Writers get it – at least most of the time. It just may be the case, though, that there are people among us who don’t understand why it’s important to cultivate creativity in our lives. What these people don’t understand is that creativity is not confined to those who follow artistic lives. It’s important to all lives.
Learning how to think creatively is one of the most sought-after skills in the world among businesses of all stripes. For example, in a communications agency, you might think that the “creatives” are the graphic designers and photographers. But those tasked with coming up with solutions to problems can’t do their jobs without a creative approach to that problem-solving. So, even for those people who are not in what society traditionally considers to be creative fields, their work can only benefit from a creative approach. If you aspire to an artistic life – as any kind of writer, perhaps – then your personal creativity is top of mind for you. In fact, it’s fundamental.
So how can you cultivate your innate creativity so that you can harness it? Here are five ways to consider.
- First and foremost, feed your curiosity. This means asking lots of questions about everything you encounter. But more than that, it means seeking out the answers to those questions and not relying on others to provide those answers for you. When you read a new article online in the morning, you might find that it sparks questions – sometimes lots of questions. Don’t just let those go. If you don’t have time to seek out the answers at that moment, take out your journal (you have one, don’t you?) and jot them down. Go back to them when you have time. Seek answers to questions that pop up in various aspects of your life.
- Next, take risks with your work. New writers often have a particular interest or genre and stick to that. They forget that trying other genres or other approaches to their work might just be the best way to improve their original work. It might also be a way to uncover another type of writing that works even better for you. If you want to write fantasy, try your hand at mystery writing. Do some research and write a story or a magazine article. Even if it never sees the light of day, you’ll have opened your mind in ways that you could never have imagined.
- Take time every day to be with your thoughts. This was never more important than it is today, in the twenty-first century with all of our online toys. Take a walk in the park and don’t look at your phone no matter what. I’d say leave it at home, but that might not be something you want to try – but you could! Some writers learn meditation which is a simple skill to cultivate. If you fear it could rid your mind of those wonderfully creative ideas, you couldn’t be more wrong. It will expand your mind to fit even more creative ideas.
- Learn a new artistic skill. This is what we like to call cross-creativity. If you focus all your creative energy on writing, it’s time to expand that world. Take a sketching class – it will expand your creative mind as well as teach you to be more observant of details. Or learn to play an instrument. Learn ballet. Study watercolour painting. All of these ventures will only add to your knowledge, skills and creative thought processes.
- Develop a daily creativity ritual. In her terrific book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, choreographer extraordinaire, Twyla Tharp says this about creative rituals: “It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior [sic]– at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up…” Maybe you do yoga every morning for twenty minutes. Perhaps you always start your writing day by walking your dog. Or meditating. Or doing twenty minutes of free writing. Or writing a simple poem. Or listening to a favourite piece of classical music. Or playing one if you have the skills. According to Twyla Tharp, Igor Stravinsky sat at his piano and played a Bach fugue every morning before starting work. Whatever it is, it’s yours and it’s non-negotiable. You do it every day before starting to write.
Even in writing circles there seems to be a kind of snobbery about creativity, as if those who produce “creative writing” are somehow more creative than people who write magazine articles or memoir or biography or any other kind of nonfiction. The term “creative writing” is actually a misnomer if it is applied only to fiction and poetry. The very best narrative nonfiction demands high levels of creative thought. And, indeed, so does the finest prescriptive nonfiction. For example, an author of a “how-to” book can either take a linear, didactic approach or something else. The author could choose an original approach, an innovative voice, a creative way of attacking the issue. We’ve all seen creative cookbooks as well as tons that could use a good dose of imagination!
Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.George Lois