Writerly Play: Exploring the Station

A note to new readers: This post is part seven of a seven-part series. I’d highly recommend starting at the beginning as each post builds on the last.

The Room Out Back

In most cases, the Writerly Play rooms are quiet, and often solitary spaces. Sometimes I find it useful to invite collaborators into the Studio or the Workshop. However, the Station is unique in that it is always a social place. For that reason, I like to picture it as a little separate from the other rooms. It’s out back, and work doesn’t end up in the Station until I’m ready to physically move it there.

station-1

The culmination of a creative process is usually the sharing of what has been created. We can gauge our success by the effect of our work on the people who experience it. Does it create the experience or communicate in the way we hoped? When it comes to living a creative life, we might find ourselves in the Station when we are ready to tell the story of an important experience. By shaping our experience into a story, we make it tangible for ourselves. When we share the story, we provide helpful perspective for others, too.

It’s important to seek feedback not only at the very end of the creative process—when it’s often too late to change much about the work—but also along the way at healthy intervals. While the feedback comes from others, there are still skills we must build to make the most of the Station. We must learn to listen, to translate the feedback into possibilities, to clarify our focus, and to plan next actions. Ultimately, no one knows the heart of the work the way you do—it’s yours, after all—and so it’s up to you to come up with what to do about any problems that others identify.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Station.

  1. Do you have a community of people from whom you can seek feedback?
  2. Do you have strategies for framing your feedback requests so that the insight you receive is fitting for your current stage of the creative process?
  3. Do you have tools for collecting and sorting through feedback?
  4. Do you have strategies for reflecting on feedback and generating practical steps forward?
  5. Do you have a safe person or two with whom to work through any blocks that might arise from surprising feedback?

Everyone has blind spots. Whenever you open yourself up for feedback, there is always the potential of being knocked off track. Yet, being knocked off track when you can still revise and recover is better than launching a creative work into the world only to learn that it doesn’t connect. Or worse, to learn that it communicates something you never meant to say. The Station plays a key role in the creative process—in your development as a creative person, in the development of your work, and in the ultimate value of what is produced.

A First Step

If you tell everyone—including yourself—that you are not creative, you will live up to your reputation. However, we’ve already established that you ARE creative. Creativity is a skill to be developed. You may not be ready to take your creative work into the Station right now. However, you surely have someone in your life who could be a strong support to you (and whom you could support in turn!) as you begin to intentionally develop your creativity. Take a few minutes to call that person or to write them a note. If you have a specific project you’d like to dive into, put your vision into words. If not, simply share your commitment to develop your creativity overall. Ask for the opportunity to connect in a month or so to report on how things are going. In this way, you’ll give yourself some accountability.

What’s next?

As we wrap up our Writerly Play tour, let’s return to the definition of creativity we explored in part one of The Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play. (Thank you, Sir. Robinson!) Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. By working our way through the five Writerly Play rooms, we are able to dream up something new, craft it into something valuable, and launch it into the world.

While there is much more to explore when it comes to the creative process, we learn best by rolling up our sleeves, trying things out, and learning along the way. I’ll be posting resources, strategies, stories and tools here on the blog relating to each of the five Writerly Play rooms. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with you, and learning together as we tackle the creative challenges that come our way. Here’s to you and your creativity!

Writerly Play: Exploring the Library

A note to new readers: This post is part six of a seven-part series. I’d highly recommend starting at the beginning as each post builds on the last.

Let’s picture that secret passageway connecting the Workshop with the Library. What does the doorway look like for you? Personally, I’ve always wanted a rotating bookshelf, so that’s what I’m imagining.

How do we learn new artistic skills?

Some artists—I’d even claim that most artists—are addicted to learning. Learning about our medium can become a procrastination trap. Have you ever said, “I’ll (write/draw/paint/redecorate) once I’ve (gathered more research/finished this class/listened to a few more podcasts.)” Even in the early stages of our creative development, it’s important to dive into the deep waters right away. When we apply our learning immediately, we can clearly see what we’ve absorbed and what we have yet to learn.

