simplify and adapt my assignments to make the system look good, the way people used to do with Eliza to make sure it demonstrated what all the keeners said it demonstrated.

So much for the easy part. The hard part is that I want class sizes that are appropriate for this work. I say that is around 8-10, slightly smaller than optimum for a face to face writing workshop which can go 15-20 partly because definitions of who is "participating" change with the medium. Otherwise, there is simply too much traffic. Gary Poole commented on this. For a class of 24, he needed a grad student working 10 hours/week just to provide comments, focus, and encouragement.

I don't think that will change much even with a program that has all the features I have described. Without those features, it's hard to see FC or WebBoard or Cosy or PCBoard or Wildcat or MajorBBS as a productivity tool. Too little processing; too much traffic. It's quicker to do the processing in my own imagination than to work around the inadequacies of the software.

It's also more efficient to model good workshopping live in class. I am currently seeing FC (WebBoard, etc.) as a remedial tool for a manageable subset of the class--3-5 students who don't seem to be getting it from the modeling. That is also why I want unbuffered chat. Fabulous tool for the student with a special, and clearly defined need. Not for everyone.

I note that we are beginning to get numbers for these things. I hope that means an end to vague loyalist tootings about the New Agricultural Revolution, etc. And the phenomenon of clogging, overloading, flooding is well known--and documented.

Productivity improvements are possible around the calculation of marks and the keeping of records, the processing of traffic. But this will require support from the registrar to really make it effective.

I'd like to be able to get a list right away of those people who have *not* participated in a particular exercise.

Integration with gradebook software would be very good.

Notifies of new messages, preferably by email or some out of system technique

Notifies of message receipt (reading)

Do you have features you would like to see in conferencing software? Let me know what they are and I will link them to this discussion.


Psychological Profile of the Creative Writer

Barron describes a research project in which 66 writers, "persons whose main aim in life was to create meaningful patterns with words," were studied in order to characterize their abilities and personalities. The writers themselves came from three different groups: First, thirty "writers of wide renown" were nominated by members of the English and Drama Departments at the University of California because of their "conspicuously high degree of originality and creativeness." An additional 26 who had not been nominated as conspicuously creative but who had "clearly made their mark in the field of writing" comprised the second group. Ten student writers were included as the third. (237)

Several methods were used. For instance, each member of the assessment staff participated in a Q-sort description of each subject. In this procedure, a 100-item set of descriptive sentences is sorted on a 9-point scale with a forced normal distribution. Item placements are then averaged to arrive at a composite description of the group.

The five statements most characteristic of the creative group were as follows:

The next eight characteristics follow: "The student writers, as perceived by the assessment staff, differed from these mature creative writers in several important respects. For them, the second most characteristic item was: 'Concerned with own adequacy as a person, either at conscious or unconscious levels.' Also highly characteristic were these items: 'Is basically anxious'; 'has fluctuating moods'; 'engages in personal fantasy and daydreams, fictional speculations.'"

Barron believes that for the student writers writing was "much more a form of self-therapy, or at least an attempt at working out their problems through displacement and substitution in a socially acceptable form of fantasy. They fit closely to the sort of picture Freud gives of the poet in his essay, 'The Poet and Daydreaming'; the true artist, however, is of another breed, whatever troubles he may have" (239-240).

Creative writers earned an average score of 156 on the Terman Concept Mastery test. For comparison, the average score of the Stanford Gifted group in adulthood is 137 and for a group of 343 US Air Force captains is 60. The standard deviation for the general population is about 30. So this number is quite high for the creative writers.

Barron suggests that beyond an IQ of about 120, intelligence is "a negligible factor in creativity." He believes that his own research confirms the importance of "motivational and stylistic variables" as "major determiners of creativity" (241).

According to scores on the Barron-Welch Art Scale, "creative writers prefer figures that are free-flowing, asymmetrical (or at least not boringly balanced), and visually arresting." Their average score is two standard deviations higher than that of the general population and one lower than that of successful painters. (241)

"One of the tests constructed especially for this study is the Symbol Equivalence Test, in which the subject is given a stimulus image (verbally) and asked to think up a symbolically equivalent image. 'Leaves being blown in the wind,' e.g., might suggest 'a civilian population fleeing chaotically before armed aggression' (i.e., powerless particles blown by the winds of war). Ten test images were presented, and three responses sought to each." Answers were scored for originality, and "creative writers proved more original than any other group of creative individuals we studied" (241-242)

"The average score of the general population on the Independence of Judgement Scale is 8.12; the group of representative successful writers scored 11.69, the student writers scored 15.2, and the distinguished creative writers scored 15.69.

"This sort of general trend obtains for a number of other measures as well. Representative writers tend to fall about midway between the general population and distinguished writers, with student writers being much more like the latter than like the former, probably reflecting patterns of identification and of life style as much as of ability proper. This was true, for instance, of the Originality scale: distinguished writers scored 67.3 and representative writers scored 61.58, where the mean of the general population is set at 50, and the standard deviation at 10. Another scale that showed this pattern was Flexibility, distinguished writers scoring 60.5; representative writers, 55.65. In this case, student writers were markedly higher than either of the other groups, averaging 72.8....writers as a class are significantly more independent, flexible, and original than most people, and the creative writers who have achieved renown do very well for their years by being almost as flexible as their student counterparts, and a bit more independent....

