Creativity as a pillar of the writing life? It’s a no-brainer. Creativity and writing go together like pencil and paper.
Writers practice creativity each and every day.
But when we think about creative writing and a creative writer, our minds may turn toward MFA programs. After all, that’s where you study creative writing.
I hate the potential implication—that other kinds of writing are not creative.
Who’s a Creative Writer?
Creative writing instructors and programs offer teaching and training that nudge students toward an approach—a mindset and practice—different from that of writers who focus more on, say, blogging or marketing. Certainly MFA students gain skills that prepare them for a rewarding, challenging writing life—one that matches their goals to write and produce literary work.
But I believe those who write corporate brochures and articles about succulents are also creative writers, even if they didn’t graduate with an MFA or land their work in respected literary journals. Bloggers and copywriters can also practice a rewarding, challenging creative writing life that matches their goals.
When you write, you’re creating.
If you write, you create.
Thus, creativity is a pillar of the writing life.
On the flip side, all writers—even published authors who have completed MFA programs—are capable of producing somewhat stagnant, occasionally derivative, work.
We don’t want that.
So how can any writer—all writers—practice creativity? How can we be more creative to enjoy our best writing lives?
Entire books have been written about the topic, so I can’t tackle everything. But here are a few thoughts to get us started.
What Is Creativity?
First, it might help to establish a definition of creativity, but that’s harder than you might think.
Researchers and experts and writers have been trying to pin it down, and no one seems to agree. I haven’t located one single definition (unless we would turn to Merriam-Webster). What I’ve spotted are words and phrases tossed around that we can consider:
- originality (this comes up a lot)
- surprise (which we talked about regarding curiosity)
- authenticity (important for writers to practice)
- discovery (including making connections)1
Whether these words reflect the process of creating or the finished product itself—that is, the thing created—they give us a hint of what it means to be creative: what it means to create.
Learning from Other Creatives
I’ve written before of how we can learn from the greats, studying writers we admire, even copying passages to learn techniques. We may find inspiration in their creative process and integrate elements into our own space and our own routines.
But why limit ourselves to learning from other writers? We may work in the world of words, but we can learn from other domains:
- Writers can learn from the creativity of scientists to continually ask questions, experiment, dig deeper, analyze, draw conclusions, and try again.
- Writers can learn from visual artists how color, form, and texture engage the senses and drive decisions.
- Writers can learn from actors how working with the constraints of the stage and the script, we can make numerous choices that affect a performance and its effect on the audience.
Julia Cameron’s Artist Dates encourage outings to step out of our writing hovels and step into other spaces, whether a museum or yarn shop, an antique emporium or international grocery store.
From this new set of sensations and input, we build a network of possible connections, with one idea linking to another and another to form a new, novel concept that sidesteps the standard, mainstream mindset to discover original thoughts all our own as we become more creative.
We not only learn from these other domains, we also amass new images and sensory experiences we can drop into our projects, deepening or expanding what we might have pulled together all on our own.
Like a stage designer pokes around at furniture, door frames, and props available from previous productions or a costume designer opens closets to see what materials and dresses could be modified for a new show, we poke around places we might not otherwise visit and scratch and sniff for inspiration.
Sometimes we may consciously do so, making a deliberate choice to add an element that runs through our work in progress as inspired by a color scheme we saw in film. Or we might include a quote from another author that helps the reader see our subject matter from another angle.
Other times, we may be influenced in ways that become embedded in us so deeply we don’t realize how it’s affected the words we’ve committed to the page.
One tip is to keep a writing notebook or journal documenting some of what has filtered into our minds, but sometimes we don’t think to record a minor event or detail that ends up being a formative, even foundational, experience.
Sometimes we realize the impact later. Sometimes we can’t see it; it’s become part of us in the way nutrients from the food we eat assimilates with our bodies, with our cells. We can’t say a particular carrot improved our health, but it’s in us. It did indeed contribute.
In the same way, we can’t point to a particular shell we held in our palm and say that is what inspired a scene in a novel where our heroine clutched an earring or a bead in her hand and found hope. Yet it’s in us, that shell, filling us with hidden creative inspiration.
The Creative Person
By learning from others and exposing ourselves to new concepts and sensations, we continue to bring ourselves to the work.
But that self is continually transformed, filled with more than ever to add depth and texture to what spills onto the page.
Ideas and stories flow out of a particular human being with her experiences, exposure to ideas, opinions, and worldview. The more we explore and discover, the more we bring to our projects.
That’s why we seek creative inspiration, and that’s why we write. We have something to say in a certain way—in a way only we can say it.
Twyla Tharp writes, in The Creative Habit:
Each of us is hard-wired a certain way. And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work. That’s not a bad thing. Actually, it’s what the world expects from you. We want our artists to take the mundane materials of our lives, run it through their imaginations, and surprise us.2
She goes on to list various personalities we might relate to—stereotypes like loners or romantics—and assures us that if we are any of these kinds of people, “that quality will shine through in your work.”3
Add to Your Library of Ideas
We bring ourselves to the work, and run the mundane materials of life run through our own imaginations—our own very self—and in that way, who we are shows up in what we create.
So let’s fill ourselves with novel, original thoughts to create our own novel, original thoughts. When we add to the giant library of ideas in our minds, in our hearts, and stir it all into the mixture of personal experience and memory, worldview and opinion, we offer something no one else has ever created—something no one else is capable of creating.
Only you. Your way. With your creative self sharing from your creative input, you surprise readers…and yourself.
Creative Writers Produce Creative Writing
When we are more creative as a person and a writer, we will achieve our writing goals. And the creative process itself—even before arriving at the final product—can satisfy us in the midst of creating.
All of these activities help us be more creative so we can enjoy our best writing life.
- Learn from the Best: Copywork for Grownups (Ep 107)
- Cultivate Curiosity for Your Best Writing Life: Pillar One (Ep 210)
- Want to Be a More Creative Writer? Get Curious! (Ep 35)
- The Top 5 Ways Curiosity Can Ruin Your Writing (Ep 60)
- Three Pillars to Your Best Writing Life series
- Artist Dates (from Julia Cameron’s website)
- The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp (affiliate link)
- A Writer’s Guide to ROI series
- Next-Level Writer series
- Write to Discover series
- All podcast episodes
You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.
- Definitions and traits of creativity are found in articles, books, and lectures. I have found them in sources such as Creativity, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and in an article by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. “The Latest Way to Understand Creativity.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 10 Aug. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201908/the-latest-way-understand-creativity, accessed 20 Aug. 2019. I selected some sample words that seemed particularly relevant to writers, all of which are found on the list found in the Psychology Today article cited here.
- Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Simon & Schuster, New York: 2003 (40)