What is “Creativity” and how do I wring it from my tired and flabby brain?
This is a bigger subject than I currently have time/energy to write about in depth, so I’m bringing in some outside help, but lately I’ve been thinking about how my approach to tapping into the creative side of my brain has changed since my schedule has become so tortured.
I believe that the possession of creativity is something you just have, an innate characteristic, and a common one at that. I also believe that people confuse genuine lack of creativity with a lack of understanding of how to tap into and express their creative thoughts.
Here, Dustin Wax cites a study done by the Crown Plaza hotel on the creativity of its patrons in terms of what times of day or what activities are more conducive to creativity. The results indicated that late evening was the most creative time, and that 4:30pm was the least, and that showers were the best activity after which one would grow large with ideas.
Call it circadian rhythms, call it the daily ebb and flow of blood sugar, call it magic if you want; the fact remains that or brains keep to a timetable that can be very hard to change and even harder to fight. Whether your personal schedule matches the survey’s results or whether your creative time comes earlier in the day, it pays to understand just how your mind’s abilities wax and wane over the course of the day.
For much of my life, creativity has always been wrapped in a mystique. It’s considered by many to be unpredictable, a fickle, elusive state of mind and/or being that can only be waited for or happened upon. But this is a false notion and has lead to many, many wasted hours and a lot of work just not done because I wasn’t “moved” to do it. And while the lightning-strike-on-the-crapper moments will hit you, if you try to make those your bread and butter, you’ll end up going hungry and your creative talents will just atrophy.
The truth is that the entire human experience is made up of biological cycles, rhythms, ebbs and flows that are days, months, and even years long. So it stands to reason that creativity would be influenced by a cycle or two. Some cycles are more easily altered than others, and the difficulty would vary from person to person, which probably contributes to many peoples’ “lack of creativity”.
Dustin’s article is a good place to start when trying to figure out your creative cycle.
There aren’t any classes that teach being creative. None of the writing classes I’ve taken address the “waiting for my muse” issue that lots of beginning writers have been programmed to take as truth. Now and again the struggling novice will stumble in to a state of Flow and lose hours while pumping out thousands of words, but suddenly after returning from a long overdue trip to the bathroom, they’ll discover that the words have stopped coming! They stop, expecting that tomorrow, they’ll just step back into it, but when tomorrow comes…nothing comes out! Panic sets in, or procrastination, and days pass and the only thing that’s produced is page after page of nothing.
What’s missing is the acknowledgement of the fact that expressing one’s creativity isn’t a magical time (although it can be); it’s work, not magic. A point that’s reiterated by Merlin Mann here:
There are also dozens of books on “creativity” itself. Guides that are meant to help you access and unlock the artist within and to see the world in more creative ways. How to “be” creative, how to generate ideas, and how to learn to think “laterally.”
Some of these books are just terrific, many are atrocious, and, at least in my anecdotal experience, only a handful challenge their readers with a fundamentally unmarketable premise:Creative work only seems like a magic trick to people who don’t understand that it’s ultimately still work.
The biggest whine that I’ve heard about pulling off the big, velvet, symbol-covered mystery cloak that people drape their creativity in is that if they removed the mystique that the power and spontaneity would drain out of their work, and it would become flat and pedestrian. This just isn’t true. Spontaneity is a powerful influence and it does drive idea generation, but it isn’t the end-all of the process. It’s the seed, and like a seed, there’s a lot more that goes into growing an idea to maturity than just the first core idea. It’s called “work”.
So how do you approach your creative projects like work? How do you approach your job? You have a schedule. You have business hours. You have a place that you go in order to do your work. You show up every day and crank the widgets.
We can’t always summon creativity on a whim. We are human beings, not machines, and are influenced by cycles and rhythms. But what we can do is start a new cycle or work to change existing ones. But creativity isn’t a magical state. It’s work. And it should be treated as such if one’s goal is to actually use a talent for creativity to actually create something.