Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Immunising Your Creativity Against Criticism

The dreaded needle

It’s three weeks till Jessica heads off for her overseas trip, and today she’s having vaccination shots.

Now, do correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe vaccinations work along these lines: The nurse injects a weakened form of the virus into your body for your immune system to practice on. Your immune system bumps off the lurgy in fine style, creating antibodies (not antibiddies as I just typed by accident, although it does provide a fantastic mental picture of large middle-aged women running around the bloodstream biffing germs where they stand)…ahem, creating antibodies so if your body ever does encounter the real thing, it’ll flatten those blighters as soon as look at them. Sound about right?

Well, it occurs to me that a similar concept can be applied to protecting your Creativity from a dangerous affliction blighting the existence of Creativities the world over – Criticism Poisoning. (Like Blood Poisoning for you guys. I realise the rest of the medical side of what is to follow is shaky, but the concepts work in my world, if not in yours. And really that’s all that matters at this point.)

Now, while some Criticism is necessary, even helpful, there are some very nasty strains floating around. The “What made you think that would work?” strain is a doozy, and the “When are you going to get a real job?” strain is very dangerous. Exposure to these and other strains can leave your Creativity feeling extremely ill and even kill infant ideas. If exposed to Criticism for long enough, Creativities can become paralyzed.

Symptoms of Criticism Poisoning range from sluggishness and numbness through to complete creative blanks – a truly dreadful thing for a Creativity to endure.

The more often you show your work to the public, or tell someone about your ideas, the more likely you are to risk infection. Every time someone reacts to your work, whether verbally or simply through body language, they may offer criticism. When that happens, you risk exposing yourself and your Creativity to Criticism Poisoning. At times you can even infect yourself by allowing inner Criticism to take over.

What should you do?

There is a Treatment!

When you travel overseas, there is always the chance you will catch something. Some places you’re just likely to catch the flu, or a mild tummy bug. In other places, you can catch real nasties like Malaria or Hepatitis. Does this mean you should stop at home and never travel? What a boring life that would be! And there’s no guarantee you won’t end up with something just as icky while wrapped up snug at home. So, doctors suggest you enact a two step plan. Immunizations and boosting of the immune system.

The good news is, these steps work the same for your Creativity. Here’s how.

Immunization

As I mentioned before, immunizations expose you to a weaker version of the disease. Why not expose your Creativity to a weaker version of Criticism? You want to provide him/her with the necessary antibodies (or tools) to fight the infection as well as provide the confidence that this disease can be cured.

So, before plunging yourself and your ideas into a public arena where you are sure of coming in contact with a critic at some point, find an occasion to expose yourself to a milder form of Criticism. Perhaps from a friend.

Find someone you trust to be kind, but provide you with solid feedback to an idea – the good and the bad. You’ll feel the initial smart when they tell you your idea needs work, or when they explain that the outburst of laughter in the second paragraph of your short story was not because of your sparkling wit but a typo. Embrace the stinging in the back of the throat. Learn to remove the emotion (disappointment, rejection, embarrassment) from the actual facts – the idea still needs thought, you need to pay more attention to the spell checker, etc. Practice looking past the pain and seeing the possibilities.

Once you feel confident enough to take your friend’s ‘Criticism,’ move on to another friend or family member, this time looking for someone with a little sharper tongue (like a caustic cousin or a grating great-aunt). Ask for an opinion from someone you know is very opinion-happy, but make sure the situation and person you choose will not spiral into hate fest or damage a relationship.¬† Once exposed, take the natural hurt and work with it. Find the kernel of helpful information without getting bogged down in the emotion.

This will take time and practice. Some immunizations require multiple doses to be effective. This is one of them. But stick with it. The ability to survive Criticism is imperative to seeing you and your Creativity through the highly infectious times.

While immunizing, don’t forget to work on the second step.

Boosting Your Immune System

Garlic. Horseradish. Echinacea. The list goes on and on. The idea behind them is that by boosting the strength of your immune system, you are giving yourself more strength to fight sickness.

How can you boost your Creativity’s ‘immune system’?

