What Does Creativity Feel Like?

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View from the writing nook in a castle. Dublin, Ireland. © Christy Miles

It always amuses me when researchers try to pin down the “science” of creativity. Like this Fast Company review of a new book, 7 Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science. There’s nothing earth shattering here – 72% of people have creative insights in the shower? Okay. What else you got?

Call me naive or childish, but…why can’t we just let creativity be magical? Can’t we just let it happen and be? Do we have to analyze it to death? I am reminded of my days at Purdue, the starry-eyed writer surrounded by logical, scientific, linear-thinking engineers. One day, sitting outside at twilight on a hot summer day between classes with an engineer friend, a huge plane flew overhead. We sat in silence, watching it pass by. I couldn’t contain myself and said, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that a huge, heavy plane can just…fly??” My engineer friend immediately began to explain aerodynamics to me in pain-staking, exacting, excruciating detail. It’s how he was wired. I get it. 🙂

But I’m not wired that way. I’m wired for wonderment. Amazement. Appreciation. Observing. Synthesizing seemingly random data, words and visuals into new and different ideas. Detecting patterns and playing with new ways of constructing and organizing them. I don’t want to understand the science of creativity. I just want to feel it. Every damn day that I’m lucky enough to be here.

So what does creativity feel like?
Here is my feeble attempt to use words to describe it. I wish I was an artist so I could show you, but even my stick figures suck. So here goes: Continue reading “What Does Creativity Feel Like?”

Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire

creativityThis is for anyone who creates, used to create, wants to be more creative, or wants to start creating something new or different. We all create things. Some of us make art, new recipes, or clothing. Some of us build businesses. Raise children. Creativity takes many forms. But life and time takes its toll. Our creative pursuits often fall to the wayside or we get burnt out, especially if we have to be creative for a living.

I once worked with a group of senior citizens in an assisted living center as a volunteer to help them write their stories. In the first session, there was a lot of silence until one woman finally said, the only thing I’ve ever written is a grocery list! The others laughed. I said – that counts! Because it does. (And yes, we got to their stories.) The ways we share our words and stories may have changed with social media. But any effort to capture our ideas, thoughts, plans and vision matter. That’s why we should do everything we can to make time to create and stay fired up about our creative passions.

One way to do this is Continue reading “Why I Write: Find or Reignite Your Creative Fire”

What you really mean when you say “I’m not creative”

Over the years, I’ve heard countless people tell me that they are not creative. This always surprises and amuses me. What I’ve found is that this phrase is often used for other purposes. For example:

As a disclaimer: “I’m not creative, okay, but here’s my idea…”.

To soften a request: “I think we should use my headline instead of yours. I mean, I’m not creative, but I think it works better.”

To avoid work: “I can’t help you with this. I’m not creative.”

To sum up a vague objection: “I don’t like the bird graphic/the color purple/this story…but well, maybe it’s because I’m not creative.”

As a sarcastic jibe: “Yes, I saw your artwork/design/story. I’m not creative though, so maybe that’s why I don’t get it/like it/care.

To mask anxiety: “I’m a logistical person. I’m not creative. What do I know?”

So what does “being creative” really mean?
Everyone is creative. But “to be creative” means different things to different people. At its heart, creativity is about:

  • Curiosity: you want to know about people, places and things
  • Risk: you are willing to take a chance on things and ideas that are important to you; that includes speaking up and taking action when it matters
  • Reflection: thinking feeds ideas which feeds creativity
  • Patience: sometimes you have to wait for ideas to come and trust that they will come
  • Listening: sharing ideas requires a willingness to hear what someone else has to say without judgment
  • Passion: passion fuels inspiration which fuels creativity

Notice how I didn’t mention anything related to writing, artwork, painting, sculpture, design…all of those activities that are typically labeled as “creative.” Just because I’m a writer does that make me any more creative than a software developer who creates a cool app? Or a scientist who makes a major breakthrough in cancer research? Or a mom who finds a way to get her kids in the car without tantrums?

