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Do You Have Hidden Reserves of Creativity?

The human mind

Not long ago I was part of a panel discussion on creativity at Readercon in Burlington, Massachusetts along with psychologist Steve Kelner and writers Andy Duncan (“Beluthahatchie”), Toni L. P. Kelner (Who Killed the Pinup Queen?), Matthew Kressel (who is also publisher of the magazine Sybil’s Garage), Jennifer Pelland (“Captive Girl”), and Joe Haldeman (The Forever War). In the course of that discussion, which it appears will be available online in audio format some time down the road (I’ll post when it happens), two realizations came to me that hadn’t really had the chance to settle in before: first, we use creativity in many more activities than I would have thought, and second, creativity has a lot more uses than I had imagined.

Creativity we don’t realize we’re using
In Steve Kelner’s 2005 book Motivate Your Writing! he talks about a set of misconceptions that he calls The Seven Deadly Myths of Creativity–things like The Muse (the idea that creativity is reserved for special people, who have to wait on inspiration), Similarity (the idea that our creative process has to resemble somebody else’s creative process), and so on. In the course of debunking these myths, he points out that we use creativity in a lot more circumstances than we imagine–for example, in finding a new route to work.

I honestly don’t think I would have come up with that activity as an example of creativity, but he’s certainly right. As a rough working definition of creativity, we could say it’s trying an approach other than the ones that are obvious or that other people have pointed out. For example, if a kid in elementary school writes a story from the point of view of a sock, that kid will be branded “creative” before you can say “men’s garters.” If, on the other hand, that kid has grown up and now works in insurance, and if that grown-up discovers that a slightly longer route to work avoids the most dangerous intersection along the way and passes by stores where she would regularly be able to pick up things she needs, no one is likely to brand her creative–but she’s using her intelligence, coming up with new ideas, and even ignoring the obvious conclusion that she should always take the fastest route. This is clearly creativity in action.

Creativity can express itself in any number of ways that we might not immediately recognize, for example: a novel way to organize correspondence, an unusual routine that gets the kids to bed without arguments, or a series of themed study parties that keep a group of college students on task. If you don’t consider yourself a creative person, ask yourself if you always do things the way you’ve been shown or that’s most obvious. Do you ever innovate instead … even if it’s only in the most mundane things?

Making more use of creativity
That second realization for me was that creativity could be used in many more situations than I would have imagined, and that immediately comes in handy to me. For example, take the Deadly Myth that affects me the most of the Seven, something I might not have thought about if Dr. Kelner hadn’t put that question to us (his fellow panelists) directly: spontaneity. Kelner describes this myth as making us think “that great creativity comes from full-blown, complete inspiration rather than through rewriting, tinkering, or refinement.”

If you happen to believe this one, consider the example of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which started out as something not far beyond a collection of loosely-related stories, but which Lee and her editor edited and re-edited laboriously to finally arrive at the novel we know and (in many cases) love.

In any case, my spontaneity hangup wasn’t so much that I believed that rewriting couldn’t sometimes transform a good or even a bad work into a great work, but that I didn’t think of the act of editing or rewriting as creative. My general attitude has been “I wrote it–now the editing part is just a bunch of grunt work.”

This is really a misguided idea about editing, considering how much subtlety, detail, life, surprise, and freshness can be worked into a story or novel even after a first draft is complete. I hadn’t been thinking of editing as a creative task, and so I tended to equate it with drudgery. Realizing now that it’s an inherently creative activity, I’m much more eager to go ahead with the editing and rewriting my partly-finished works need before they can be sent out. This simple shift in perspective changes editing from something I reluctantly force myself to do into something I’m eager to do. There’s real value in that.

Whether or not your hangups about creativity (if you have any) match mine, I’m willing to bet that if you look, you’ll find hidden examples of creativity in your life, not to mention unexpected ways you can bring creativity to bear to make your life better.

Image by jef safi

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New from Luc on, Can’t Backspace, and Futurismic


A few new posts of mine on writing-related subjects have just appeared around the Web:

On the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America blog, my post “An Infinite Supply of Writing Prompts,” which appeared here early last week, is featured as a guest post.

My new column in my “Brain Hacks for Writers” series appears today on Futurismic; it’s called “Your Opinion and Twenty-Five Cents: Judging Your Own Writing

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, a fellow member of the Codex writing group, hosts a hand-written (and doodled) guest post from me on developing ideas at her all-handwriting blog, “Can’t Backspace”

For readers who are here for the willpower and psychology of habits posts, I’m working on sub-sites that will feature only those materials, and will post details as soon as I have them.

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Useful Resource:


I heard recently from Debra Exner, who does coaching and training work about effectiveness and collaboration, and thought I’d take a look at her Web site, I immediately found some very useful material, for instance in a new series of posts on the site called “Get Things Done: 4 Ways to Collaborate for Accountability,” which includes strategies like “Get-It-Done Days” for organizational work, during which participants check in with each other every hour to report progress and state goals for the coming our; and “Mastermind Groups” of individuals who get together to talk about their individual goals, their progress, and their concerns so that the whole group can provide accountability and brainstorming.

If you’re interested in organization, collaboration, productivity, or creativity, I’d recommend taking a look at the site and perhaps subscribing to posts by e-mail to let Debra and site co-author Maddie Hunter provide some useful ideas.

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Are Creative People More Likely to Procrastinate?

Strategies and goals


A good imagination may not be strictly necessary for procrastination, but it can help.

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the nature of procrastination: picturing something in the future and imagining how hard it will be or what can go wrong. He goes on to point out that the more easily a person can imagine problems, the more incentive they have to procrastinate “… because their sensitivity gives them the capability of producing in their minds lurid nightmare scenarios about what might be involved in doing the project and all the negative consequences that might occur if it weren’t done perfectly.”

How do people successfully combat procrastination? They take control and move things forward–that is, they figure out what the next physical action is.

Allen is big on the next physical action, and close examination of the idea helps explain why: figuring out the next action changes the focus from broad dangers to easy, short-term wins. For example, if you’re daunted at the prospect of doing your taxes, you may find yourself distracted by thoughts of a big balance due, mistakes, or audits. Figuring out your next task (“Sort through receipts in receipt box” or “Call tax preparer to make an appointment” or “Download an update to the tax softare”), by contrast, puts things on a much more comfortable level. Almost anyone can sort receipts, make a telephone call, or click a button on a Web site, and doing so moves the tax process forward. Reducing large tasks to a series of next actions–only one of which needs to be figured out at any given time–can create enthusiasm or energy around getting things done instead of wrapping the task in anxiety.

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Creativity and fitness motivation resources


Here are couple of sites of interest, both brought to my attention through comments here on the Willpower Engine.

Matt O'BrienFitness instructor Matt O’Brien runs, a site with both motivational and informational resources for people working to get more fit. O’Brien also posts on Twitter.



Writer Amy Fries posts information about harnessing daydreams for visualization and creativity on her blog Daydreams at Work. She has a book of the same name out (I haven’t read it as of this writing, though it looks interesting and I may eventually get an opportunity to do so. Currently the Dalai Lama and Mihaly Csikszentmihaly are the masters of my reading list, along with some writing-related projects). She also tweets (sheesh, this is making me feel so 2008 by comparison!) at .

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