The muse is dead. Or at least I’m pretty sure she is, because she isn’t showing up around these parts.
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And I’m feeling particularly hostile toward her this morning after reading about a writer who downloaded an entire book through her psyche. She was a channel for the words. One minute they didn’t exist, the next they were all on the page. I’ve known others who have done this, created revelatory work from the ether. Not me.
But I have had days, months even, where the creative process–though always confusing and muddled and invigorating and mysterious–has worked for me. Where I’ve had interesting ideas marinating even while I developed the next. The process from the beginning, where the idea takes root, through the end, when you’re looking at how that elusive little hunch turned into something vast, is so exhilarating that I pine for it. I seek it. I study it in the hopes that it will happen again. Like right now. I’m waaiiting.
I know it’s there for me, somewhere. Creativity is the one thing we all possess, but still we are highly insecure about it. We claim it with pride when we have something to show–look what I made–yet we are also reluctant to step up an acknowledge that we too hold a piece of that same mysterious power also held by Frida Kahlo, Picasso, Mark Twain, and even Beyoncé.
We think, "Twain? Heck, I can’t write anything like Twain (who can?) so I must not be creative." And, that’s the end of it. Embarrassed by the comparisons to “real writers and real artists,” we abandon our own super power.
"No, I’m not creative at all," we say, even though we consistently managing the challenges of parenting or come up with projects at work to keep the company thriving or juggle the household budget or try new recipes. All that stuff is creative, too.
Living is a creative endeavor, because it challenges us constantly to adapt and adjust and discover and develop. Problem solving, pondering, and exploring are all a part of the creative process. So are mess, trial and error, and exhilaration and if you are on this planet, you’ve got to have some creative stuff going on just to survive the day-to-day.
And while all this makes me feel a little better, it still doesn’t leave me with a topic for my next article. So, I’m going to start reading the phone book. Maybe that will yield something.
Tackling the Mundane
Turns out this kind of boring and mundane task might be just what I need to work myself into a cocoon of creativity.
In a couple of small experiments by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, people who took on passive, more boring activities–like reading or copying numbers out of a phone book–were more creative problem solvers. It seems the more boring tasks allow room for more daydreaming which may explain why many of my best ideas come while unloading the dishwasher or folding clothes.
All this has got me thinking: Is there greater potential for those who are bored at work or living in isolated environments to create great novels or paintings or other works of art? Who knows? But as I ponder the fate of these bored and faceless, but oh-so-creative strangers, I feel the nudge of my own story idea taking root.
Thinking of Others
That wouldn’t be all that surprising to Evan Polman and Kyle Emich. Their research indicates that we tend to come up with more creative ideas and better solutions when we are thinking of other people. The theory is that when we are stewing over our own circumstances, we tend to be more concrete and rigid in our thought patterns. This is stifling to our creativity.
But when we distance ourselves and focus on someone else’s problem–poor schmucks–we become more expansive, our perspective broadens, and we become more flexible and abstract in our thought patterns. Enter: innovation and interesting ideas.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and not only will you be more kind and compassionate–byproducts of empathy–but you might just stumble on a compelling and creative idea. Or you might literally stumble over it, on a walk.
Go for a Walk
Walking appears to alter our physiology in a way that fires up our imaginations. Research out of Stanford University indicates that we come up with the most creative ideas while walking and that creativity lingers even after. Those study participants who sat throughout the experiment were not so creative. Those who walked, whether on a treadmill or outside, pulsed with creative energy.
Exercise has long been linked to creativity, and if I must choose between the boring task of sweeping the family room or going for a walk, well, I’m lacing up my sneakers right now.
When I get back, the floor will still be dirty, but by then, I expect I’ll have something else to write about.