Creativity: Maybe she’s born with it

Creativity is, I think, something that everyone strives for. Not everyone is an artist or a designer or a writer (and not every writer is doing creative work), but in general, I think people like to see themselves as creative, whether that’s by thinking outside the box within their profession, or with a fun hobby. So the question is, are you born creative, or is it a skill you can develop?

According to an article in “The Guardian,” research shows that there are “creativity genes” which impact the way our brains transfer information between different lobes. Basically, the more connective pathways your brain has, the more likely you are to be able to see connections and patterns, and therefore the more likely you are to be creative. (There’s also some stuff in there about the sizes of lobes and fibers and so forth.)

Of course, there’s a nurture component as well: you can hardly see connections and patterns if you’re poor and starving, for example. Trauma also has a negative impact on one’s ability to be creative.

But going back to our original topic, can you learn to be creative? I think that everyone has creative potential, just not in the same areas. We tend to think of creativity as being the purview of artists, writers, and increasingly, entrepreneurs and those in the tech industry. But there’s creativity everywhere: NASA just discovered a bunch of new planets. I mean, true, they didn’t build them, but the idea of looking for other planets and in that specific place, not to mention all the technology and breakthroughs that have built up over decades to lead us to this discovery – if that’s not creative, what is?

I think creativity is a lot like learning styles. Musicians and voice actors probably have auditory creativity, where they learn by hearing and, more importantly, visualize in sound. I know that kinda seems like an oxymoron, but bear with me here. I’m a visual learner, I need to read something to understand it. If you tell me something, especially directions, I will forget them almost immediately. I have to write stuff down, and by write stuff, I mean write with pen and paper like it’s the ’50s.

But not only am I a visual learner, I am also tend to think in words (vs. thinking in pictures – most people use a combo, leaning towards visual thinking. I use a combo too, but a lot of my thinking happens in words). Example: when I read Harry Potter, I don’t imagine Harry/Daniel in my head running around the Forbidden Forest. Instead, I see a thought bubble with the word “Harry” in it, and that is basically the stand-in for the character in the imaginary world in my mind.

I see Hogwarts, but in a limited space. So for example, if Harry and co. are in the common room, I only see the table or couch they’re sitting on, with no connection to the wider space. Similarly, the Room of Requirement is in an empty hallway – it has no spatial connection to the rest of the school.

It occurs to me now that this limit of spatial visualization is why I’m so bad at directions.

The point is, given this information, it’s not surprising that my first love was reading and that my main creative outlet is writing. I like to draw and paint, but without specific instruction I tend to end up with random blobs (I can draw flowers though! Mostly because I draw them as blobs with a yellow bit in the middle). Even when I visualize something in my head, transferring it onto paper requires a stronger grasp on distance and proportion than I currently have.

However, we must ask ourselves which came first: visual text-based mental wiring, or the love of reading? Could the early introduction to books have set up my brain to receive and process information in word form? Or did I fall in love with books because my brain likes to receive and process information in word form?

“The Guardian” article would suggest the latter. I know that reading and reading and reading like there’s no next Tuesday has hugely improved my writing. In theory, that should be true for everyone. Creativity, I think, is more about what you’re willing to embrace and how you’re willing to embrace it (as determined, in part, by genetics), rather than a some-people-have-it-some-people-don’t ability.

 

Frustrated? Embrace the potential for creativity

Are you familiar with the “group project” memes that have germinated all over the Internet?

Does this one resonate particularly strongly with you?

Via Tumblr
Via Tumblr

If you answered yes to these two questions, boy do I have good news for you!

In a TEDTalk, “Financial Times” columnist and author Tim Harford put forth the idea that frustration actually improves creativity and problem-solving skills.

Using examples from social psychology, rock n’ roll, and the German opera, Harford shows how disrupting factors – the things that trip you up, ruin your work, and complicate your process – are actually helping you think outside the box and do better.

According to Harford, strategic, predictable step-by-step processes can lead you to a dead end. You can only see what’s already there, and if there’s something wrong with your process, you can end up making the same mistakes over and over again. When you introduce an element of randomness, you’re forced to approach things differently, which makes for an end result that is new and different from what you’ve done before.

This isn’t just a theory. In practice, it’s called “oblique strategies” – a group of index cards list disruptive (and frankly annoying) things you can do to create obstacles in the creative process, and you pick one at random and implement it.