All of that said, we’re missing a major opportunity if we insist on going it alone. Learning the history of your medium isn’t cheating. Learning from those who are a few steps ahead of you isn’t copying. Throughout the history of art, there is a pattern of artists tracing master works. Even if we are not visual artists, tracing is a fundamental creative skill. Writers might trace by typing out a passage by a master author. Interior designers might trace by creating a small model of a favorite room design. Entrepreneurs might trace by trying out a problem solving approach in the step-by-step strategy outlined by a successful CEO. As we absorb the work of masters, we learn the fundamentals. We also gain the skills and confidence to then carve out our own space. Through tracing and then leaping beyond into our own territory, we find our unique voices.

library

Sometimes, while we’re in the Workshop, we identify a problem that we know needs solving, but which we do not yet have the skills to solve. This is where the Library comes in, and the reason we might find ourselves in need of that secret passageway. Books are only the beginning of the resources in the Library. The Library holds all the resources at our disposal, not the least of which are creative mentors. Every artifact—be it a play, a movie, a painting, a comic, or an amusement park—is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be soaked up and built upon. The main work of the Library is learning through apprenticeship, which involves observing the skill of others, trying those skills out ourselves, and then making them our own.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Library.

  1. Do you have a regular practice of studying work that is similar to the work you’d like to create?
  2. Do you have a regular practice of studying work in various mediums that might inform the work you’d like to create?
  3. Do you have strategies for focusing on specific aspects of a mentor’s work and “tracing” those in a way that helps you better understand the nuts and bolts of how the work was created?
  4. Do you have a tool for tracking and reflecting on your learning process?
  5. Do you have tools to make collecting resources from creators you admire simple and convenient?

Make the Most of Mentorship

You have a creative goal, which means you’re tuned in to a specific question. You may be pondering how to write a novel or how to design that guest bedroom. Naturally, you’ll start picking up resources, simply because you’re tuned into this particular creative channel. If you have strategies, tools and practices for best utilizing those resources, you’ll make immediate progress. Rather than swimming in the sea of “good ideas,” you’ll start to master specific skills. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly given the amount of access we have to inspiration and resources. Don’t be afraid to be methodical and focused. Imagine you are your own instructor, crafting a program of study for yourself. You wouldn’t ask a student to hop from one concept to another and back again without having time to absorb any of the information, would you? So, don’t do that to yourself, either.

A First Step

The Library is a powerful place to train and grow, and depending on your goals and skill level, you may find yourself spending a lot of time here. For now, start small. Take a few minutes and list ten creators who you admire and from whom you’d like to learn. Then, considering your learning habits, create a space for gathering ideas from them. Some possibilities include:

  • a blank bookshelf on which you can collect books and materials by and about these creators
  • a binder where you collect physical materials—articles, images, etc.
  • a private Twitter list where you follow these ten creators
  • A private or public Pinterest Board on which you collect quotes, images and other materials focused on these creators.
  • An Evernote tag or notebook where you collect materials from these creators
  • A podcast playlist dedicated to these ten creators

The point isn’t the tool you choose to use, rather that you make an intentional plan about learning from mentors you admire.

Tomorrow is the final post in the Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play series. In it, we’ll take a look at the Station. We’ll also discuss some practical next steps for what to do with the creative thinking tools we’ve discussed this week. See you soon!

Writerly Play: Exploring the Workshop

A note to new readers: This post is part five of a seven-part series. I’d highly recommend starting at the beginning as each post builds on the last.

Where is the majority of the work of creativity done?

We like to think of creativity as a lightning strike. Certainly, the spontaneous connections that spring up in the Studio can feel that way. Everything we discover in the Studio has value, but those discoveries become tangible, real-world creations by way of the Workshop.

Like the Studio, the Workshop is filled with tools. However, the Workshop’s tools are more practical in tone. Where in the Studio you might find paintbrushes and oil pastels, the Workshop is more likely to hold a saw, hammer and nails.

Workshop

Where the Studio requires plug-your-nose-and-jump-in courage, the Workshop requires turn-on-the-light-and-look-in-the-spiderwebby-corners courage. In most endeavors worth undertaking, there’s a gap between our vision and our first pass. When we allow ourselves to look closely, we see the gap and often, we panic. This moment is when all those creative gremlins mob us, shouting, “Who do you think you are?” and “Look at all your mistakes!” and “That junky mess isn’t worth a minute more of your time.”

Most people claim to hate revision. My theory is that the gremlins are actually the problem. If you can turn down the gremlin volume, you can take your Studio-generated material into the Workshop, clarify your ideas with convergent thinking, and bring your vision to life. Creative confidence comes from knowing that you can play hard in the Studio because the Workshop is there waiting for you. You can make as big of a mess as you like, because you also have the tools to shape the mess into something beautiful.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Workshop.

