Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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The Dark Side of Creativity

Lightning streaking across the skyWe’d like to apologize for the delay this week. We’ve got a doozy of an excuse!

On Monday our city experienced a massive storm with hailstones the size of cricket balls, flooding, lightning and cyclonic winds (doesn’t that sound spectacular?). Our house was left without power for almost 24 hours.

Happily, everything’s back up and running. The house suffered minimal water damage and the cars are undented. However, the experience has got us thinking about an interesting subject – how Creativity and Imagination can feed fear.

It’s very common for people to panic in dangerous or scary situations. Your mind races with possibilities, and those possibilities (no matter how remote the chances of them actually happening) scare you even further. I’m sorry to say that your Creativity is partly responsible for this reaction. But I’m here, as a representative of Creativities everywhere, to attempt an explanation of why it happens.

The Magic Question

What is the spark, the catalyst, that starts your Creativity? Well there are a number of things that can spark your Creativity, but often it’s a question: What if?

When you ask this question under relaxed circumstances, it can lead to many fantastic ideas and hours of hilarity. What if pigs could really fly? Where would they land? What if trees grew upside down? What if you crossed an alpaca with a whale shark? What if… Yeah, I love ‘what if’ questions.

But sometimes when you ask this question under stress, your Creativity picks up on this emotion and the questions turn dark. What if my parents have an accident on the way home from work? What if this weird mole turns out to be cancer? What if the wind rips our roof off?

What makes these questions all the more scary is their plausibility. These situations have happened to other people. You see, your Creativity has been doing ‘research.’ He or she remembers previous information where people have accidents, moles turn cancerous and winds damage houses. So in an attempt to be helpful, he or she focuses on real life’ what ifs.’

If your Creativity limited the questions to the ridiculous – What if my parents drove into a mound of purple goo on the way home? What if this mole turned into a sentient being capable of extreme math skills? What if the wind landscaped my garden into a perfect representation of Windsor Palace? – then you wouldn’t be anywhere near as anxious because, lets face it, have you met a mole who can multiply? However, in an attempt to be useful, we Creativities may be a little too zealous in keeping things plausible.

And If You Look Out Your Left Window…

So you’ve got an overactive Imagination and a Creativity who is being too practical for your own good. What can be done?

First of all, please don’t think that your Creativity is necessarily working against you. I’ll admit there are those Creativities out there that take perverse delight in freaking people out. But they’re fewer than we realise. Usually your Creativity is trying to be helpful. The problem is, you’re often asking the wrong questions.

Instead of asking your Creativity ‘What if?’ ‘What is that?’ ‘What might happen next?’ try changing tack. Channel your Creativity’s excitement and helpfulness into more positive areas.

Instead of viewing an event as an ordeal, view it as an adventure. Find aspects you can learn from. Savour any little part of the experience you might find enjoyable. For example, Jessica loves thunderstorms and, needless to say, Monday had thunder and lightning galore. We savoured every flash of lightning and boom of thunder. View these experiences as opportunities to notice new and amazing things. “And now, of you’ll look out your left window you’ll see the whole western horizon illuminated by the wonders of electric discharge.”

I should point out at this point that I’m not encouraging everyone to become blasé about danger and dismiss situations where serious and immediate action must be taken. I’m talking about those occasions where, through the best of intentions, your Creativity is stressing you out. Under those circumstances, try a little redirection. Remember, we want to help. 🙂

How about you? Do you have any thoughts about how Creativity contributes to stress? Or do you have tips about how to redirect your Creativity? Please let us know. 🙂

P.S. If you would like to read more about the subject of fear and the science behind it, take a look at Jeff Wise’s blog Extreme Fear.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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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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How I Ruined a Perfectly Good Pen in the Shower, or The Creativity Sponge

A sponge and bucket surrounded by bubbles.Tivity says I’m being too informative and not entertaining enough. So, I shall attempt to rectify this by explaining how I ruined a perfectly good pen in the shower.

