How to Be More Creative

Last night, I was driving home quite late. It was actually dark – yes, that late. But still hot, of course. I stopped at a supermarket at 9pm and when I came out, it was almost surreal, how the heat just hit me. It was like being in a foreign country.

Anyway, as I drove home, I listened to Radio 4 and the ‘Bringing Up Britain’ programme came on, which I’ve never listened to before but ooh, very interesting because this episode was about CREATIVITY and principally how we can foster it in children, as, “by 2020, it’s estimated that creativity will be in the top 3 most important skills for future jobs.”

But they also talked about how, as an adult, you can increase/improve your creativity. They had a couple of very learned and wise professor-type men on the programme, spouting their words of wisdom and… steps back in amazement, they were basically saying the same as Julia Cameron said, over 25 years ago in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ (and which, ahem, I have quoted on this blog several times).

So, what did the wise men advise, in order to become more creative?

Well, every day, we should take 15 minutes of ‘unfocussed time’, when we’re not looking at a screen of any kind, or listening/speaking to anyone. It’s time to get back inside your own head, without the distractions of external media (and yes, being in the bath or shower count, as that’s often when people get good ideas, isn’t it?).

So, I was thinking, this is all very much like Morning Pages, which I think of as a word-doodle-brain dump-meditation and which Simon Whaley has written about here.

On a weekly basis, we should try to ensure we have new experiences and gain new knowledge, as ‘research shows that changes to your routine will increase your creativity’ (and it can be as small as ‘pressing a different button on the vending machine each day’). Hmm, is this not just like going on an Artist’s Date?

I wrote an article for Writing magazine a few years ago, entitled ‘Be Curious’ and now seems as good a time as any to publish it here:

Be Curious

As writers, we’re always striving to be original and to find that new angle but how can we keep our minds open and our ideas fresh?

One way of boosting creativity is to keep your ‘inner child’ alive. In short, by being curious.

We were all children once. We lived in the moment, continually asking questions and pushing the boundaries of our world through play and daily new experiences but as adults, most of us lose that child-like curiosity and lack of self-consciousness. As we get older, we’re far less likely to try new things and ifs easy to get stuck in a routine.

You can help reverse that trend and boost your creativity at the same time, by practising being curious.

Start by doing something different as often as possible. It can be the smallest thing, such as drinking your tea out of a different mug or taking an alternative route to work. If you’ve always wondered what’s down that road or over that hill, wonder no more — go and find out!

Part of being curious is to value each day as different and full of possibilities. I do that each morning by changing the date on my calendar in the kitchen, to signify a new start.

Try speaking to people you might not ordinarily engage with. Chat when you’re at the supermarket check-out or the hairdresser’s, even if your usual inclination is to be quiet. Ask questions. You might just get an idea for a story, a character or a subject for an interview.

If you always write or read fiction, try writing some poetry. Got a good idea for a story? Why not try writing it as a poem first? In my classes I urge new writers to be open-minded about trying genres they might not otherwise have considered. This way, people who were very dismissive of one type of writing often end up loving it.

You can literally look at the world in a different way by moving the furniture around in the place where you write. Instead of gazing out of the window, why not turn your desk to face a blank wall (which is what Stephen King advocates in his respected work, On Writing)? Or write at the kitchen table for once, instead of your study upstairs.

Author Henry James urged would-be writers to, ‘Be one of those on whom nothing is lost,’ and being curious is not just about having new experiences: do things differently and you’ll pay more attention. And if you’re noticing new things, you’ll almost certainly get some new ideas.

So, if you always use a laptop, try writing instead with a paper and pen. If you have a regular list of things to do each day or week, try doing them in a different order or at a different time. Going to the shops when the schools are emptying and it’s dusk will, for example, be a very different experience from shopping at ten in the morning.

New experiences will stimulate and free your creativity, so resist the urge to live your life by a timetable.

Many of us like routine because it makes us feel secure but sometimes, as writers, it does us good to get out of that comfort zone.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, ‘Do one thing every day that scares you.’ This doesn’t mean you have to do a parachute jump or ride a rollercoaster. the scary thing could be submitting your work to a competition or phoning an editor to follow up a pitch (or even rescuing a spider from the bath, instead of asking someone else to do it!).

Try being curious for a month. Keep a list of all the different and ‘scary’ things you do each day and write down how you feel at the time too. The results could be intriguing.

Being curious: things to try:

• Accept invitations you might normally turn down (poet Ian McMillan famously says ‘yes’ to everything! That’s why he’s on the radio so much).
• Make contact with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while.
• Get up or go to bed at a different time.
• Tune into a different TV programme or radio station; read a different paper. Don’t dismiss any of them as rubbish or boring until you’ve at least tried them.
•Try new recipes and resist the urge to always have the same meal when you go out to a restaurant.
• Don’t do the usual and take your notebook to a coffee shop to write. Why not try looking at the world differently by writing in a laundrette, an art gallery or a busy shopping centre?

PS: We went to the sunflower fields the other night, hence the new (temporary) header. We got a bit carried away with our picking and the house is now full of sunflower heads (and lots of yellow pollen and leaves everywhere). But lovely. 🙂

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9 Responses to How to Be More Creative

  1. LadyCristobel says:

    Great piece, thanks!
    Am sitting in Edinburgh, a city thronged with festival-goers and heaving with possible new experiences. So today I go for it! I’ll write about extraordinary people and things for a change.

  2. juliathorley says:

    ‘The Artist’s Way’ changed my life. When I’m asked to set an intention (in yoga, usually), I often remind myself to explore every day with a curious mind.

  3. Kate Hogan says:

    I bought the ‘Artist’s Way’ for my partner (he paints – sometimes!) it remains unread somewhere in this house so I’m going to root it out. Nice blog post and thanks, Helen, for the reminders to be creative and curious. Good wishes Kate.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kate. Yes, definitely worth finding that Artist’s Way book! It’s actually a ‘course’ within the book – and one that I’ve never completed but maybe I should try again!

  4. Shirley Muir says:

    Helen, this post has really kick-started me, thank you!! I’ve written ‘morning pages’ every day since, some days I’ve produced two or three pieces in a prompt notebook – not usually in the morning, I have to say. And not always to the suggested prompt either.
    AND I’ve dug out and edited some poems and made a list of five more I am going to write – on scientific subjects, my metier. It’s great to be encouraged. Of course listening to authors Gavin Francis and Philip Pullman at the book festival only adds to the excitement. Thanks again. I’ll strike while the iron is hot…

    • Fantastic, Shirley! So glad that my post has had that effect on you! Keep up the good work and let me know how you find Morning Pages, once you’ve done them for a couple of weeks. I find they really clear my head and keep me away from the dreaded ‘social media’ which has the opposite effect! Good luck with your poems too.

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