One effective way is by reminding him/her, and yourself, of your achievements – however big or small. Remembering that you are creative, capable and successful (even in small things) will make you more resilient. It will also provide your Creativity with pictures of past accomplishments, reminders that he/she is capable of doing it all again.

Another method is to remind yourself how you feel about being creative. Does it make you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Peaceful? Whole? Are you doing this to gain the appreciation of all your peers, and then the world? That last one isn’t a good enough reason. You’ll never please everyone. But if you’re doing it because of the first four feelings listed above, then that’ll keep you going. Those are positive feelings. Healing feelings. And after a bout of Criticism, you need healing feelings. (Try saying that four times fast with a mouthful of biscuits. Healing feelings, hilling fillings, hulling fullings, falling hillings.)

What about reading examples of writers, artists, actors and others who have received criticism for their work, even while many were showering them with praises? Criticism doesn’t just happen to people who are beginning or who are ‘below par.’ It happens to everyone. You’re not alone.

Of course, our favourite method is to find yourself a good friend who can offer soothing words when you and your Creativity are feeling particularly off-colour. Sometimes a good ego stroking does help. But only to a point. I’m sure there’s only so much garlic one can take as well, although I haven’t yet found the limit…of ego stroking or garlic. ūüėõ

Monitor Your Creativity’s Health

Unfortunately, whenever we share our creative endeavors we are always exposing ourselves to Criticism. Our vaccinations may need renewing from time to time. We will always need immune boosting.

But the best thing to remember is: While Criticism has the potential to cut you down, it can also make you stronger. A lot stronger. The key is learning how to find the kernel of useful information – the spot where you can improve – and then using it. But more about that later.

Right now, I’m off for some immune boosting.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative View of Education

Recently I came across a very interesting and entertaining talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the subject ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’ You will find the YouTube video embedded below. It is 20 minutes long and well worth the watch.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from his speech to whet your appetite:

  • “My contention is creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
  • “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”
  • “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not [talented, brilliant and creative] because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized.”

He also uses the intriguing term “academic inflation,” but I’ll let him explain the meaning.

Please watch and enjoy. ūüôā


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Work That Creative Flab

I’m Jessica’s Creativity (you can tell from my purple text) and I’m here today to talk about exercise – the kind of exercise you can do while sitting down…and eating chocolate. Interested?

“OkWoman stretching before exerciseay,” you say. “I read the post about trusting Creativity, but I’ve got news for you. My Creativity is no MacGyver or Indiana Jones. I don’t think he/she can go the distance, whether I trust her/him or not.”

A valid point. Before you can trust someone, you need to believe in their trustworthiness. You cannot demand trust with no basis. You need proof, and your Creativity needs practice.

The answer? Exercise!

You cannot accomplish rain forest conquering feats if you have not first walked around the block a couple of times. Couch potatoes tend to do badly during death marches in the tropics, or death marches anywhere come to think of it.

The trick is to exercise yourself into condition, develop experience and accumulate gadgets. Let’s discuss these in a little more detail.

Get Yourself Into Condition

Okay, you’ve just been informed that in a month’s time you and the hero of your choice will be dashing off into the rain forest for an adventure. What do you do? After you ring your best friend babble for an hour and a half about how totally awesome this is going to be, what do you do?

Presumably you look at the less than ideal waistline and think about getting into shape. There are two ways to do this:

  • Rush down to the beach now and start doing laps!
  • Plan a consistent and reasonable exercise routine.

Yeah, I’m all for the do-laps, exhaust-self, swear-never-to-exercise-until-next-year kind decision initially, but time has shown me the benefits of routine. In fact, a consistent and reasonable routine gets you fitter quicker and keeps you there for longer. Why? It’s easier to maintain because you form a habit.

The same can be said for a creative routine. You want to form a habit – the habit of turning up, sitting down and allowing your Creativity to flow.

You can do it in killer clumps of inspiration. At times it’s the only way you can get the mass if ideas out of your head. (It tends to get crowded when too many ideas appear at once. That’s when you need to get them out of your Creativity’s way and down on paper!) However, if you want to be continually and consistently creative, you need to get yourself and your Creativity into a routine.