Exactly. Creativity is not something you either have or don’t have. We are all creative. Take a look at your own work and life and see all the ways, big and small, that you are creative. Use the six qualities above as a check list. You might be surprised at how creative you really are.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

Are you writing about things that matter? 5 questions to ask yourself

The first time I read my writing in front of an audience–not just my class, but a venue full of strangers–I was 26 years old and I was terrified. I was in my first graduate course of my first semester at Columbia College Chicago, and it was required that all students read from their work at open mic readings sponsored by the department. Our professor said only this: If you’re not scared before the reading, then you haven’t picked the right material.

I was just starting my MFA studies, so I was confused. The right material? I was lucky I had any material. But after I read my work in public a few times, I began to understand. When I chose material that I felt was a “sure thing,” the audience response was…polite. When I chose material I felt uncertain about–maybe I had gone somewhere deep, taken a risk, hit a truth on the head–the audience response was immediate. Electric. People sat up straighter. Leaned in. The applause was genuine. People sought me out afterward, asked questions, shared their stories. That was the right material.

So how do you know whether you’re working on the right material, or merely skimming the surface? If you really want to know, ask yourself:

Are you scared? If you feel a tingle of fear, anger, resistance or any other strong emotion, you’re on the right track. Be brave. Go for it. You can do this.

Will someone be mad at you? Good. That means you’re not playing the people-pleaser, you’re digging into hard truths and reality. When I was 12 and going through my existentialist phase of writing, my mom used to wail, “Why can’t you ever write about happy things?” You can write happy stories about unicorns and rainbows. But if you want to write real, deep, authentic work…you have to take a chance that not everyone is going to love what you have to say.

Is it forbidden? Explore it creatively. Secrets and lies fester in the dark. Shine a light on those negative spots so we can see what you see.

Are you terrified you’ll fail? Clearly you have something at stake that’s worth exploring. Ask yourself what “failure” looks like. What’s the worst that can happen? Write it down. Read it. Now burn it and get to work. You have to be willing to make a mess if you want to get to the good stuff. Creativity is a messy business. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Is the universe dropping hints? An old friend mentions a topic that you’ve been thinking about writing about. You see a newspaper article with a different angle on the same topic a few days later. Then you meet someone new who happens to be dealing with the same issue. If you find yourself toying with an idea and it keeps popping up all around you in unexpected places, your creative work is calling you.

If you find yourself distracted and avoiding your creative work, ask yourself: am I working on what really matters?

The most powerful word in the world

I love words. I tried to read the dictionary when I was 9 (yes, I was a big geek then too. I made it through the B’s.). My favorite board game, the only board game I will ever play, is Scrabble. I love how the right words strung together sounds like shimmering, cascading rhythms. And when those words move people to think or act? As MasterCard would say, Priceless!

So you can imagine that choosing the one, most powerful word was a challenging task indeed. It’s not “no.” It’s not “think,” or “me,” or “butt” as my kids had hoped. The most powerful word in the world is… Continue reading “The most powerful word in the world”

Would your life be easier if you weren’t creative?

My ten-year-old son has always had what I call “big feelings.” It’s more than being sensitive–he feels things more intensely and deeply than others do. It’s a blessing and a curse: while his “big feelings” makes him the sweet, loyal and creative person that he is, this intensity also makes it hard for him to shake off things that others don’t think twice about.

Recently, a really smart person explained to him that people who have such deep feelings are special because they experience the world in a way that some people never do–but if you’re not careful, if you don’t find a way to manage those deep feelings, they can overwhelm you.

And it hit me: this is what it’s like to be creative. Continue reading “Would your life be easier if you weren’t creative?”

Adoptee, writer: how adoption can shape a creative life

I had an epiphany when I answered this question on Yahoo Answers recently: “Did you feel selfish meeting your birth parents?” I was surprised that my answer was chosen as the best, but I was thrilled that the question was posed in the first place. People don’t ask enough questions about adoption; it’s incredulous to me that in this day and age there is still a shroud of mystery around it. Adoption is one of the last taboos, spoken of with the same hushed tone that people used to reserve for cancer. How can we clarify, educate and share the experience if no one asks the big questions?

I’ve been working Continue reading “Adoptee, writer: how adoption can shape a creative life”