A friend of mine once said, “I’m just not creative.” I was astounded. I knew her as a motivational speaker, an organizer of volunteers who got people to give not just money, but of themselves. I’d been to her home, which was beautifully decorated and I’d eaten meals she’d prepared. Delicious! How could she think of herself as not creative?
This woman, like many others I’ve met, somehow has the idea that unless they produce “art,” they don’t get to claim themselves creative. So, first thing, when anyone asks me how to be more creative, or how to get in touch with their creativity, I always ask what creativity means to them. Too often we limit our creativity and ourselves because we’ve put the idea of creativity into a box labeled ART. By doing this, we limit something that, by its very nature, has no limits.
Think of creation itself. Think of Mother Nature. Think of yourself as a child when all the world was imagination. Cows were purple, flowers grew as high as houses and clouds flew across the sky like great winged horses.
“Who can sing?” the kindergarten teacher asks and 16 hands shoot in the air. “Who can write a story?” the Brownie troop leader asks. Seven girls say, “I can.” And then they do, with gusto and great joy.
Then somewhere around adolescence teachers begin to grade us on our “creativity.” Competitions are set up. Those with less natural talent in singing or drawing, or who never learned to play an instrument beyond the triangle in first grade, begin to judge themselves. Maybe they’re told cows aren’t purple, or nice girls don’t write like that or boys don’t play with doll clothes. They become self-conscious about making art or using their imaginations. By the time they are adults, they may have turned completely away from this expressive part of themselves.
But creativity is a natural part of all human beings, like love and hope, and even though we turn away or shut down or deny, it remains steadfastly within us. Maybe it’s just a certain longing when we listen to music or attend an art exhibit or pass by a window decorated with whimsy or daring. Creativity is catching and it takes a great deal of effort to suppress our own. Whether we acknowledge it our not, our creativity leaks out in some manner—the way we furnish our homes, landscape our yards, prepare meals or dress ourselves.
This is what I know about creativity: The more you do it, the more whole you feel. The less you judge it, the more pleasure you derive. Creativity brings playfulness to our lives that is often missing. Want a boost in self-esteem? Engage in your natural creativity.
The first step is to acknowledge that you are a creative being. You might as well, because just like having blue eyes or brown, there’s little you can do about it anyhow. Consider it a gift that you have been given by a generous and loving Creator. One that will bring you fulfillment and can also give pleasure to others. Claim your creativity and welcome it.
The second step is to pay attention to expressions of creativity in your life. Slow down. Be mindful. Notice how your body responds to any sort of creativity, human-made or natural. The way you respond physically offers a clue to what stirs you and often what stirs you can guide you to your own creative gifts.
The third step is an action step. Make a list of specific creative expressions you have experienced in your life that gave you pleasure. Don’t stop to think, just write them down as quickly as they come to you.
When I pretended I could play the ukelele
The time I rollerskated like a dancer to “Lean on Me.”
The collage I made at the women’s retreat
Include at least 20 specific instances when you felt good in the process of being creative.
Without reservation, write a short journal piece on what creative act you see yourself doing. Let it be as playful, silly or flamboyant as it wants. Don’t judge what appears as impossible or crazy. Trust your intuitive guide.
Doing these exercises will give you information about yourself that you may have forgotten or never acknowledged. Celebrate it.
And finally, the fourth step: Create.
Creativity is not thinking about creating; it’s doing it. You don’t have to already know how to do something to do it. And you don’t have to be “good.” Just be present. Let go of any judgment and enjoy.
Ultimately you may uncover or discover something that brings you so much pleasure you want to get better at it. So you take lessons or get a mentor. Or you may find satisfaction in the doing of the thing. The point is to live fully and mindfully and that means giving voice to our creative expressions whatever sound we make.
May yours be a joyful noise.
Based on the book A Writer’s Book of Days: © 2010 by Judy Reeves. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. 800.972.6657 x 52.
Judy Reeves is the author of A Writer’s Book of Days and Writing Alone, Writing Together. She teaches writing and leads creativity workshop and is cofounder of the Writing Center, a nonprofit literary arts organization. She lives in San Diego.
Photo courtesy of Samhsa