Avoid cliques at all costs, they are a shortcut to creative death

Creative life is hard. The goal, of becoming a mature creator who can write a great novel, compose a magnificent symphony, paint a powerful image, or any other of the myriad rewards of creative endeavour, is always far away.

(Until the moment it isn’t, which comes often without warning and when you are least expecting it.)

Shortcuts are an immense temptation and come in many forms. They aren’t really shortcuts of course. Like Gawain waylaid on his quest, any temptation that’s not the castle of the Green Knight is, for the aspiring artist, only a delaying tactic. What are we delaying? In most cases, the tough realisation that we aren’t good enough yet and have much hard work ahead of us. At which point, the alluring shortcut beckons us. “Follow me! I can show you the way without all the hard work!’

“Learn from everyone. Share your ideas with anyone who is interested.”

The clique is one of the most alluring and deceptive shortcuts of all. In the writing world, cliques are formed by groups of creators and their supporters – editors, publishers, reviewers and general fans. Creators crave recognition, and the clique offers it. Members of the clique support each other’s work, offering congratulations (and expecting them) when new work is published. A “healthy” clique can give the creators involved the sense that their work is finally being recognised, and rewarded.

The downside is easy to observe. Writers who join a clique get stuck in it, often for the rest of their career. The clique, but its nature, enforces inward looking behaviour. It will have a “house style” that writers will need to match, but the style is rarely if ever engaging to readers who aren’t part of the clique. Working your way into the clique means training your creativity on a very narrow set of criteria, to impress a very small number of people, who are ultimately only ever talking to each other.

In quite literally terms, the creative clique is a shortcut to creative death.

Does this mean you should never co-operate or collaborate with other creators? With other writers? No, quite the opposite. Be open to all other creators (within the reasonable bounds time and resources allow). Learn from everyone. Share your ideas with anyone who is interested. Even cliques themselves have little pearls of wisdom you can carry away, just don’t let the ossified shell of their politics and squabbles trap you.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Avoid cliques at all costs, they are a shortcut to creative death

  1. Great blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost
    on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform
    like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused ..

    Any suggestions? Thanks!



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