Because this whole idea is so counter-intuitive (making things harder makes them better? What?), our natural instinct is to shy away from it. What kind of masochist wants to make the difficult and often emotionally and physically draining task of making something even more complicated?

This is why, Harford says, when life doesn’t supply the randomness, you have to force yourself to find way to throw a wrench into your own plans.

So the next time you get an A+++ on a group project, you’ll know who to thank:

these-guys

You can find Tim Harford’s books on economics and creativity at the Creative Quibble bookstore.

Creative inspiration from the Internet

You open the Word document, or the Illustrator page, or whatever it may be. It is oppressively white, it’s blankness at once demanding and withholding.

Or, even worse, it’s filled with what you know are wonderful, groundbreaking ideas that are just missing one thing, one little point that would pull them all together and make the work whole, complete, if only you could figure out what that one thing was…Meanwhile, the weight of the content and all its potential, its expectations, weigh on your heart, crushing your defenseless soul…

Wipe the tears from your eyes, for there is hope. Fear not, dear reader! I have scoured the Internet, searching for relief and hope for those of us who struggle and strive, and I have found the LIGHT!

Or, in the language of one less melodramatic…

Basically I compiled a list of websites that I like to use when I’m feeling uninspired and burned out. Hopefully you’ll find them to be helpful as well!

This one is probably obvious, by WordPress.com has a daily prompts blog. These one word prompts are particularly good for when you find yourself reusing the same words over and over again, your vocabulary stilted and stunted. The blog also includes blogging tips and encourages readers to share links to their works.

Another good prompts blog is First 50 Words – these prompts come from author Virginia DeBolt and are really good because she includes her own interpretation, for those of us who need a little more detail, a little more description. Let’s Write puts up quote prompts, which can be particularly helpful when you’re struggling with a character or a scene.

Speaking of uncooperative characters, if you’re having trouble developing the details of a scene or characterization, drop by F*** Yeah Character Development. It’s an ask-answer blog about writing characters, and it also regularly posts information and insight related to world-building and other aspects of the writing process. I’ve never asked a question, and given how many they receive I’m not sure this would be the best idea. Instead, I find that just reading the questions and answers can stimulate my mind and open me up to new possibilities. Some of their latest questions include: “In a zombie apocalypse what threats would there be to humans other than the rabid monsters?” “How do you succeed in making readers like a character who’s actually a total, unapologetic asshole/villain?” and (this is a good question for all of us to consider) “How many main characters do you think is too many?”

Monkey see, monkey do (hopefully)

Sometimes when we’re writing, it can be easy to forego the visual aspect in favor of a focus on the written word. But, not to discriminate against the other senses, but sight is one of the most important ones, and visual stimulation can be really helpful as a source of inspiration, pushing you to step away from the often abstract world of language and really think about how your work, well, works in the real world.

Of course, if you’re an actual artist or graphic designer, visual work is probably crucial for you to get those creative juices flowing, as unfortunate a mental image as that may be.

Photography can be a major source of inspiration, and one really great blog that I found through WordPress Discover is Picturize by Yuki Iwaoka:

“Suck Me In” by Yuki Iwaoka.

Visual Graphc is a design blog that I love for the diversity of what it features. It’s mostly graphic design, but there is a huge diversity in the fonts, the styles, the color schemes – every single entry is different. If you’re creating a poster or a brochure or really anything, Visual Graphc can give you ideas for how put different colors, fonts, and design elements together to create something engaging and unique.

 

Eat Sleep Draw and F*** Yeah Illustrative Art are illustration curation sites that post submitted artwork in a wide spectrum of styles. Renee B. is the brains behind F*** Yeah Illustrative Art, using her own artistic background to create an impressive collection, adding new pieces every day. Eat Sleep Draw describes itself as an online gallery, showing everything from classical portraits to more fantastical pieces.

Where do you go for inspiration? Leave your resources in the comments!

 

What is creativity, anyway?

There’s a particular feeling we associate with the word “creative,” a kind of ingeniousness, a sense of novelty, maybe even of extremism – to go where no man (or woman) has gone before. When I think of creativity I think of Van Gogh, cutting of his own ear and wallowing in this pit of suffering to make something that people would one day look at and say, “Wow!”

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