I was listening to a recent episode of the podcast Writing Excuses
, and it sparked a lot of thoughts that I wanted to write about. The topic was "Episode 6-1: Can Creativity be Taught?", and I thought that by and large I agreed with what they said, but I have my own thoughts to share.
First of all, I have a strong belief that all people are creative. People may not think
they are creative, either because they've mis-defined creativity, or because of some other reason. But I don't think it's possible to be a human being and not be creative.
Despite what many people seem to think, creativity is not correlated with intelligence. For example, my material grandmother began showing signs of Alzheimer's Disease the year before I was born. By the time I was old enough to retain memories of her, she was pretty far gone and incapable of a lot of simple tasks. Yet the first, and strongest, memory I have of her is helping her with her rug hooking.
She would ask me for certain colours of yarn and I would pull them out of the package and give them to her, and she would place them on the weave. The rugs she created during this period are strange, abstract, geometric, and beautiful. There are flaws to them, where she failed to make a circle perfectly round, for example. But the creativity of them is self-evident. They are not merely bits of yarn placed randomly. They are not quite like anything created by any other artist, and isn't that the essence of creativity?
I think that many people believe that they are not creative because they can't imagine themselves succeeding in the particular creative area they're thinking about. For example, a person who has never written a story, and rarely reads, and hasn't really applied themselves to coming up with story ideas, but has a strong belief that writers are very creative and associates creativity with the ability to come up with great story ideas, would say they were not creative.
In the Writing Excuses episode, the boys seemed to confine their definition of creativity to exactly this fallacious view. They stated they intended to talk about teaching creativity, then talked about teaching people to write and come up with story ideas.
Now, it is
a writing podcast, so discussing how to increase one's creativity with the written word is definitely a place they should have gone. And to be fair, Howard did mention cooking as a creative pursuit and basically made the point I'm making now. But, it was a bit of an afterthought and rather subtle. I would have liked to see them take a more sensitive approach.
I think if they wanted to really help people who thought they were not creative, they would have made this point first, to help their listeners to realize they are
, in fact creative. Once a person realizes that they sew, or cook, or solve problems every day at work, perhaps they can more easily accept that they can take this skill and apply it to other pursuits.
But I don't want to rag on them. It was a good episode. I just want to go a bit deeper.
So if everyone is creative, why do people tell themselves that they're not?
The first reason I already mentioned, which is defining creativity incorrectly. When you strip it all away, creativity is the act of problem solving. Sometimes that process involves figuring out how to take a few shapes on a big piece of tissue paper and turn it into a garment that will fit you. Sometimes it involves taking a customer and figuring out a way to satisfy them with a product or service you provide. Sometimes it involves combining elements into new concepts and answering the question "What might happen if Pride and Prejudice had zombies?"
All of these things are acts of creativity.
The second, related reason goes back to a topic I've discussed on this blog before: fear of failure.
People place "creative people" on a plane higher than "regular people". They look at their favourite singer/writer/artist and say "I could never have come up with THAT" and think that means they are not creative. The knowledge that they couldn't have independently come up with the same idea tells them that if they try to "be creative" they will fail and come up with something inferior, or nothing at all.
But see, it's okay that you couldn't have come up with that same idea. If you did, it wouldn't be creative. No doubt, you would come up with something different - and that is
Sure, some ideas are better than others, but all you really need once you start coming up with ideas is the perseverance to keep thinking until you come up with a few good ones, and the - very learnable - skill of recognizing the good ones when they appear.
So, good news! It's actually pretty much impossible to fail at creativity unless you deliberately try. Don't you feel better?
But while it's impossible to learn creativity (because no one needs to), it is possible to learn to be more creative than you are, and to access your creativity at will.
There's another limiting belief that people have around creativity, and that is that creativity only comes with that flash
of inspiration. If you don't have that omg! moment, you are not creative at that moment and cannot produce anything.
This is so not true. People don't sit around at work waiting for a flash of inspiration. They take that phone call and solve that problem. They pick up that assignment and do it. So why is it when we're talking about writing or some other artistic pursuit, people quite often believe that they can't do it unless they are in that mood of pure inspiration?
I don't for a moment deny that inspiration exists. It's one of my favourite things, in fact. There is nothing like the flow of words that happens when you wake up at 3:00 am with a character's words on your tongue.
But the stuff I write in between those moments is still writing. It's still creative. Sometimes, it's better writing. It can just sometimes be harder to get going without that spontaneous flash drowning out the little voice in your head saying "this is hard, this sucks, why don't I do something else now".
There are a couple of things I do to promote my creativity. My secrets, you might say.
And I'm going to share my three secrets with you now.1. Take care of yourself
There is no doubt that it's harder to get the juices flowing if you're hungry, tired, and cranky. This isn't because of some magical, insidious muse labour strike. It's because your brain isn't as good at working and solving problems when it's not working very well! So eat well, exercise occasionally, and get some friggin' sleep.
You don't have to be in a place of perfect health to be creative, but the better off you are, the less you'll have to work to get going. I know for myself, the more stressed out I am in life, the less I am able to write. All through law school I would completely dry up during exams - this is natural.2. Write something.
You might laugh. Writing something is the idea! But you can't think of the first sentence! Everything you write is crap!
That's okay. Write something down. Write anything down. Write about the colour of your socks if it will relieve that intimidating expanse of white word-processor screen in front of you.
It's amazing how many times I've stared at the screen for ages going "I have no idea what I want to write" and then finally just started writing whatever came into my mind first and discovered that it was the first line of the scene I wanted to write, and it flowed from there.
I did that with this blog post, in fact, after a week of sitting with a few point-form notes in a draft and no idea what I was going to begin with. Now I'm 1300 words into this post and I've been writing steadily for the past 40 minutes.
It works. Try it.3. Think about writing. All the time.
The more you write, the more ideas you will have. The more excited you are about what you're writing, the more you'll think about it and come up with more, creative ideas. Keep a notebook with you, or have your phone handy with the memo app. Keep a little recording device in your car.
Make up stories about the people you see on the train, or in the mall. Look at newspaper headlines and speculate about what they might mean by Mystery of missing Edmonton lawn solved
. Listen to news shows about science, current events, and social issues.
Constantly ask "What if...?"
You'll have more ideas than you know what to do with. That's creativity.