  1. Do you have strategies for tuning down the gremlins in order to do the work of revision?

  2. Do you have strategies and tools to help you break down complex problems into smaller, manageable parts?
  3. Do you have experience with narrowing in and focusing on one problem at a time?
  4. How experienced are you at moving a project from mid-process to complete?

Why Creativity Begets Creativity

Aside from the above big-picture skills, you also need medium-specific skills in your Workshop. Depending on your project, you might need strategies and tools that focus on character development, rhythm, value, shape, chemistry, fine-motor skills or problem-solving, to name a few. For this reason, the Workshop is an ever-evolving space that grows along with you as you learn and develop. However, some of the basic skills in your Workshop skill set—those that have to do with breaking down problems, focusing on one piece, and building the final piece layer by layer—transcend projects. In the same way that a successful entrepreneur can start a second business much more easily than she started the first, the successful creative can build upon previous experience, even if he is working in a new medium.

Working the Workshop

You’ll have years to play in your Workshop and build skills specific to your interests. For now, let’s focus on the foundational skill of breaking problems down. Have you taken the walk I suggested yesterday, and made your expert list? If so, let’s practice the skill of transitioning between free-flow material generated in the Studio and the practical work of the Workshop. In the spirit of the Workshop, here’s a step-by-step activity.

  1. Read through your list, starring all the items that you feel are legitimately important to the project.
  2. Write one starred item per post-it. Once you’ve captured all the starred items, write any additional steps for the project that have come to mind.
  3. Spread out your post-it notes on a wall, table or even on the floor, if you don’t have another large surface.
  4. Sort the items into general steps. (For instance, if you’re writing a novel, you might have “research,” “character development,” “world-building,” and ”plotting.” If you’re planning a party, you might have “brainstorming,” “venue,” “food,” “decor,” and ”invites.”)
  5. Take a look at the plan and identify any big pieces that are still missing. Keep in mind that creative plans are most effective when they outline the big picture, while leaving out the minutia.
  6. Step back, consider the project, and list any other people you may need in order to complete this range of tasks.
  7. Choose a first step. Perhaps you will do a task yourself, or reach out to a team, or design a schedule so that you can work through the steps efficiently.

You’ve done it! You’ve broken a complex problem into steps. The more you practice this kind of thinking, the more natural it will become.

We have two more rooms to tour in this Writerly Play series. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the Library. I find myself popping between the Library and the Workshop so often that I think a secret passageway should exist between the two. We’ll see what you think about that tomorrow. Until then, happy creating!

Writerly Play: Exploring the Studio

A note to new readers: This post is part four of a seven-part series. I’d highly recommend starting at the beginning as each post builds on the last.

Take a moment to picture your personal Writerly Play hideout. We ended our tour yesterday in the Attic. Put yourself back into that room with its boxes and memories and ideas. Imagine the sensory details—the smells, sounds, sights and feel of the room. Once you have your footing, let’s mozy over to the Studio. Filled with more art supplies than any one project could require, the Studio offers a possibility-filled space. The floors, tables and stools are often made out of rugged, easy to clean material, inviting you to go ahead and make a mess.

studio

I started my personal creativity quest because of the Studio. When I thought, “I want to be an artist,” I meant I wanted to be someone who had no trouble rolling up her sleeves and experimenting. However, most of the time, I found myself watching from the sidelines. As I watched, I realized I had two choices. I could either figure out how to open myself to spontaneity or I could stay on those sidelines. Fortunately, my stubbornness won the day. I decided to believe that letting go was a skill that could be learned.

That determination was the seed of Writerly Play. Along the way, I learned creativity was a skill with many parts, all of which could be strengthened. Whether you’re strong in the Studio, or like me, you have a tendency to hold back, there’s something in the Studio for you. Play takes place throughout the creative process, but it happens intensively at the beginning of any project, and involves brainstorming, drafting, and improvising. Play is what moves us past the blank page and into the work of creating.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Studio.

  1. Do you have a comfortable process for drafting, sketching, improvising or brainstorming from a blank slate?
  2. How natural is it for you to say yes when someone offers an unexpected suggestion or idea?
  3. How often do you engage so deeply in an activity that you lose track of time?
  4. How often do you laugh or do something just for the fun of it?
  5. Do you have strategies or tools to help you generate more ideas than you need?

