Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I.Q. and Creativity: Are You Smart Enough to Be a Writer?

The Brain: Shakespeare's didn't look any different than yours.

So, you wrote the best book/short story you've ever read. You polished it up, had your wife/mother/best friend/old English teacher read it and they were, well, they said, "Yeah, really, I liked it." Then you sent it out to ten publishers/magazines and waited.

Six weeks later, the responses started to trickle in. Reactions from the acquisitions editors varied from polite, mass produced rejection slips to nasty comments written in crabbed, tiny script on the bottom of the SASE you mailed out with your manuscript. Each one carried with it a sharp knife stab of pain and embarrassment followed by a week of despair and gnashing of teeth. Anger, too. Let's not forget that. Anger is important.

When the last rejection is received you are left stunned and voiceless, whimpering, maybe. Certainly you are sleepless during the darkest hours of the night. Your spouse/best friend/mother/English teacher are sympathetic but you wonder, did they tell me how they really felt about the book/story?Does my English teacher know the truth and won't tell me?

After say ten years of this, you began to ask yourself the ultimate question: Am I smart enough to be a good writer? Put the another, more painful way, am I too stupid to ever write publishable prose?

This is a good news/bad news blog. It seems that if your I.Q., that single number that is supposed to tell you how smart you really are, is below 120, you don't stand much of a chance of being brilliantly creative. As the average I.Q. is somewhere between 85 and 115, it would seem that most of us are indeed not capable of higher-level creative abstractions. That's the bad news.

The good news is that, according an article I found on the Internet (Reprinted from Lucid Vol. VIII, No. 4/5 (#42/43), Aug./Oct. 1988, Lucid being the newsletter of the Mensa “Truth SIG.”) if your I.Q. is say, 120, you can be just as creative as a person with an I.Q. of say, 130 or 140.

Yes, it seems there is a threshold I.Q. for creativity. So the giant brain who got a 1600 on his college boards is not necessarily more creative than you. Yeah, he/she might be able to solve puzzles more quickly than you and understand higher math, and get accepted at a top college, but his/her short stories might be just as bad as yours.

There is a caveat to this threshold though. It's only true when considering individuals. In fact, when you look at large groups of people over the course of history, we find that most of the truly big, huge, earth-shattering creative ideas are thought up by people with big, huge, earth-shattering I.Q.s. Like, of course, Einstein or Bill Gates, or yes, Shakespeare. The bitter if obvious truth is that if your I.Q. is in the average range, you don't come up with E=MC squared or Hamlet's soliloquy.

Here it is, the infamous Bell Curve
Before I retired from my day job as a speech-language pathologist to write full time, I was often called upon to test student I.Q.s. Thirty two years of this has led me to believe that this is all true. But there is another aspect to intelligence that is not covered by this rule.

It's this: Intelligence is a multi-faceted phenomena--like a diamond, say. While some lucky people are gifted in all cognitive domains, there are some whose ability in, for example, math, are in the average range, but their verbal abilities are much higher. While there poor math abilities might bring their I.Q.s down below 120, their verbal skills could exceed that number.

I remember reading that when the Army tested J.D. Salinger's I.Q, it was reported to have been 110, surely not high enough to write The Catcher in the Rye. On the other hand, Marilyn Vos Savant is supposed to have one of the highest I.Q.s ever tested-- somewhere between 186 and 230--and she has not, to my knowledge, made any significant contributions to either literature or science.

The bottom line to all this is that the proof is in the prose pudding. People who do well on I.Q. tests and college board exams may or may not be creative and may suffer the same rejections you do. If your I.Q. is below 120 you may still write a brilliant book like Mr. Salinger did.

So, steel yourself to the slings and arrows of rejections and keep writing. Or, take the easier road and bypass those pesky, snobby, know-it-all editors and publishers and self publish.

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