Writers, songwriters, chefs, parents getting their children to bed--in fact, every single one of us at some time or other--need to be creative.
The problem: Often when I try and consciously do something creative I feel as inventive and whimsical as a pencil sharpener. Are there exercises one can do? Tips? Bon mots of wisdom one can latch onto like a drowning man clutching a life preserver?
The author of Everything You Thought You Knew About Creativity Is Wrong says, resoundingly, 'Yes!' Yes there are ways, things one can work at, to make us each more productive creatively--or is that more creatively productive? No matter. Here are the tips.
1. Find your comfort zone and stand within it.
To be creative one must take risks, but we're not going to feel comfortable enough to take those risks if we're standing outside our comfort zone. Goldstein says:
"When we're comfortable and acting in our preferences, we have the courage to take risks."I agree! One of the best places for me to get ideas is in the shower and that's a place I feel comfortable, protected, safe.
2. Accept that everyone is different.
What works for someone else might not work for you. For instance, some extraverts like to be in a group and brainstorm together but for many introverts that's not the case. And that's okay! Take a shower, drive around and listen to music, take a walk, different activities serve as creative triggers for different kinds of people.
3. You don't have to be spontaneous.
Plotters are just as creative as pantsers; people who meticulously plan out a painting are just as creative as their more impressionistic kin.
"Painter Henri Matisse, for example, constructed all of his paintings before he began. He even wore a suit and tie while he created -- not exactly the splattered, ragged overalls we associate with artsy folk. Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell were also big planners ..."
4. Creativity is about coming up with something new but it also embraces combining the old in new ways.
There really is nothing new under the sun. If all philosophy is, as Alfred North Whitehead said, a series of footnotes to Plato then all writing is probably, in one way or another, footnotes to Shakespeare. The trick isn't coming up with something brand new, it's combining ideas in new ways.
I realize you've probably heard this before but it came as a revelation to me: the trick to making the old new is particularizing it. This is what happens when we filter universal themes through our individual experiences and I believe it's what lies at the core of that nugget of wisdom: write what you know.
For example, everyone has lost someone they cared about. The object of our affection has either died, or moved away, or told us to take a long walk off a short pier. But each of our reactions to that experience will be as unique as we are. That's how we take the universal and make it particular. Personal. Intimate.
(Just today, Check Wendig wrote a terrific post about the admonition to write what you know: (adult language -->) Write What You Know: Roasting That Old Chestnut.)
5. Nothing is ever finished.
The author quotes Picasso as saying:
"To finish a work? To finish a picture? What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul …"
That's how I feel about my stories. I could always add more. I could tweak this, refine that, but at a certain point--after they've been proofed, edited, and so on--one has to let our incomplete children go out into the world, one filled to the brim with sticks and stones and things that most definitely break hearts if not bones.
That's it! Five tips to great creativity.
Before I leave, a few months ago I wrote about John Cleese's views on what creativity was and how it could be nurtured, developed. The link is here: John Cleese Talks About Creativity.
Photo credit: "Filter No. 5 - "Grainy Film"" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.