Learning to Play

Whether play is relatively natural for us, or a stretch, it’s one of those muscles that can easily atrophy. To be creative, we must be able to play. In general, play is the bridge between our Attic and the Workshop. We sort raw material in the Attic until we come up with a compelling question. Then, we take that question into the Studio where we play with it until we have a draft, sketch or plan. Afterward, we take the draft material into the Workshop to shape and revise.

Improvisational actors work for years to achieve the apparent ease that shows up when they hop on the stage and create before our eyes. What kinds of things do they do to build their “play” muscles?

On Your Feet

There’s a reason that acting classes start with a call to stand up and enter the “space.” Moving our bodies in a space designated for play helps us push past initial resistance. Once in motion, actors transition into various games that require them to say yes to unexpected ideas and build upon them. Your project may not require performance skills, but the approach actors take is one that you can adapt to your own purposes.

A First Step

Go for a walk in a setting that appeals to your senses. As you walk, choose a project you’d like to explore further. Define “project” in the widest possible terms. You can choose a novel, a song, a room remodel, a gift … anything that’s on your mind that could use a creative kickstart.

As your heart rate rises, imagine that you are an absolute expert with regards to your project. There’s an improv game called “Expert Circle.” In this game, the actors become experts on a topic such as cheese or Mars or dragons. Even though they’re not experts on this topic, they speak as though they are. After each “expert” speaks, the other actors nod seriously and say, “yes, that is very true.”

Similarly, even if you’re not an expert on your project right now, imagine that you are. Find a safe place to perch, take out your favorite idea-capturing device, and brainstorm ideas for three-five minutes. List everything that should be done with regard to this project. Support your ideas by thinking, “Yes, that’s very true,” as you write each one down. Now is not the time to worry about specifics. That said, take yourself seriously. You probably know more about your project than you realize.

Once your time’s up, put the list away and finish your walk. This is an exercise in divergent thinking. The goal of the activity is to suspend judgement and generate a plethora of ideas. Later—in the Workshop—you can apply convergent thinking, paring down your list to the most valuable ideas. Separating generative, divergent thinking from analytical, convergent thinking will supercharge your creative productivity. Rather than coming up with ideas and immediately blocking them, you allow ideas to flow freely, while also giving focused attention to the critical thinking phase of the process. In the end, you end up with more novel ideas and make better decisions about which ones to carry forward.

What’s next?

Tomorrow, we’re on to The Workshop, to discuss the tasks involved in taking the rich clay that comes from activities like the one above and shaping it into what you envision. Onward!

Writerly Play: Exploring the Attic

It’s time to make things practical.

Over the past two days, we’ve explored the big-picture value of crafting a story as a way to think about and track our creative growth. Specifically, we’ve considered the collection of Writerly Play rooms as a helpful setting in which that story plays out. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, you may want to read those before you dive into this one. Here, we’ll turn our attention specifically to one room: The Attic.

To start, put yourself back into that hideout you imagined yesterday. Most of the time, mine is a rambling treehouse with rope ladders and swinging bridges. What does yours look like? Picture it in detail, taking time to notice the specifics that make it your own. Once you’re ready, let’s make our way up to the Attic. Climb the circular stairs two at a time, scale the climbing wall or take the path of your choosing.

The Primary Work of the attic is collecting.

Our ideas grow from the raw material we collect in our minds, through experiences—our own and those told to us—and what we watch, read and hear. Collecting happens whether or not we think about it, but some people are more naturally gifted in this space than others. When you enter your Attic, you might find a well-ordered, easy-to-access set of material. Or, it’s possible you’ll find towering piles of assorted mess that are anything but inviting to your creative mind.

Let’s do a quick self-assessment of the state of your Attic.

  1. Do you have a regular way to capture impressions of your day-to-day life? (i.e. a regular journaling practice, a sketchbook, a daily photography habit, a physical or digital place to collect ideas as they pop into your mind)
  2. Do you have a simple strategy for collecting and reviewing source material that may be useful for your current and future creative projects? (i.e. images, articles, audio material, videos, quotes, anecdotes)
  3. Do you have tools to help you regularly remove information clutter from your physical, digital, and mental world?
  4. When facing creative challenges, is it easy for you to frame questions in a way that move you toward step-by-step solutions?
  5. Do you have a regular practice that allows you to reflect on your experiences and explore your unique perspective on the world around you?

