My whole life people have told me "you are so creative!". I have loved making things since I was small. I would make up stories, make toys, doddle, origami, anything. My family summed that up as creativity. I always felt a little confused because I didn't do anything original. My family saw my love to create, I saw my lack of ingenuity. We were thinking of two different types of creativity. So lets explore what creativity is, and find some creativity definitions.
This week I was listening to an episode of Elise Gets Crafty, an amazing small business/creatives podcast, in which Elise interviews Jen Lara who has done a lot of study on creativity. She defined two kinds of creativity; expressive or inventive. Expressive creativity is creating as we think of artists, painting, dancing, music etc. Inventive creativity is a part of that, but it is also much larger. Inventive creativity is problem solving, it is ideation, it is coming up with new-ness. This is the kind of creativity I was sure I had none of. I have always struggled to come up with ideas. I can make things, I can follow instructions, but I cannot invent new things. But in this podcast episode Jen is telling me that creativity can be exercised and encouraged. Really?
I listened to the episode twice and then searched for other podcasts about creativity. Of course I found one on the TED Radio Hour. Bits and pieces and interviews surrounding 4 TED Talks about creativity, the perfect thing to get my brain exploding with connections. The first guest on the podcast is Sting, and when asked he defines creativity as "the ability to take a risk". That sounds really scary. I don't generally like risks. I like nice safe things, such as my bed and my house. But I kept on with the podcast and Sting said that when he needed to re find his creativity he had to get out of his own way, get over himself, and in his case get into the heads of other people.
Which aligned very well with something the next guest Charles Limb had to say about his research on jazz pianists. He was astounded (as we all should be) by the pure creativity of their work, and as a researcher decided to find out what was going on inside their brains. Naturally this meant MRIs fitted with keyboards. Watching the jazz pianists' brains Limb hypothesized that their self-monitoring systems were being suppressed while they played. What are self monitoring systems? Thats stuff like self consciousness, and self judgment. All the things that keep us from making "mistakes", or doing things "wrong". The judging, deciding, consciousness in their brains, hypothetically, is turned off to allow their creativity to flow. They get out of their own way, take risks with music and we love it. So why do most of us struggle to be creative?
I have a terrible fear of being wrong. I remember even just being in college (I went to a small private school, where class sizes were still around 30) and not wanting to raise my hand unless I was sure the information I was sharing was correct. In order to not be wrong, whatever you are saying or presenting, has to already be proven. Which by definition, means it is not new. Someone else risked their neck on the information or idea, and it is now generally accepted. New things can be wrong. But creative things have to be new, otherwise they aren't inventive. So they might be wrong.
Jen Lara says in the podcast that the biggest gains in creativity happen in elementary school, And in the TED radio hour Sir Ken Robinson says that schools teach us that being wrong is the worst thing that we can do. Following our previous logic, our creativity is often stifled, right when we should be getting most of it! Jen has some attainable hope for us though. She talked about two exercises to try and grow creativity. One is just finding multiple answers or solutions to a question, obviously in a real life situation you would then have to pare down the answers, but being able to create possibilities is part of creativity. The second activity to grow creativity Jen suggested was to find two random objects in your house and try to find a connection between them. Like what is the connection between a banana and a stapler (What is it? put yours in the comments!). We can grow our creativity!!
That creativity exercise made me excited because I actually have a board game all about making connections between random things. It is called Connexio, and since it apparently will help us all become more creative we should play it. Although I must admit it is challenging, which means it is working out my creativity muscles right?
The last guest on the TED radio hour was Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat. Pray. Love. (which I'll admit I haven't read, have you? should I go pick it up?) She defined creativity as "going into the uncertain". She also spoke about fear, and she used a hilarious image of fear and creativity as conjoined twins. She said that fear was always going to be with us when we do creative things but that we should not let fear make any of the choices. Just like Sting said, to be creative, we have to take the risk.
Creativity is important. it is something that we all have to some degree, and that we can grow (whether with Jen's suggestions or with our own projects and challenges). Everyone said that creativity is challenging, risky, and scary. They said it takes honesty, and getting out of your own way. But I think all of their lives prove that it is worth it. So here is to pursuing creativity. I am trying, I hope you are too. Lets Journey together.
Let me know in the comments what your thoughts on and experiences of creativity are!
Ted Radio Hour Episode
Elise Gets Crafty Episode
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This book is quick, inspiring and honest. I enjoy his writing style immensely, and think everyone should read all his books. Which you can likely find at the library.
The Book of Doing by Alison Arden
I have done projects out of this book in other blog posts (here, here, here and here), and if you need challenges to help you get out of your routine, this will definitely help.
The Flinch by Julien Smith
This is also a challenge book, but shorter and sweeter and more to the point. it is just 2.99 in the Kindle store, and it will definitely make you think and do.
Dear future me, and people of the internet,
I am working to start an online career. I am 4 weeks into my dogged pursuit of this goal, almost 10 months into the attempted pursuit. Innumerable years of dreaming and denying this idea are behind me. I currently work a split shift job, and in between my shifts I work on this project for two hours a day. It is hard. I struggle to find focus, encouragement, and discipline.
I have begun listening to small business and creatives podcasts on my drives to and from work. This is so helpful, in educating myself and in getting motivated to work. My favorite podcast of the moment is Elise Gets Crafty. Another great one is She Percolates. All these ladies educate me and keep me going. I have been reading Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist, and Show Your Work) and I also bought the ebook Building a Business by Elise Blaha Cripe & Maggie Whitley (which is amazing, and totally worth $12). I cannot believe it has only been four weeks of this dedicated work. I struggle to keep working. I have new ideas every week that threaten to throw me completely off track (assuming of course I know where the track is).
I have been scouring the internet for someone's beginning story. I am listening to lots of people's success, many have been at it for 3 years or even 10. Perhaps in the great abyss that is the internet, I just can't find the other people who have been at it for just 4 weeks. But I decided that if nothing else I will write my own story. I am leaving this as a record for myself, when I can no longer remember what it was like to start (so much faith is hidden in that phrase!), and also as a way for people to follow along. As encouragement and honesty for other people just starting out, or wanting to start out. We can do this!
I am starting this journey. I have 41 Instagram followers on my branded account. Most of those are my real life friends. I have made 1 sale via an email request. I have 3 items listen in my Etsy shop, and no sales yet. This is the beginning. No one knows I exist as a brand. I am still deciding what to dedicate my self to. I have made some resin pendants and earrings, and still dream in that direction. But most of my energy is going into developing a line of stained glass jewelry.
I have 2 work areas. I have a desk that is mostly covered in clutter. Where I do my computer work (such as writing this letter), and I have a basement work table where I work on stained glass projects. I am calling this series letters from the basement, because making is the heart of this business I hope to build. As hard as it is to make myself go down there and get to work, I always love it and wish I didn't have to stop and go back to my day job.
These letters are going to be my space to just record how things are going, and be a little more behind the scenes than I can be other places. I hope that someone reading this, in the future I struggle to imagine, is feeling empowered to just start (whatever your dream project is). Even if we fail, we will have learned so much.
I'm Sara. I live in Portland, Oregon. I have chickens. I love coffee AND tea, I make stained glass pendants in my basement, and I love adventures and new ways to live. I have an Etsy store as well.
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