You’re possibly thinking that routine takes all the spark out of Creativity, and you kill random as soon as you put a schedule to it. To clarify, I am not saying you set yourself a time of day and only let your Creativity come out to play between 8 and 9 in the morning. Spontaneity is a huge part of the creative process. However, regular practice sessions with your Creativity will eventually lead to more spontaneity and creativeness. Counter intuitive perhaps, but don’t knock it till you try it.

Develop Experience

As you develop your daily walking routine, you’ll begin to accumulate experience. By the third day you’ll realise a water bottle is essential. By the fifth day you’ll realise that the first five minutes are always the hardest (or the second five minutes, or the seventh five minutes). By the seventh day you’ll realise walking at 7:45 every morning is a bad idea because Walter walks Caesar the Alsatian along the same path at the same time, and Caesar takes violent exception to your squeaky shoes.

Your creative routine will be the same. You’ll begin to realise when you need that cup of tea/coffee. Is it when you sit down, half an hour in or as a reward when you finish? If you’re writing, you’ll know that the first hundred words are the hardest, followed by the next hundred words which are also the hardest, and then there’s the hundred after that… You’ll begin to learn what to do when you hit the wall. Tough it out, concentrate on something different or reward yourself? You may even learn when you should stop; identify when your Creativity sponge is all squeezed out.

The more experience you have, the better you’ll understand yourself and your Creativity. This knowledge helps you trust your Creativity and know what she needs.

Accumulate Gadgets

Jessica finds exercise much more exciting when she has something to listen to, which is why she walks with an mp3 player (or a family member, although they don’t clip onto the belt quite so comfortably). Other people walk with pedometers so they know exactly how many steps they’ve taken. Still others find walking with a big stick or pole makes them feel more comfortable – presumably Moses was one of these people.

When you and your Creativity are working together, what sort of things do you need? Music? Inspiring knickknacks? A word counter? Find the gadgets that work for you.

Once you have your routine, experience and useful gadgets, you’ll find yourself trusting in Creativity and the creative process that much more. You’ll know where to go and what do to when you need that inspiration.

But when will you have opportunity to do all these things? Stay tuned for a future post about how you can start your own Creative Project.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Building Trust in Your Creativity

An adventurer in the jungle exploring a Mayan pyramidImagine this. You’re standing on the edge of an unexplored jungle in South America. Yep, South America¬†(which Ellie in Up so succinctly described as: “It’s like America, but south!“). You’re all kitted out with safari hat, pocket laden vest, nifty¬†quick-dry trousers and humongous backpack.¬†Ready to set forth on an adventure – to find the lost treasure of kleptomaniac Mayan King Illtakethatifupleaz.

Clichéd, I know, but bear with me.

Your trusty guide for this occasion is: Macgyver. Or Indiana Jones if you prefer. Must be someone with incredible survival skills and the unmatched ability to outdo any baddies by the end of the episode/movie.

With me so far?

You turn to your trusty guide, and you have the following conversation.

YOU: So, Mr. Trusty Guide of my Choosing, sir. Where are we off to?

TRUSTYGUIDE: We’re off into the depths of this disease and baddie-ridden rain forest. Ready?

YOU: Um…Well, I’m not so sure really. Will it be safe?

TRUSTYGUIDE: Of course! I am <insert name of Trusty Guide of Your Choice> and I always find my way out of these situations, with my sidekick intact (unless you’re the kind of sidekick who turns out to be a spy in the third act). My methods may be unorthodox, but the result is always the same. Success!

YOU: Will we encounter quick sand?

TRUSTYGUIDE: Very possibly.

YOU: How will we get out?

TRUSTYGUIDE: There’ll probably be a vine nearby. Or I’ll use my gun. Or there’ll be a docile, nonvenemous snake you could throw me.

YOU: Well? Which one will it be?

TRUSTYGUIDE: Won’t know till we get there.

YOU: What about the baddies? They’ll attack when we get close to the treasure. It will look like we’re not going to make it. There’ll be booby traps and double crosses. What will we do?

TRUSTYGUIDE: I’ll figure it out. That’s what I do. It’s no fun if you know all the answers before you get there.