Developing Invisible Muscles

I’m guessing your answers are a mixed bag. If you said a hearty “yes” to every question, your Attic may not be in need of additional attention. However, for most people, the Attic is an ongoing project. Many creative blocks result from Attics that are under-developed or disorganized. Still, it’s all too easy to dismiss everything that goes on in the Attic as nice, but not necessary. Asking better questions, reflecting, and noticing the details of daily life aren’t tasks that fit neatly into a to-do list. They’re habits that weave into the fabric of day-to-day life. These habits build invisible muscles that make an enormous difference in our creative output and potential. The bottom line is, whether you’re creative for a living or looking to live more creatively, the state of your Attic matters.

So, how do we work on muscles that are largely invisible? Take a look at those questions again. Notice the words “way, strategy, tools, and practice.” Those are practical words that point us toward proactive solutions.

A First Step

Studies show that the best way to create lasting change is to set a goal, write it down, and break it into manageable steps. (If you’d like to hear Science Mike on the topic, check out this podcast). However, if you’re like me, you might try to overhaul your Attic in one wave of the magic wand only to end up exhausted and discouraged. So, as we wrap up, I’d like to suggest a practical first step.

Ask yourself: which portable item are you most likely to carry and use? Is it a journal? A sketchbook? Your phone? Choose one and on a blank page or note in the app of your choice, write a one-week goal. What would you like to intentionally collect? For instance, you might collect one picture per day of the places you go, or snippets of overheard dialogue, or physical items such as leaves or fabric swatches. What you collect is not nearly as important as the collecting itself. You’re training your mind to hone in on items of focus while discarding what is not as important. You’re building the habit of compiling your collection in one place, and increasing the value of that place as a trusted source of creative inspiration. If you’re looking for a new app or tool to aid your collection process, below are a couple I suggest. That said, I encourage you to keep this first step as simple as possible. Use the tool that is most accessible and appealing to you. Give yourself a quick win.

What’s next?

Tomorrow, we’ll move on to the next room, The Studio. But keep in mind the science of starting small. For some people, having the 100,000-foot view of the entire landscape helps. If that’s you, by all means let’s keep up our momentum. However, if you’re likely to be distracted by a peek into another room, you may want to pause here to follow through with setting and keeping your one-week goal. Then, come on back. The entire Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play series will be ready and waiting for you.

How Can We Develop Our Creativity?

Yesterday, we explored WHY we need a plan to develop our creativity. Today, we’re picking up where we left off, so if you haven’t already, you might want to read yesterday’s post.

Writerly Play draws upon the research to create a doorway into a choose-your-own-adventure approach to creative development.

Creativity_ A choose Your Own Adventurestory

Why a choose-your-own-adventure story rather than a step-by-step process?

Well, creativity may be a process, but most creative projects aren’t linear. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, has participated in his fair share of creative projects. In his book, Creativity, Inc, he writes, “I’m a firm believer in the chaotic nature of the creative process needing to be chaotic. If we put too much structure on it, we will kill it. So there’s a fine balance between providing some structure and safety—financial and emotional—but also letting it get messy and stay messy for a while.”

Catmull suggests using a mental model to provide structure while maintaining room for the mess. “Just as George Lucas liked to imagine his company as a wagon train headed west … the coping mechanisms used by Pixar and Disney Animation’s directors, producers, and writers draw heavily on visualization. By imagining their problems as familiar pictures, they are able to keep their wits about them when the pressures of not knowing shake their confidence.”

So, let’s visualize together for a moment.

Picture yourself standing in front of a gate—an intriguing gate—one that whispers of mysteries beyond. What does your gate look like? Take in as much detail as you can. Where are you? In a busy city? In a thick forest?

Beyond the gate is a building. When you were a kid, did you ever stumble across a place that you immediately claimed as your own? Maybe it was a hidden space carved into a hedge or a room that no one used. The point is, every once in a while, a space invites us in—it feels safe. It invites us to play. This building is that kind of space. It’s your hideout. You’re allowed to build forts here and slide across the floor in your socks.

Open the door and go inside.

Take in the look and feel of the place. This building—your Writerly Play hideout—is a setting for your creative exploration and growth. While your space will have its individual quirks and surprises, there are also a few rooms you’re sure to find.

  • An Attic, where you collect experiences and inspiration, and where you sort raw material into ideas that eventually turns into your creative projects.
  • A Studio, where you play with those ideas, where you follow your curiosity and begin to draft or sketch or improvise.
  • A Workshop, where you do the hammer-and-nails work of shaping and revising your work.
  • A Library, where you are mentored by those creatives who went before you, be they authors or painters or violinists.
  • A Station, where you connect with your peers and your audience, where you receive feedback and use it to fuel your growth.

