Jane Austen – and her IdeaPoo

News that novelist Jane Austen elegant writing style may actually be the product of her editor, a William Gifford, is yet again evidence of the collaborative nature of creativity – ‘No Jane Austen is an island’ I would say.

There are important lessons here for creativity, creative writing, and the innovative mindset.

In her analysis of the great author’s original handwritten text, Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University reached her conclusion while studying Austen’s original handwritten manuscripts.They featured a more free-flowing style with a a limited range of punctuation with Sutherland claiming: “The polished punctuation and epigrammatic style we see in Emma and Persuasion is simply not there.”

Someone else was “heavily involved” in the editing process believed to be William Gifford, an editor who worked for Austen’s publisher John Murray II. According to Professor Sutherland, it was the editor who then intervened to sharpen the prose of one of English Literature’s most popular writers.

Professor Sutherland, also discovered how the manuscripts “reveal Austen to be an experimental and innovative writer, constantly trying new things.”They also show her “to be even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest.”

Jane Austen (1775-1817) completed six novels in her lifetime, two published posthumously.

The challenge for anyone seeking to create, nurture or exploit a creative idea or innovation, is the perception of the creative product as a ‘Big Idea’, where the genius of the creator flows like dictation from God into a great idea.

The reality is that creative, innovative and flexible thinking is an incremental dynamic, consisting of adding together many not-so-good ideas, which I often label ‘IdeaPoo’.

‘IdeaPoo’ are ideas which appear poor value at the outset, yet with the right nurturing – and even sub-editing – they can grow into outstanding added value creative works.

I say: “Every outstanding idea is at the pinnacle of a pyramid of IdeaPoo”.Imagine if Mr. William Gifford had turned round to the young Jane Austen and said: “With the greatest delectations I am afraid to say that your work will never be great because the punctuation is not right.”Luckily, for Jane Austen, English Literature, and middle-class-women-of-a-certain-age everywhere, she was fortunate to have a creative associate who, without formally recognizing it, acknowledged IdeaPoo and was able to see through the faults, flaws and failings to recognize the inherent talent.

Could we all do with a Mr. Gifford in our lives? It might be a colleague, a member of our networks, or indeed a voice within our own heads.

How much more helpful if our own self talk adopted the persona of a William Gifford and instead of saying ‘that’s crap’, ‘rubbish’, ‘that’ll never work’, instead provides positive, practical and pragmatic help to realize your genius.

Rather than diminish the esteem of the great novelist, we will be better served by this story to celebrate both Jane Austen and the role played by the William Giffords of the world in the creative process.

Have there been times in your life when you could have done with a Mr. Gifford in your world? 

Wonder what would Mr. Gifford say to help with my next piece of work?

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