YOU: But we have to be prepared! How will you fix things if you don’t have a paperclip, duct tape and a matchbox on your pocket¬†to begin with?

You contemplate this conversation as you study the passing rain forest floor, now bound, gagged and slung over your Trusty Guide’s shoulder.

“I would never say those things,” you think. “I’d be so excited to be with my favourite hero I’d be jumping at the chance to set forth. I trust that he will always get me out of trouble. That’s what he’s known for.”

Notice that word? Trust. We trust that Macgyver, or Indiana Jones or countless other action heros will eventually come out on top because that’s what must happen. Good triumphs over evil.

Does this always happen in the real world? Not always. In fact hardly ever at most levels of government, but let’s stay on¬†topic here…

Just because things won’t go as expected, doesn’t mean you should sabotage your adventures before you leave by questioning how you’ll handle every little occurrence.

For instance, have you ever had this conversation (or a thought process like it) when contemplating a story idea?

YOU: I’ve got a brilliant idea for a story!

CREATIVITY: Do tell?

YOU: A super computer takes over the world and begins bumping people off because it feels the population has become unsustainable. You have action, you have moral dilemmas, and I’ll add an autistic¬†boy to provide the answer with a little help from a dashing¬† hero who falls for the boy’s mother.

CREATIVITY: Cool! Let’s get started.

You and Creativity have several long discussions about how things are going to pan out and so on and so forth. Then you start writing. About three chapters in, you start having this discussion.

YOU: How am I going to solve this?

CREATIVITY: We’ve already worked that out. We’ll…

YOU: Yeah, I know what we’ll do at the very end, but what about the baddies? What about the bugs in the code? What about the end chase? What about…

CREATIVITY: You’re on chapter three. We haven’t got there yet. I’ll tell you when we get there.

YOU: I can’t write it if I don’t know where I’m going!

And you leave in a huff. Creativity bangs head against wall. The manuscript becomes silverfish fodder.

At this point I should say that I appreciate it is very important to know where you’re going when you begin a project. And it’s very important to map out in some level of detail how you’re going to get there. Some people need to have everything all scoped from beginning to end before they put pen to paper. Other people just write. Either way, you need to trust your Creativity.

All Creativities will have moments where they’re not sure¬†what to do. Macgyver and Indiana¬†Jones have their moments of surprise, confusion and indecision too. But give them all long enough in a situation, plus enough paper clips or rubber bands, and they’ll begin making connections. Perhaps your Creativity sees something that he/she can use. Perhaps¬†he/she realises¬†a change needs to be made earlier for¬†all of this to fit together.

Whatever the case, don’t take away your Creativity’s chance to stand in the room and look at the problem. ¬†Instead of hesitating at the edge of the rain forest, asking for answers to every problem, let your Creativity get stuck in the quick sand, navigate the booby traps and discover the double agent in ‘real time.’ Not necessarily while you’re writing, but perhaps while you’re planning. Give your Creativity opportunity to get in and get messy. To try different things. To live in the moment.

This doesn’t just apply to a creative writing setting, it applies to any problem you’re trying to solve. Creativity needs time, input and the opportunity to play around with the situation. Take away any of these things, and your adventure stops before it’s even started.

So give it a try. Step into the rain forest. The leeches are lovely and warm this time of year.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Cheesy Advice…The Good Kind

CheeseHave you ever noticed the wide variety of books, magazines, websites, blogs etc. on the subjects of writing and cultivating your creativity? Have you ever noticed how they often seem to contradict each other?

Write with your audience in mind. / Write¬†like you’re the only one who’ll ever read it.

Write, write, write; especially when you don’t feel like writing. / Write only when you feel you have something to say.

Surround yourself with inspiring objects. / Declutter! An empty space provides room for creativity.

Listen to music to get you in the mood. / Silence! Don’t¬†drown out your ideas with other sounds.¬†

See what I mean? Not just different views. Diametrically opposite views. How do you know which one is right? Is there such a thing as ‘right’ in this case?

Perhaps we should rephrase the question. How do you know which one is right for you and your Creativity? The answer is: Cheese!

