Creativity: Does it just come to you, or do you have to go after it with a club?

by Rowena Cory Daniels

In Mark McGuinness’s post on What Makes a Creative Person? he says the idea that a creative person is special is a myth. And he comes up with three differences between people who are actively being creative and those who aren’t.

The first one is really simple. Creative people think of themselves as being creative. This is an interesting point. I read a New Scientist article on which areas of the brain lit up in people while doing certain tasks. If a person said they were creative, the ‘creative’ area of their brain lit up when they did the thing they loved, whether it was sculpting, writing music or gardening. As members of a writing group, you already think of yourselves as creative, so you have already taken that first step.

The second thing McGuinness says is that creative people love doing creative work. Well, we all know there’s no money in (insert the thing you love – music, art, writing) so we certainly aren’t doing it to become rich and famous. I find writing intrinsically satisfying. I find people and the world fascinating. I make sense of it all by writing about it. It’s a self sustaining loop.

The third thing McGuinness recommends is to put yourself in an environment where creativity is encouraged (as in a writing group. LoL). When Marianne de Pierres and I first started the Vision writing group, we set writing exercises each month, which people brought along and then we critiqued them. We were supportive of each other as we strove to improve our writing craft and we shared information about markets etc. It was an environment that fostered us as writers.

So seek out other creative people, share ideas and support each other. For some practical writing tips see here. It’s a list of posts I’ve done on the craft of writing.

The most important thing is to give yourself permission to make mistakes. When children learn they get things wrong. As adults we don’t like to get it wrong, we have more of an investment in being right. But you can’t learn unless you give yourself permission to make mistakes. One of the top romance writers said (I can’t remember which one): I can fix a bad page, I can’t fix a blank page.

So write, surround yourself with people who write and set goals.

But I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say I think all work and no play makes a writer’s creative muscle grow weak, not stronger. So as well as setting goals for completing and submitting work, I think any creative person needs to:

1. Attend a convention.

If you’ve never been to an SF convention, then go to one this year. If you’ve been to SF conventions, then go to a comic con or a computer game convention. Streeeetch yourself. (I’m going to do SUPANOVA this year. I have been there once before but it is so big, there’s still a lot for me to see).

2. Go somewhere you have never been before.

It could be in a town nearby. It could be on the other side of the world. Going somewhere new makes you look at your own home with new eyes and we all need that now and then. (A few years ago I visited my great aunt in the UK. I’d never been outside Australia before, except for New Zealand, and I’ve never been away from my children for 21 days before. I came back a new person. It was like rediscovering myself).

3. Learn a new skill.

Pick something that you’ve always wanted to do and enrol in a short course. You work hard. The family expect you be at their beck and call. This is time out just for you. A new skill will streeeetch your mind. You’ll meet new people. And, at the end, you’ll have a sense of achievement. (I took up the art of the Samurai sword at 42 because it was something I’d always wanted to do. It gave me an insight into Bushido the Japanese warrior’s way).

4. Go see the ballet/theatre show/art gallery/orchestra/jazz concert.

Feeding one creative muse doesn’t mean you switch off all the other creative areas. Writing is a compulsive mistress, but you’ll be a better writer if you expose yourself to other creative arts. For one thing, those other artists are just as crazy dedicated as you are and you might as well support a fellow creative. For another thing, the insights that they bring to their medium will help you gain insights into yours. (My daughter attended the conservatorium where she did Jazz vocals. When I go see her perform I can feel the passion. It’s inspiring).

5. Get together with other writers at least once a year, talk shop and critique your work.

Make sure these are writers whose judgment you trust. It gives you a chance to be a writer, before anything else. It gives you feedback on your current manuscript. And it helps hone your critical skill to give your writing friends feedback on their manuscripts. Make sure there is good food and good wine. Let your hair down. Have some fun. You deserve it.

There you have it. Creativity is a hard thing to quantify and a hard thing to pin down. Sometimes, as Jack London said, you have to go after inspiration with a club!

Rowena Cory Daniells has been involved with Spec Fic for over thirty-five years. With The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin, she set out to write the kind of book that you curl up with on a Saturday afternoon after a hard week. She hopes you have as much fun reading the trilogy as she had writing it. Her new fantasy trilogy The Outcast Chronicles is due out in 2012. She is devoted to her family (husband and 6 children) and writing. In her spare time she studied each of these martial arts for five years, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and Iaido, the art of the Samurai sword.