Why are the rooms important?

Many books have been written about creativity. Most of them are stuffed with activities and exercises to stretch your thinking. If you’re anything like me, you love these books. You impulsively pick them up, seeking out the just-right suggestion. As you flip through the pages, your to-do list starts to grow. By the time you close the book, your creative time and energy is spent. Your head rattles with idea-clutter and a buzzing anxiety about all the things you have yet to do.

It’s not that creative exercises in and of themselves are a problem. It’s just that we haven’t given enough thought to dealing with them. Writerly Play offers a solution. While you will find exercises here, they won’t be collected like a bunch of spaghetti thrown against a wall. Imagine if your kindergarten classroom hadn’t had centers. If art supplies and books and puppets and blocks were all tossed in one messy pile, you wouldn’t have known where to start or what to do. Ideas don’t work well in piles, either.

Writerly Play invites us to envision the creative process as a ramble through a series of rooms.

These rooms are devoted to different kinds of thinking, and like centers, they help us organize the various activities available to us. There is a helpful (and well researched) model of the creative process called the Problem-Solving model. In this model, we:

  1. Clarify the challenge
  2. Generate ideas
  3. Develop a solution
  4. Implement the solution

While this is a helpful model, most creative projects require us to run through this process multiple times, and sometimes, to circle back—out of order—to previous stages. Fortunately, the activities involved in the Problem-Solving model fit neatly into the Writerly Play rooms. We can use the general plot provided by the Problem-Solving model while also leaving ourselves creative freedom. Each project has its own story—a playful one that follows a loose structure—while often surprising us along the way.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, in part three of The Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play, we’ll climb up into the Attic and take a look around. See you soon!

Do You Live a Creative Life?

Notice your reaction to this question. Do you live a creative life? You might start categorizing activities as creative or non-creative and judge yourself based on your perception of artistic genius. Your mind might flood with questions about what “living a creative life” would mean. The question may evoke waves of emotion—longing, disappointment, jealousy, delight. Or you might shrug and say, “I’m not creative.” For many, the line of thinking leads to … “Should I live a creative life?”

Should You Live a creative Life?

Should you?

In contrast, consider your reaction to these questions:

  • Should you live a productive life?
  • Should you live a healthy life?
  • Should you live a selfish life?

We don’t feel much mental resistance to these questions. Productivity and health are clearly good for us. Selfishness isn’t likely to work out well. Creativity lands somewhere in between—it’s something we desire but aren’t confident we can attain. Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talk you’ve likely seen, researches creativity. In this less frequently viewed video, he notes that many people claim that creativity can’t be defined, taught, or assessed. No wonder we have no idea whether we should live a creative life. Most of us, when pressed, can’t put creativity into words.

Fortunately, Robinson has words for us. He defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” You really should watch the video to hear him unpack his spot-on definition piece by piece. However, for our purposes here, let’s return to the question of should: Should you have original ideas of value?

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say … yes! I don’t believe the world should be broken into Einsteins who have original thoughts and the rest of us who merely consume them. We should all—engineers, scientists, politicians, educators, home-makers, business owners, artists, adults, children … all—live creative lives. The trouble is, most of us don’t. The reasons for the gap between our potential and our reality are many, and unique to each individual.

What are your challenges when it comes to creativity?

Many people believe we’re each born with a certain amount of creativity. They also believe we have a set amount of intelligence. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology for Success, disagrees. She identifies the misconception as a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset causes people to limit themselves by believing they have an unchangeable amount of creativity or intelligence. If we believe our creativity is limited, we fear exploring its outer reaches. We don’t want to risk discovering that our potential is smaller than we hope.

The truth is, knowledge and skills are built through effort. Creativity is no exception. Let’s return for a moment to Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity: a process of having original ideas of value. If creativity is a process, then the process can be learned. The skill of creativity can be built through focused effort. The question is: on what should we focus our effort?

If we want to develop our creativity, we need a plan. And yet creativity is a headstrong, expansive, often elusive kind of thing. While cognitive research and vocabulary such as divergent and convergent thinking is essential, facts and figures can overwhelm and even shut down our creative minds. Creativity feeds on images, on metaphor, on story. That’s where Writerly Play comes in. Writerly Play draws upon the research to create a story-based doorway into creative development. It provides a choose-your-own-adventure backdrop against which we can blaze a unique path without losing our way.

