How To Be Creative (OR: Creation Breeds Creation)

I like to think of myself as a creative person. This is largely because I have intense respect and admiration for creative people, and I like the idea of including myself among their ranks. Also, a large part of my young life was full of teachers and parents and professional whoevers being all “OH JESSICA IS SO CREATIVE SO WHAT IF SHE’S FAILING HISTORY SHE’S GOING TO BE AN AMAZING WRITER SOMEDAY”. So I sort of feel like I have a lot to live up to in the creativity arena.

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UNFORTUNATELY, thinking of one’s self as a creative being can invite a whole host of insecurities and neuroses, such as: I’m not creative enough, I’m not creative in the mediums I’d like to be creative in, other people are SO MUCH more creative than me that I don’t think I can really call myself “creative”.

What does “creative” mean, anyway?

I used my Google skills to find the following definition: “Having the ability to create.”*

(I found other definitions but I’m ignoring them because they do not help me make my point and that is what argumentative writing is all about, ignoring facts that don’t support your argument. HOORAY!!)

Creativity means CREATING. If you’re like me, your creative process might go something like this:

“I want to create something unique and amazing and MIND BLOWING, that EVERYONE will love, and might even make me rich beyond all reason so that I never have to work again. Okay, here we go.”

*the thinking begins*

“Hmm…I like knitting and hula hoops and YouTube. Maybe I could make a series of YouTube videos about knitting hula hoops. NO, that is stupid. But people do like things made of other things…what if I made a dress out of candy wrappers? Well, never mind, it’s already been done.”

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“I could knit sweaters for hula hoops, maybe. But that seems stupid and impractical. Does it have to be practical, though? It’s ART! Art doesn’t have to make any sense! But shouldn’t it at least have some deeper meaning and symbolism? How the hell is yarn on a hula hoop going to symbolize anything meaningful? Because…our lives are like circles…that…wear…sweaters? AUGH. NO.”

At which point my head implodes, and I don’t end up creating anything.

Then I take a shower, where I usually have one of the greatest ideas I’ve EVER had, and hop out of the shower all amped to start some new project.

SHOWERS. They are good for your creative process.


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But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’m not trying to say you should spend your whole life in the shower in the hopes of coming up with the Next Great Idea. (Though there have been days when I’ve taken three or four showers just because I couldn’t deal with the lack of ideas I had outside of the shower. I guess there are worse things to do than take lots of showers.)

The truth is, we all want to create something spectacular and unique and amazing, but getting so hung up on creating the right thing stymies the whole entire creative process if you end up sitting on your ass doing nothing.

I refer you now to my favorite human being on the Internet, Craig Benzine, who discusses originality and creativity:

THE GIST OF THE VIDEO IF YOU CAN’T / DON’T-HAVE-TIME-TO / STUBBORNLY-REFUSE-TO WATCH IT:

“I think a common reaction creative people have to the idea that there is no 100% purely original idea is denial. They want to be the purely original creator of something. Just because there’s no purely original ideas anymore, creative people, doesn’t mean you should just give up and sit on the couch and shove spaghetti down your pants and watch Burn Notice reruns.

“Once you let go of being purely original, it’s actually freeing. You can just be honest. You end up being more productive. And not such a pretentious jerk.” ~Craig Benzine

What I’m actually trying to say is, if you’re having a creative rut, the best thing you can possibly do for yourself is to let go of the fear of not creating the right thing and set about creating something. It doesn’t have to be anything amazing, mind blowing, or lucrative. It just has to be something that didn’t exist before you made it.

When you’re actively creating something, you’re actively using the part of your brain that creates. In the midst of that creation process, the odds for coming up with an idea that excites you increases considerably. In other words, it makes you want to keep creating.

If you’re having trouble thinking of something to create, I highly recommend Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. It’s a fantastic source for getting you “unstuck” and pushing you into action. I have a whole entire post planned just to talk about Keri Smith’s work, and Wreck This Journal in particular, but for now, if you’ve never checked it out, give it a look. (Interestingly enough, one of the prompts asks you to SHOWER with the book. COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT.)

An object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest. Until, of course, some outside force acts upon it. We have to be our own outside forces sometimes. If I’m feeling particularly uninspired and sluggish, I’ll remind myself of this. I’m not going to feel any more inspired or motivated unless I get up and DO something.

Make a blog post, film something and edit it together, take pictures of stuff around your house (by the way, here’s a great post about the idea of using photography to create easily and feel better), make some origami, draw, dance, play. Don’t worry about having the “right” materials or making the “right” thing, just make something.