Well, not exactly ‘cheese’ but run with it for a bit and you’ll see what I mean.

Cheddar or Bulgarian Feta?

Although most people like cheese, none of them agree on which is the best cheese and how it should be eaten. Some swear by melted cheddar in toasted sandwiches, while others are adamant that feta with coppa and sun-dried tomatoes is the ultimate cheese eating experience. Even those who prefer melted probably started out as kids with tiger bread (grilled cheese and Vegemite), progressed to pizza with extra toppings and then discovered fondue.

Are those who prefer melted cheddar wrong and the feta lovers right? “No,” you say. “Everyone has different tastes.” And you’d be right.

In the same way that people have different tastes and personalities, Creativitys differ. Or should that be Creativities? Making up words is tough! English grammar flummoxes me every time! What was I saying?

There are some truths that apply to just about all cheeses. You can add just about all cheeses¬†to salads (depending on the salad). Just about all cheeses melt. And then there’s cheese and crackers. That’s tradition. Feta, cheddar, edam, bleu, smoked, cream. It doesn’t matter. You can add them all to crackers and yumminess ensues.

It’s the same with creativity. There are some truths that apply to just about all of us Creativitys/ies. We all need input – exposure to information or examples of what we are expected¬†to produce – before we can truly come up with something new. We all need a certain amount of freedom. We all need a little nurture and protection from scathing responses to our work. We all need bright colours, outlandish clothing and permission to dance barefoot on cafe tables in the rainy season. Or is that just me?

Ahem.

There are some situations where a certain kind of cheese is just perfect for a certain kind of dish. For example: lasagna and grated parmesan. One would think lasagna and grated bleu cheese would not work so well (but then I’m not a bleu cheese person). Creativities are the same. There are some situations where they perform brilliantly, and others that are just not their thing. The¬†situations mentioned at the beginning of this post are cases in point.

Some Creativitys¬†are like water pumps. When you first start pumping in the morning, all sorts of icky water comes out. Useless stuff. But it has to be pumped out so the clear water can start to flow. Once you’ve got going, then you start finding all sorts of gems and ideas. But you’ve got to get past the junk first. In this case, ‘write write write even when you don’t want to’ is good advice. It forces out the dirty water so you can get through to the clear.

Some Creativities¬†(I’ve decided I like it better with the ie) enjoy interaction with their intended audience. I personally like to invite an imaginary audience member around to my place for a cup of tea and a buttered pomegranate so we can get to know one another and I can work out what makes him/her laugh. As I get to know them better, I understand what I have to do in order to get (and keep) their attention. However, once I’ve got that worked out, I tend to boot them out and have fun all by myself. Only later do I invite them back. But perhaps your Creativity has a phobia of the intended audience, and clams up completely when they’re around. In that case, ‘write like you’re the only one who’ll read it.’

See what I mean? I’m not saying never take anyone’s writing advice again. I’m saying view¬†writing/creativity advice¬†as trying a new kind of cheese. Instead of reading someone’s writing tips and thinking, “My goodness, I’m doing it all wrong” or “My way’s better anyway,” think of it as a cheese platter. Try it. If you like it, great! Add it to your list of acceptable cheeses. If not, then don’t feel like you’re a failure, or that the other person is wrong because he or she subscribes to a different method. Concede different tastes.¬†Each time you taste, you are coming to a better understanding of your Creativity. And I that’s what it’s all about.

Because even the best writing advice might just not work for your Creativity, and if it’s not working then you’re not getting the most out of him or her. You might even be surpressing the very thing you wish to cultivate. So sit down with your Creativity and try tasting different advice. Work out which work and which don’t. Enjoy the experience and learn from it.

Now, where’s my parmesan? Bring on the smelly-sock-cheese!


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Does Your Creativity Have a Name?

So hopefully by now you’ve at least got some idea of who your Creativity is and where he or she lives. But, do you know your Creativity’s name?

“Creativity? I thought her name was Creativity.”