I have long hair, and it takes me ages to wash. And usually, during hair washing, I come up with some of my best ideas. Which is really annoying. Why? Because I have no access to pen and paper. Thinking about it, one could probably scrawl something on the mist covered glass of the shower, but I don’t think that’s the most reliable means of preserving genius.

My method for idea preservation is repeating the idea to myself over and over until I’m dry and can find writing implements. However, on the day in question, I got distracted; probably by shampoo in the eye or someone turning the dishwasher on and instantly relieving me of the hot water.

And so this is why I found myself some fifteen minutes later, fully clothed, sitting on the shower stool with pen and paper trying to mentally recreate the moment I had my idea. That’s also the point where I dropped the pen and discovered ball point down on tiles is not healthy.

(Now do you understand why I’m the informative one and Creativity’s the story-teller?)

This seemingly random story does have a purpose. I get my best ideas and connect with my Creativity the strongest when I’m in the shower. I have a relative who had the idea for a brilliant invention while on the toilet. I have two closer family members who get ideas walking from their desk to the toilet or the water fountain.

What do all these places have in common, apart from the obvious ablution factor?

Notice they are not the desk, or in front of the computer, or while staring at a blank piece of paper, or while being stared at by a boss or teacher or mother. They are alone time. Stress free time. Time when no one is expecting you to fix the situation, to find the solution, to solve the unsolvable. And that’s the time when you get the flash of inspiration.

And this brings me to one of my favourite quotes of all time:

“Your most brilliant ideas come in a flash, but the flash comes only after a lot of hard work. Nobody gets a big idea when he is not relaxed, and nobody gets a big idea when he is relaxed all the time.” – Edward Blakeslee

Why Is It So?

Imagine, for a moment, your Creativity is a sponge. (Tiv says she’s a purple sponge with green polka dots. I’ll leave you to erase that disturbing image from your mind on your own. I’m stuck with it.) Now imagine you are lowering your Creativity sponge into a bucket of special idea-inducing water. She soaks it up with gusto. Now, you pull your sponge out of the bucket and squeeze. Lovely ideas, concepts, jokes, random hilarity etc. drip everywhere. Life is good.

Next, without releasing your hand, stick the sponge back in the bucket. Pull the sponge out and squeeze again. Notice that far less creative goodness comes out this time?

If you’re holding the sponge tightly, no matter how much water you immerse it in, the sponge won’t soak it up – and therefore will not have anything to give you when you squeeze.

Where Am I Going With This?

When you need an idea, you squeeze your Creativity. She bursts forth with all the amazing brilliance you know and love. However, as you become more stressed you’ll notice her productivity begins to drop. You’re squeezing her for ideas, but she’s got nothing left to give. That’s what the dyspeptic haddock look is telling you. You need to let go, give her some breathing room and an opportunity to absorb more idea juice.

How long does that take? It really depends on the Creativity, and the problem. Sometimes it takes minutes. Sometimes days. But relaxing and providing Creativity with breathing room is a very important part of the creative process. Do not rush it, and do not squeeze too early. Be prepared to relax. This is not slacking off! It is giving your Creativity sponge time to refresh. And it is just as important, if not more so, than the squeezing step.

(Note to parents, teachers, friends, employers: If you happen to see your child, student, friend or employee staring into space, or walking aimlessly around when they should be working on a problem, resist the urge to shake them back to reality and force them into a ‘working’ frame of mind. They are most probably communing with their inner sponge…er…Creativity, whether they consciously realise it or not. At times, it’s that little moment of blankness, of daydream, that provides the inspiration for what they’re about to do. Not always, but sometimes. So give them the benefit of the doubt, at least once, and see what happens. You might get to watch that wonderful moment where Creativity sparks and ideas are born.)

What about you? Where or when do you get your brilliant flashes? Please share. We’d love to know.


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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. 🙂

(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.)