*Funny side note. I wanted to copy and paste the definition I found elsewhere, but when I went to paste, I still had something I’d previously copied saved on my clipboard. So originally, that said, “I used my Google skills to find the following definition: http://www.knittinghelp.com.'” Which makes vastly less sense. The end.

Old Yearbooks and Project Runway

This week I went on an EXCITING ADVENTURE back to my old high school. It’s their 50th anniversary this year and they need volunteers to help them do stuff to get ready for it.

Normally when I get prodded to volunteer for something, I’m all like, “NO THANKS YOU CAN EITHER PAY ME OR DO IT YOURSELF HAVE A LOVELY DAY”. This is in large part due to the fact that said 50-year-old school spent four of my adolescent years forcing me to “volunteer” or else I wouldn’t graduate.

That’s right.

I was required to give up seventy-five of my valuable teenage hours in order to get my diploma.

It drove me absolutely insane, this concept of involuntary volunteer work, and has left a bitter taste in my mouth about volunteering for anything ever since. Which is why, if you ever tell me I should volunteer for thing or blah, it will likely induce a facial tick wherein my eye twitches and then I glare at you for an hour.

HOWEVER, despite their awful confusion about what it actually means to “volunteer”, I like my old school, so I perused the list of available stuff to help with. Most of it looked as exciting as volunteering to stand still while someone shoves bees in my pants. But then I saw that they needed “History Hounds”, people to go through old yearbooks and memorabilia.

I volunteered the crap out of that job.

So that’s what I spent three days of the past week doing, going up to my old high school and looking at old yearbooks. I remember when I was still attending school, getting to look at an old yearbook was akin to someone letting me hold a million dollars in cash. I absolutely LOVE seeing pictures of people with wacky hair traipsing around the exact same halls I traipsed around with my much cooler hair*. I am fascinated by watching the progression of things around the school going from “non-existent” to “there”. It intrigues the ever-living crap out of me to learn things I didn’t know about the place in which I spent so much time as a kid. For example, I found out that in 1981, my school became the first in the US to require computer literacy to graduate**. And then I exploded from the awesome.

Anyway, at one point a parent of a current student also showed up to poke at yearbooks with me (and the two current students who were doing it grudgingly for their involuntary volunteer hours, the poor things). We got to talking about our various high school experiences, and I mentioned that I wore duct tape and plastic bags to my senior prom.

She asked me if I ever watched Project Runway. I was like, I don’t watch TV ever. She told me that sometimes on the show, they give the contestants interesting challenges, like creating high fashion from stuff in a thrift store, etc. The idea intrigued me, so I pulled up Hulu and proceeded to watch the entirety of season 7. And then I had to explain to Green why I was wasting my time watching Project Runway. And then he watched some of it with me.

As someone who never watches TV ever, it is really tough for me to come back and watch it, even if I’m genuinely interested in the subject matter. I can’t help but pinpoint when they’re inciting drama for the sake of drama, name dropping product placement as if we won’t notice, or using stupid catch phrases. This stuff is not interesting to me, it’s irritating, and it’s especially prevalent on reality shows.

BUT. I kept watching Project Runway, because at the heart of the show, it’s about starting with raw materials and creating something beautiful. It turns out that watching the creation process of so many unique garments is really pretty cool. During one episode, the contestants had to make high fashion using only materials found in a hardware store. That episode turned out to be my favorite, just ahead of the episode where they had to make fashionable clothes out of a burlap sack.

Fashion is interesting to me from an artistic creation standpoint, not as a status symbol or anything like that. I don’t think it’s worth keeping up with and I’m not interested in “top designers” or big shows or what have you, but I think it’s so COOL to see what people come up with, especially when there’s a strict deadline like on Project Runway. I love creation under pressure, it’s making me want to participate in another creative challenge.

Or maybe learn more about sewing.

*This is a complete fabrication. I’m pretty sure I did nothing even remotely cool with my hair my entire high school career. Except for maybe when I dyed it pink with Kool-Aid, except that wasn’t cool as much as poor judgement. Or maybe the time when I braided a bunch of extensions into my hair, except that wasn’t cool as much as very strange for everyone who previously knew me to not have braided extensions in my hair.

**I’ve tried to look this up online to find out if it’s true or not, because yearbooks do like to lie. I haven’t found confirmation one way or the other, but I did find this article from Info World in 1981 about it, which I also find friggen’ awesome.