Simply defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary, creativity means “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas.” But there is nothing simple about the concept of creativity. For centuries the debate of “creativity” has raged. Greek philosophers like Plato rejected the concept of creativity, preferring to see art as a form of discovery. Asked in The Republic, “Will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?” Plato answers, “Certainly not, he merely imitates.”
Author Leigh Anne Jasheway, in her essay, “Creativity in Color” (Writer’s Digest, September 2016), notes, “[R]esearch shows that no matter how you express yourself artistically, the simple act of using your imagination lights up your whole brain more than almost any other activity you can engage in.” In an attempt to find ideas that would help “word-dependent types … to become more creative,” Jasheway explores creativity through artists who express themselves visually in a variety of disciplines including a photographer, a recycled artist, a singer/songwriter, a painter, and a chainsaw artist/sculptor/art therapist. Six of her favorite ideas are listed here, with some additional suggestions.
- To find your guiding light, seek the dark. According to scientists, the “imagination network” is most active when we’re daydreaming or letting our minds wander. Photographer Tracy Sydor notes that she relies on her darkroom to not only develop her film but also to develop her thoughts. “Because I spend so much time stimulated by everything around me, I need to spend time in dark silence,” she says. “As a photographer, my outside eye is always busy. It’s only in the dark that my inside eye can focus.”
Find your quiet place to think; it may enhance your creativity.
- Engage in Child’s Play. Artist Noelle Dass’s approach to painting is childlike. “I usually don’t have a preconceived notion of what I’m going to create,” she says. “Most of the time I sketch with no goal or objective. My hand will draw something and then reveal itself to me: Oh, look, it’s a turtle staring at the moon!”
Add some fun to your writing world. Place a favorite photograph on your desk. Take a break and color with a box of fresh crayons. Keep a neon pink water bottle close by. If you write by hand, use a different bright pen. If you work on a computer, change the font or the color of the text. A favorite accessory of mine is a neon green magnetic creature (right), an impulse purchase at MOMA years ago that collects paper clips. It still makes me smile!
- Share what you love. Maiya Becker, a recycled artist, finds inspiration in items that have been discarded by others. “Creativity begets creativity,” she says. “I always feel more creative after I’ve helped children explore their own artistic talents. And today’s kids often don’t have a chance to be creative in school.”
Share your writing talents outside your work, exploring your enthusiasm, expertise and passion with others.
- Choose your company wisely. Jasheway notes that Austin-based singer Sara Hickman is “one of the most positive and creative people” she’s met. Hickman says, “I like working with other professionals who are fun and who bring up my game. I walk away with something new and exciting every time I’m in the presence of someone I can play with.”
Writers tend to spend a great deal of time alone. It’s important to seek out fun people or activities. Instead of taking another writing class, take a creative class in something else that interests you. Recently I took a weeklong course on the work of composer Felix Mendelssohn. He was also a poet and a painter. As we explored his work, class discussions were filled with energy and passion. It was a stimulating week.
- Turn “mistakes” into starting points. According to Al Jenkins, an art therapist, “There are no mistakes in art. There are accidents—and accidents can lead to something new! When chainsaw carving, I will often set the wood that didn’t work out aside and use it again later with another vision.” Jenkins notes, “The best thing we can do is give ourselves the gift of being free from the fear of failure. Negative thinking can lead to anxiety and depression, and these are creativity killers.”
What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail? If we can reframe the idea of “just go with it”—there is a chance that something different, unexpected, and creative could happen. Have you ever changed a recipe because you’re missing an ingredient or two and everyone LOVES the results? Or had a planned outing change for reasons beyond your control (think wedding, impending rain and yet, magical—and unplanned—pictures with the clouds moving in), with this outcome: Everyone had an epic time despite the weather.
- Reboot your brain. Research shows that cursive writing activates areas of the brain that are not engaged by keyboarding—areas that aid in memory, cognition, and creativity. As Jasheway suggests, “If online distractions are a distraction, reboot by pocketing your cell phone or iPad the next time you’re about to tap out some notes on the go, and instead digging out a pad and pencil. What if feeling more creative is really that simple?”
I lead a writing workshop and one of the few “rules” is that all participants must write by hand—no personal computers, iPads or tablets of any size. The motion of putting words on the page by hand slows the writer down just a bit. I often write a note (stamp and all) to family and friends even when an email would be quicker. I like the connection that is created.
Keep creating, word by word.—Donna Woods Orazio