I’ve been a creative person for much of my life, but it’s only recently that I’ve begun to think about what exactly that means.
First of all, what is creativity?
If you ask a hundred people, you’ll very probably get a hundred different answers, each of which is in complete contrast to the other ninety-nine. It’s not that everybody’s wrong, either. It’s just that, like beauty, creativity’s in the eye of the beholder.
Having said that, here’s my take on the subject.
First of all, we never create anything out of whole cloth. Every creative thought proceeds from who we are, what we’ve experienced, and every thought we’ve previously had. Every single sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, or thought about one of these is grist to the mill of our creativity.
Because of this, it’s always a good idea to read up on whichever subject you’re writing on, be it fiction or non-fiction. Many of the most prolific writers will be more than happy to tell you that they’re also prolific readers. Knowing what’s already available is always helpful when writing your own work.
Furthermore, if you’re going to write on a subject, it’s always a good idea to have some experience, especially if it’s a non-fiction subject. For instance, I’ve published a self-help book based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques. Most of these techniques I use on a regular basis. If I didn’t have experience with them, it would be much more difficult for me to write about them.
Of course, some people take what other people have written and rewrite it. As long as they add in their own experiences and thoughts, this isn’t necessarily plagiarism. Unless, of course, they’re only spinning the words into new forms.
Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.Dr Joe Vitale
Many writing teachers will tell you there are no more than perhaps 34 different stories. Depending on the teacher, the figure may also be 37 or 25 or something else. The number’s not important. What’s important is that there’s a limited number of possible stories that can be written. And yet, thousands of versions of each of these are published every year, with greater or lesser success, because each story has its own unique characters, dialogues, and even situations.
This is because every author brings themselves into the story through the emphases and images they create in the reader's mind. This happens because the choice of words is unique to every author.
The same goes for painting. I’ve no idea how many pictures of roses have been painted in the last hundred years, let alone since humanity began painting. Yet each one has a unique feel to it because of the person who did it. Indeed, the same person painting the same rose on different days will create something that’s never been seen before and will never be seen again. Every time they set out to paint, they’re a different person, with new experiences and thoughts occurring in the intervening time.
Many people complain that modern films all look the same. To some extent, this is true. But, again, this is because there are only a limited number of stories available. Not to mention the remakes, sequels, and ‘reboots’ that are all the rage these days.
And yet, people still pay good money to watch the latest version of these stories. Even remakes can be different because of the different actors, cameramen, post-processing specialists, as well as the director’s needs and directions.
So, creativity’s nothing more than rehashing old things? I hear you ask.
Not at all. It takes old things and looks at them in new ways, ways that have never existed before. There are only eight notes in an octave (more if you count sharps or flats) and only a couple of dozen octaves in the audio spectrum. Yet people compose the most beautiful music by making new combinations never heard before.
I’ve seen writing books saying you should write what you know. I believe this is one of the most restricting pieces of advice I’ve ever heard. If we all did that, books like The Invisible Man, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or The Handmaid’s Tale would never have been written! Imagination is the most essential part of creativity.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.Albert Einstein
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.Albert Einstein
After all, I’ve been reading science fiction, fantasy, and horror for over five decades, so these are what I know! Which is why I write them.
Don’t even get me started on cooking. The variations there are even more amazing.
For there to be creativity, however, there must be inspiration.
Do you know where the word inspiration originally comes from?
Its literal meaning is to inhale or breathe in. The ancient Greeks believed what we call inspiration was the breathing in of the breath of the gods. This would bring about a kind of divine madness that led to the creation of new things.
Given that creativity springs from everything we’ve experienced, thought or done, it follows that inspiration comes from the same source. In other words, it comes from within us.
However, I also believe inspiration comes from the entire universe as well. This is because, being creatures of the universe, we’re connected with its entirety. Therefore, to my mind, this Divine Inspiration is the abundance and bounty of the universe manifesting itself within us.
Let me tell you a little story.
Some years ago, I went to the first meeting of a writers group in the city of Ely in the United Kingdom. There were only a couple of other people taking part, so little actually occurred. However, the lady organising the meeting mentioned that she’d have liked to have issued a “Christmas Challenge” to all of us. This could be anything involving Father Christmas, reindeer, gingerbread men, or anything similar.
As we were leaving, I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities. I was struck by the fact that the words Santa and Satan are anagrams. The thought crossed my mind that they might, in fact, be one and the same person.
The following day, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I felt so inspired that I sat down at my computer and started writing a short story titled Santa’s Little Secret. Despite interruptions during the day, I completed the story by the early hours of the following morning, totalling 1,925 words.
I’m a “pantser” or seat of the pants writer, aka a “Discovery Writer”, so I had no idea where the story was going. However, as I was working, I found my ideas were being derailed by the words I was writing. In other words, the story was going in directions I hadn’t considered. It was almost as if it was writing itself.
The final story is, to my mind, much better than the original concept. Especially since I discovered Santa and Satan are not the same person at all! In some ways, this was as much a voyage of discovery for me as it will be for my readers. By allowing myself to be influenced by my inspiration (and the Universe), I created a story that is, I hope, something new and different in this world.
I’m not going to talk here about techniques and methods of writing or any other kind of creative activity. Instead, I want to discuss something I consider much more important in the creator’s mindset.
We’re creative because we believe we’re creative. Watch small children play, and you’ll see just how creative humans are when we’re born. So why are we no longer creative now? It’s because we destroy our creativity to become “adult.”
We murder our children and call the corpses adults.Erich Fromm
If you want to be creative, you must change your beliefs. How you go about this is up to you, but many NLP techniques will be helpful to you. I won’t go into them at this point because the subject would take up more space than I have left.
The next thing you must keep in mind is to be open to inspiration. It can strike at any time and may be in a guise you might not recognise if you have a closed mind. It could be something someone says, a conversation overheard while you’re doing something else, something you see on television, or even something you’ve read.
I’ve been inspired by something I read in a book on more than one occasion. It might be someone wrote something, and I thought, “I wouldn’t have put it that way,” because I can think of a much better way of doing it. I might even totally disagree with the author and decide to write the opposite point of view.
I’ve had story ideas that have arisen from dreams and daydreams, even from random phrases that have drifted through my mind unexpectedly.
The best advice I can give you is always to be prepared. Keep a reporter’s notebook with you, one of those with an attached pen or pencil. If you’re a bit geekier, like me, install some note-taking software on your mobile phone and/or your tablet computer. If it’s capable of synchronising with your PC or Mac, so much the better.
No matter how silly or strange the idea may sound, it’s come to you from the Universe, via your subconscious mind, and is to be cherished. Note it down. You may not see its relevance now, but a future you will understand what it’s all about.
That’s all for now because I have some other inspired writing to do.
I hope you’ll rediscover your creativity if you’ve lost it. I believe the inspirations that come your way will make you a better, happier person, and the world and the universe much better places to be.