And if she (or he) is okay with you calling her Creativity, then that’s fine. But sometimes your Creativity has a pet name. I have several. I’m called ‘Tivity’ or ‘Tiv’ for short, and sometimes, when I’m going undercover, I’m called ‘Treya Vitic.’ If you look really closely, you’ll notice that’s the letters of Creativity all swapped around. There’s a fancy word for it, but I can never think of what it is. Which is why I work in Imagination and not the Motor Cortex.

What about your Creativity? Is he called Mr. Creativity to you? Or perhaps Hoopla the Yellow Bunny? Uncle Fuzzy?

What does your Creativity call herself/himself? What do you call her/him? They’re not always the same name. Ask and see what happens. After which, comment and tell me all about it.


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The Benefits of Befriending Your Creativity

Okay. So now you’re probably finding the whole idea of personifying your Creativity a bit strange, and although it sounds cute and is fun to read, you think you’ll just remain a distant observer. Fair enough. But let me briefly explain why this concept might actually be useful.

Predict the ‘Elusive’

You’ve probably heard many descriptions of creativity. It’s a mysterious and elusive force some people master while others spend their time fruitlessly waiting for it to appear. It is a process – if you put yourself in the right mind-set, at the right time, in the right circumstances you will eventually produce creative thought.¬†The descriptions are numerous and varied.

However, most of¬†these descriptions¬†foster the idea that you need to control your creativity. If you find the spark, grab it. Don’t let go. Recreate the same circumstances so you can reproduce the experience. Follow these steps to bring it back into predictable line.

Steps and cycles do have their place when you need creative inspiration, as we’ll discuss another time. But what if, instead of viewing your creativity as something¬†to be controled, you viewed it as someone to interact with?

What if instead of viewing it as an unpredictable force, you were able to view it as a friend? You could learn your Creativity’s likes and dislikes. When does she feel creative, and when does she feel stifled? When is she bursting¬†to provide you with the answer, and when is she sulking because of something you let happen? What can you do to make her feel creative again?

And most importantly, how can you call her to action when you need her? What if, instead of rummaging through the scraps of paper on your noticeboard for your 10 point list on how to spark your creativity, you could mentally pop around to her place and ask for help in person?

The Second Voice

You’ve heard it said, “Two heads are better than one”? In a way, your Creativity can become your second head. She’ll bounce ideas off you. You’ll mention your problems to her. She’ll say the wacky, insane things you’re afraid to say and you’ll be the voice of reason. She’ll raspberry at you when you select her tamest idea and you’ll smile to yourself as you put it into practice.

Thinking of your Creativity as a separate character, allows part of you to voice ideas your rational mind would be too embarrassed to let out. It provides you plausible deniability. The idea’s insane/ridiculous/brilliantly crazy. That’s okay, it wasn’t me, it was Creativity. She made me think it. The freedom this provides is delightfully liberating, and does wonders for your creative thought. It¬†gives you permission to play with absurd ideas that you may otherwise have dismissed as inappropriate or childish. And it’s¬†those ideas that¬†are the necessary fodder for creative thought.

And besides, who doesn’t want to have someone to blame for our mistakes, verbal faux pax and word puns? Isn’t this why younger siblings are all the rage?

Feel More Comfortable in Your Process

I speak from experience when I say that viewing Creativity this way can take a lot of the stress out of the creative process. If I need an idea, I know where to go. I know I have a friend who can help me out. If I have a creative block, or am coming up with less than stellar ideas, I check on my Creativity. Is she annoyed at me? Is she feeling okay? Does she need a break? Does she need some new experiences? Am I actually listening to her, or trying to do things without her?

Getting to know your Creativity allows you to understand your own creative process. What helps it. What hinders it. (I use ‘it’ here to refer to the process, not the Creativity. I mention this to keep me out of my Creativity’s bad books. She views these things very seriously.) It also helps you to understand what you can do to increase the efficiency of your process.

In short, this is more than just a cute gimmick. It’s a concept that could help you become the creative person you want to be. So don’t be shy. Give it a try. ūüôā

(On a side point, you may notice that the capital C in Creativity seems to appear and disappear. In this blog we will use an upper case ‘C’ when referring to¬†personifications of Creativity, and a lower case ‘c’ when we are talking about creativity in general.)