He goes on to give the students an assignment, to write a poem – the best poem they can possibly master – and then to tear it up and throw it away. And, he says: ‘Don’t show it or recite it to anybody.’
I love this sentiment - to make something for the sheer joy of it – and I totally agree with Vonnegut, that it isn’t the quality that matters, especially as you begin, but the doing.
And yet, I would expand his statement and say: Practise creativity.
My definition of creativity is ‘to make stuff’ and while my preferred medium to create with is a pencil, it doesn’t have to be yours. What I think it should involve though, is the use of your hands.
I believe that, in recent history, we have started to value what I like to call ‘brain work’ way above the work done by the magic of our hands. Indeed, as a society, we have been so focused on academic achievement that our kids’ dexterity has suffered as a consequence.
We’ve become typers and swipers where once we were makers and creators.
Desk jobs have increased by a staggering 94% in my lifetime and I’d say that within that time-frame we have also begun labelling ourselves as either ‘creative’ or ‘not creative’. And by ‘not creative’ we mostly mean ‘not talented’.
Often we have acquired the ‘not talented’ label in school and because we believed it, we stopped making stuff and eventually found that we were, indeed, not creative. I myself spent 20 years believing I couldn’t even draw a stick figure and since I ripped off the label that had been attached to me a long time ago, I have learned – not only that I can draw much more than just a stick figure – but that practice outweighs talent. By a lot.
Aside from being better at drawing now than I was five years ago, my experience has been that creative ideas come much quicker than they did when I was just starting out. I used to stare at a blank page for ages before coming up with something to put on it. I also shied away from those Instagram challenges where you are given a prompt and have to draw something based on that. I would look at those lists of words, unable to think of anything, whereas now, ideas come flooding. This, in fact, isn’t quite as far-fetched as it may seem. Engaging in creative activities that involve our hands, does impact our brain circuits, strengthening those areas that are used in decision making, planning and, of course, creative thinking.
And not just that, it can also calm our nerves, so much so that a hundred years ago, doctors used to prescribe knitting to combat anxiety. And let’s not forget that it’s also fun and rewarding to create something with your own hands.
‘Creativity takes courage’, Henri Matisse said but it’s courage worth taking and I’d like to encourage you to rip off the ‘not creative’ label and leave it behind as we’re stepping into the new year.
I think there are lots of ways in which you can express your creativity from cooking, baking, gardening to making music, knitting, pottery, writing poems and creating art.
If you want to delve into art-based activities and don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions:
(Please note – these are not sponsored. They are just things I like or that have helped me along the way.)
Skillshare - a learning platform with tons of creative classes suitable for beginners as well as seasoned pros
Creativebug - similar to Skillshare but more crafty
Patreon - I love Patreon because it allows you to connect directly with - and thus financially support - your favourite artists. As part of their packages, many artists provide 'how to' videos. I have been a Patreon to Emma Carlisle.
Lastly, there’s Lorna Scobie who has published a bunch of books full of creative drawing exercises.
And of course, there’s always plenty more to discover both on and offline.