"All three groups of writers earn markedly deviant scores on the scales of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.... Distinguished writers score particularly high on scales measuring schizoid, depressive, hysterical, and psychopathic tendencies on the MMPI. They are also well above the general population norms in terms of femininity of interest pattern on the CPI....

"In spite of obtaining such high scores on measures of pathology, all three groups of writers also obtain distinctly superior scores on the MMPI scale which we developed first of all for prediction of recovery from neurosis, and which other evidence indicates is a good measure of strength of the ego....the writers appear to be both sicker and healthier psychologically than people in general. Or, to put it another way, they are much more troubled psychologically, but they also have far greater resources with which to deal with their troubles" (243-244).

The CPI (California Psychological Inventory) was designed to "measure traits related to personal effectiveness rather than psychopathology...both these groups of writers are significantly superior to the general population in Social Presence, Self- acceptance, Capacity for Social Status, Psychological-mindedness, and Achievement through Independence. They achieve markedly lower scores in Achievement via Conformance. The highly creative group differs especially from the general population in making rather low scores on Socialization, a performance which in this context I think is correctly interpreted as resistance to acculturation, for the so-called socialization process is often seen by the creative individual as a demand for the sacrifice of his individuality, which indeed it often is. They score low also on Sense of Well- being, Self-control, and Desire to Make a Good Impression" (244-245).

The Myers-Briggs Jungian Type Indicator was used to determine that both distinguished writers and representative writers, "are distinctly more *introverted* than *extroverted*, more *feeling* than *thinking*, and more *intuitive* than oriented to *sense experience*" (245).

"...One of our interviews was devoted especially to the fantasy life, from day dreams and night dreams and hypnagogic experiences to transcendental experiences in full and acute consciousness. An unusually high percentage (40 per cent, in fact) of creative writers claimed to have had experiences either of mystic communion with the universe or of feelings of utter desolation and horror. ... Other experiences of an unusual sort were also described, such as being barraged by disconnected words as though one were caught in a hailstorm, with accompanying acute discomfort, or seeing the world suddenly take on a new brightness while sun or moon remained the same....

"Most impressive of all, however, was the extent to which motivation played a role, both in the writer's becoming a writer and in the way in which creative writing served a more general philosophic purpose. Almost without exception the successful creative writer had had to suffer considerable hardship in holding to his calling. The hardships included criticism from family and friends, periods of intense self-doubt, financial adversity, sacrifice sometimes of important personal relationships, and even public censure or ridicule. By the time the writer got to us he was past many of these adversities, although poets (even internationally famous ones) were generally living in very modest circumstances, and there were some surprising (to us) instances of distinguished writers of fiction who still had to take other jobs occasionally to stay afloat. One of the poets in our sample, whose work was reviewed recently in *The London Times Literary Supplement* and was hailed as 'the most remarkable body of poetry to come from America in the past decade,' was earning his living working in a gymnasium and occasionally as dock worker, while still another was typing term papers for undergraduates. At the other extreme there were several novelists whose earnings were in the millions of dollars. Yet to all of them the economic question was of secondary importance; this is true of all of our groups of creative individuals. On the Economic Values Scale of the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Scale of Values, creative individuals consistently earn their very lowest score. It is quite apparent that they are playing for other stakes. What then are the stakes, and if there are stakes, just what is the game?

"The game, I believe, centers upon the nature of intellect itself and upon the meaning of human life. In reviewing the performance of creative writers on the Symbol Equivalence test I was struck by the rapidity with which they moved from the commonplace stimulus image to the cosmic metaphor. Their concerns, as shown in projective tests like the Thematic Apperception Test and the Rorschach, are with mythical themes--with death, with great inanimate forces, with the symbolic rather than the literal meaning of shapes and colors. The freedom-determinism question arises again and again both in their work and in their fantasies. The nature of man in relation to the cosmos is the engaging problem.

"The commitment, in brief, is to larger meanings of an esthetic and philosophical sort which can find expression in the life work that the individual has chosen for himself (or, as some have put it, in the life work that has chosen him)" (246-247).

In the rhapsodic concluding pages of the essay, Barron leaves the empirical evidence to declare the uselessness of IQ points for producing creative acts; to discuss Blake's four-fold vision as a step beyond reality, symbol, dream, and play; and to conclude that "Creative vision, whether in art or in science, has always involved an act of rejection preceding the act of construction; the structure of the world as most people see it must be broken or transcended" (247ff.) In the end, he enjoins creative writers "to listen to the voice within and to speak it out" (249).

All in all, it turns out to be quite an essay. So I have deliberately left out the best parts. Have a look at it for yourself.


Barron, Frank. "The Creative Writer." In Creativity and Personal Freedom. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1968: 236-249.


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