If I’m not a writer, am I in the wrong place?

Whether you are a writer or not, storytelling skills are a powerful foundation as you develop your creativity. Much has been written about the power of story. When a story touches our hearts, we are more likely to buy products, donate time and resources, and take action. Story is also the medium through which we live our lives. When we talk about living a creative life, we’re also talking about living a creative story.

In that same way, every time we start a creative project, we’re a hero setting off on a quest. When we pay attention to the story we’re living, we can shape it along the way. It’s the difference between hiking with a map rather than without one. We can track our progress, brave unexplored trails, and find our way back when we feel lost. 

How will Writerly Play help me?

While Writerly Play is a solid approach for writers who want to build their novel-writing skills, it is equally helpful for anyone interested in living a creative life. Your goal may be simply that: building creative thinking skills so that joy and spontaneity blossom in your everyday life. Or your goal may be more specific, such as to develop problem-solving skills in order to navigate a career transition. Maybe you want to shake things up and have more fun in your classroom or at home. Whatever your goals, Writerly Play provides a loose structure and a lot of room. It is an ideal space in which creative thinkers can experiment and innovate.

What’s next?

This post is first in a series: The Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll dig deeper into the specifics of Writerly Play. We’ll explore how the framework can help us sort ideas, gain insight and find the clarity we need to move forward. Until then, here’s to you and your creativity!

Filling the Well

Diem

It’s all too easy to let the creative well run dry. Life is busy, and deadlines loom, and we think … well, just one more project. I can make it through.

It’s a little like becoming dehydrated. Or overly tired. We don’t realize we have a problem until we slam into our internal wall. Even though we know our creativity requires our caring attention, actually attending to it is a different thing.

This past month, I’ve spent time filling my creative well. I wandered through museums, dug my toes into the sand, hiked to waterfalls, and rested in the shade. I let my mind wander. In May, after a long season of focused work, I had hit a wall of creative brambles. I was absolutely, positively stuck. Now, after a month of following my curiosity, of slowing down to take in my surroundings, I see a path forward.

What an incredible thing–to be totally stuck one month and the next, to be free.

I have a busy life. I’m sure you do, too. For me, the path forward couldn’t be retreating to a cabin in the woods. While I might retreat for a few days, I certainly can’t retreat forever. I needed a way to be creatively healthy in the real world, in my real life. While I was away, I discovered that I already had all the pieces I needed to live in exactly this way. I’ve been exploring them all of my life, and even writing about them. What I hadn’t done was to put them together.

I hadn’t seen the simplicity of the big picture.

We need mental pictures. Many research studies confirm that the way we think affects our outlook and approach, which in turn, affects our circumstances. If our mental picture is scattered, our life will be, too. However, without attention, our mental picture can’t be anything but scattered.

While I was away, I realized I’ve had a powerful mental picture for quite some time, but I haven’t been using it to its full potential. I thought of Writerly Play as an approach to writing, but I hadn’t seen that at its foundation, it is also an approach to creative living in general. In fact, I thought of Writerly Play as so separate, I was keeping one blog about creativity and another about Writerly Play. But as you see, I’ve merged the two. I realize they are one and the same thing.

Writerly Play provides a loose structure within which anyone can play and innovate. Like the best kinds of improv games, it’s only a launching point. Every player will discover a path of his or her own. I’m looking forward to sharing the path as it unfolds in the hopes that my story will urge you forward in your own creative journey. As always, I’ll share resources, strategies and playful tools that I discover along the way. I hope you’ll share your insights and discoveries with me, too.

Here’s to you and your creativity!

Finding My Way to the Quiet

What will you do on your sabbatical?

In just a couple weeks, I’ll be taking a sabbatical. The word, from Latin (sabbaticus), Greek (sabbatikos), and Hebrew (shabbat) means “ceasing.” Or in other words, a sabbatical is a rest from work.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. The first question people ask after hearing about my sabbatical is: “What will you do?”

A tempting question, indeed, especially for an artist.

The minute this question is asked, my mind starts to spin. Six weeks with no external commitments! I could go do this, or create that, or learn this, or work on that …

Hmmm.

Isn’t the point NOT to work?

And yet, I can’t picture myself lounging on the couch eating bon-bons. Nor do I think that laying around and binge eating will produce the benefits a sabbatical is meant to bring.

