School is all about rote memory, conformity, and following the rules.
But when we’re immersed in a world of testing and non-creativity, how do we develop some of our creative skills?
We work at it. In fact, creativity is more about working really hard and dedicating ourselves to some sort of creative pursuits than waiting for the muse to strike with some sort of magical gift of creative inspiration.
You might disagree with me, but “in a poll of 143 creativity researchers, there was wide agreement about the number one ingredient in creative achievement. And it was exactly the kind of perseverance and resilience produced by the growth mindset” (Carol Dweck, Mindset, 12).
A growth mindset is the belief that you can grow and improve through hard work, experience, and dedication.
So, what do you do to become more creative? You believe that you ARE creative and then you work really hard, really often at becoming more creative. In a nutshell, you do the work.
We often think about creativity (or lack of it) when we’re stuck and don’t have any creative juices flowing – it’s happened to all of us, but as I’ve noted above, everyone is creative. The good news is we CAN improve our creative thinking, so when we do get hit with the dreaded “writer’s block,” we can work through it.
How do you do that?
Follow these nine strategies for developing your creativity in relationship to your writing:
1) Believe you ARE creative.
This seems like an obvious one, but according to the research, it’s the first step.
2) Do the work and sit down and write. Do this even if you think what you’re writing is really terrible. Do it anyway.
What should you write? Anything. Create a character. Describe the room you’re sitting in.
Ray Bradbury, who wrote Fahrenheit 451, said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
If you write 52 short stories in a year, you will have honed your creativity and writing skills to a fine point. While I don’t know that writing that many stories is realistic, it absolutely WOULD increase your creativity and your writing skills.
3) Generate an AUTHORity list.
Brainstorming is a key element in developing creative skills. So what is an authority list? It’s a list of everything you consider yourself an expert in. Rather than sitting down and trying to think of something completely new, start the brainstorming process with what you already know and love.
For example, maybe you’ve grown up hunting, riding moto-cross, or ballet dancing and know a lot about it – perfect. Put it on your list.
When you get stuck, you can use this list to jump start your brainstorming and idea generation sessions. Also, the mere process of brainstorming will fire up your creativity.
4) Allow yourself to take risks and make mistakes.
Thomas Edison is famously known as saying that he didn’t fail, he just figured out 10,000 ways NOT to make a lightbulb.
THAT is the definition of creative thinking. He believed he could do it, and he worked tirelessly to do it in an area that he had expertise. He never gave up and approached the problem from all kinds of directions. This is called divergent thinking. It’s thinking about one thing in a variety of ways and will absolutely increase your creativity.
When it comes to writing, write about new topics. Create surprising or weird characters. Take a risk.
5) When you hit a wall, stick with it. Persevere.
As psychologist Carol Dweck argues, continuing to work and applying yourself will increase your results and your creativity. Don’t give up.
6) Change your environment to somewhere more stimulating.
Go write somewhere else, a coffee shop, the couch, outside laying on some grass in your backyard or at the park.
7) Collaborate with a friend.
Sometimes bouncing ideas off of a friend can spur your creative juices. Collaboration can be key to developing your creativity.
8) Write by hand.
Research shows that when you write by hand, areas related to imagery and memory are activated in your brain in ways that don’t happen when you type. Use this little fact and put your laptop away. I do almost all of my brainstorming by hand for this reason. It also helps when you get stuck on a scene or with a character.
9) Go on a walk.
Exercise is another activity that helps our brain work better. In fact, some of our greatest thinkers like Einstein and Thomas Edison were known as “pacers.”
Why? Because movement is one of the best activities you can do to increase your brain function. Recent research has proven this again and again.
In fact, in his book titled Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey writes that “Exercise strengthens the cellular machinery of learning. BDNF [the protein released in our brains when we exercise] gives the synapses the tools they need to take in information, process it, associate it, remember it, and put it into context” (45).
And isn’t that what we need to do when we write? You bet.
Most teen creative writers I know are highly creative, sometimes there are too many ideas bouncing around and often that’s the problem. They become so overwhelmed with amazing ideas that they can’t decide and don’t start writing any of them. If that’s the problem, then sit down and just start writing.
But, if you feel like you need a boost to your creativity, choose one of the above strategies and put it in action.