And that brings us to the heart of the thing. Here’s why I want to take a sabbatical in the first place. I want to learn how to be purposeful without being my own personal task master. I want to let the dust settle so that in the quiet, I can observe the path I’ve traveled so far, see clearly where I am now, and glimpse where I’m headed.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to find my way to the quiet.

That quest will be my first task on my sabbatical. I’ll experiment, and see what happens. I’m sure that some attempts will be false starts. For me, work is so tightly woven into play and vice versa. Mindset is a huge part of the puzzle. The reason I’m drawing or playing guitar or hiking is likely more important than the activity itself.

I fully expect to learn all sorts of things that I can’t nail down clearly right now.

I like the idea of a quest. That’s not surprising, I’m sure, to anyone who reads this blog regularly. Maybe my very loose plan should be to take on a quest with three tasks, the first of which is finding the quiet. Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could find a doorway that remained, even after the sabbatical? Like a secret doorway behind ivy, maybe once found, the passage into the quiet could be forever known. That quiet space could be tended and nurtured until it blossomed.

I plan to post one more time before my sabbatical, and then I’ll be away for a while. When I return, I look forward to sharing about my quest, the tasks I discovered, and what I learned along the way.

In the meantime, here’s to you and to your journey.

It Gets Messier Before It Gets Clear

It gets

I know it’s happened to you. You have that freak-out moment when you realize that your world is simply too cluttered. You absolutely must–at this very moment–clear out your closet. Or your top desk drawer. Or your car. The trouble is, you’re craving clean and tidy and what you get is a messy pile.

The only way to clear clutter away is to take it out of the dark corners and deal with it.

Recently, I’ve been clearing a lot of things out of dark corners. Whether it’s a physical pile that I’ve pulled out of the closet, or an invisible pile, such as my unwritten task list, nearly every time, I’m hit at some point with fear, sharp and sudden. This pile! I think, throwing my arms up in despair. It might be more than I can handle.

As long as you can’t see the entire pile, you don’t know the distance between where you are and relief. You don’t know what it will take to achieve a clear closet or a clear calendar. The pile tells the truth. Here are the things you’ll have to decide about, and that you’ll have to deal with, before this mess is cleared up.

But we know that on the other side of the mess is the thing we’re craving. Clarity.

So usually, at least on good days, we push past the fear and tackle the pile. I’ve noticed the following questions have been helping me brave the rather large piles I’ve been tackling lately. Maybe they’ll spark some momentum for you, too.

  1. What problems do I see?
    • I stack items in the pile into distinct issues. This approach requires mentally transforming the items from “stuff” into the problems they represent. Maybe a messy pile of notes points out that I need a better note taking system. Or a stack of mail might remind me that I need a holding space and reminder system for bills. 
  2. How can I hide all the problems but one?
    • It’s easy to get distracted. Once everything is sorted, I look for ways to hide the mess to give my brain clear thinking space. Sometimes I put the piles in boxes so I only have to deal with one problem at a time. In the case of tasks or projects, I will sometimes write each project on a separate piece of paper. Then, I’ll make decisions about what needs to happen with that particular project. Maybe it needs to go into my to-do list. Or maybe there are a lot of steps to a project and what I need is to calendar it out in stages or put it into a project management tool.
  3. What solutions might I try?
    • Once I’ve focused on an issue, I’m tempted to search obsessively for the perfect solution. However, the ideas that result from the question of what I “might try” are usually more creative than the ones that show up when I ask myself how I will “fix this.” Fixing feels set in stone and often stumps me.

Clutter, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional, crowds out creativity. If we allow the messes to stick around in the dark corners, eventually, our creativity is struggling to thrive in a sunless, oxygen-deprived space. However, when clutter is our creativity block, dealing with the situation is challenging. As we take out the mess, the trouble explodes across our physical or internal space. A flood of emotion is quick to follow. In these moments, the thing that helps me most is remembering that it’s not just me. I’m not the only one who who sets out to deal with some clutter, and finds that what’s required is determination, resilience and courage. All because of a pile!

If your closet, to-do list, or office is in need of some spring cleaning, remember … when push comes to shove, you’re not alone. And you CAN do this, no matter how it feels in the moment. Even a mountain can be moved one shovelful of dirt at a time. I’d love to hear your spring cleaning stories, be they survival tales or monumental successes. Share away below, or join me over on Facebook or Twitter to chat.

Psst… Do you know about Naomi’s Tinder Box: a weekly collection of curated resources, inspiration and encouragement? Keep your creative spark ablaze … sign up for your invite here.

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