Creativity Tips from Experts — and Me

Recently I wrote about creativity as a habit that requires time and effort to establish. It’s reasonable to wonder, is being creative innate — something a few lucky souls are born with — or is it learned, like a habit or skill that anyone might develop? Can you practice being creative, and get better at it? Are there ways to nurture your creative potential through practices or environment?

Even if some people are naturally more creative than others, I think creativity is something that can be learned, or at least improved. Maybe it’s like doing math: some people have always found math to be easy for them, while others haven’t. But even those who haven’t can get better at it if they make the effort with the right instruction. (No arguing allowed on this point!)

The Neuroscientist
As I looked into this more, I found an interview on Science Friday from 2006, with Dr. Nancy Andreason. She is a neuropsychologist and an expert on the neuroscience of creativity. In describing creative people, she said,

My own view is that creativity is an intellectual capacity that’s not directly related to intelligence. And it is capacity of seeing new things, new relationships, create novel things, and it spreads across the arts and sciences. … There are personality traits that characterize creative people, and one is just sheer persistence. I mean not everybody has a great – who is creative – has a great idea every minute of every day. But people who are creative also force themselves to work. … The other thing about people who are creative is that they push the limits. They get rejected. They have the, you know, the pain of rejection. They still keep going. They’re curious.

Creative people are persistent, determined, have good work habits, take risks, and are curious. Some of that might be a matter of temperament, but all of it is something that can be expanded with effort.

The Author and Artist
Austin Kleon describes himself as “a writer who draws.” As the best-selling author of Show Your Work! and Steal Like an Artist, he has written and drawn extensively about producing original work, including that inspired by others. He also blogs and posts regularly on Instagram.

In a recent blog post he shared a list of ten things that help him stay creative in “chaotic times,” when it is so easy to give in to discouragement.

Some of these tips aren’t very clear without context! Fortunately, he also includes a video from a recent talk in San Francisco, which I also include here.

Work every day, in a place dedicated to your work. Make for the pleasure of making. Pay attention to details. Be kind. Be comfortable with not knowing. Have faith in the future. 

The Quilter
My friend Audrey at Quilty Folk has some thoughts about creative habits, too. In fact, four years ago she enumerated and published them. I have to say, I love this list, partly because is about quilting. Also, it is LONG. 🙂 Also, it’s Audrey’s thoughts on what works for Audrey, but if you work through the list and think about the points, you might see that many of them could work for you, too.

My summary? Have a dedicated work space with your tools and materials at hand, and ready to work. Keep record of your ideas, inspirations, and questions, and learn your personal style. Be curious and make the effort to improve your skills. Take risks. Make routines so you have a habit of working, and remember the tedious stuff is part of the process, not a reason to quit. Consider working in a series. Pay attention to your intuition. Finish stuff. Give your work away. 

Tips From Me
Ask a lot of questions. Try stuff that scares you a little bit. Don’t give up too soon. Make space in your life for creative work. Share what you do, how you do it, and the actual stuff you do, too.

You don’t have to be curious to ask more questions. Try it sometime, about a subject you’re not really interested in. Sometimes those random things you learn become important in unexpected ways. Practice by making a list for yourself of questions to ask, starting with “what if?” The questions don’t have to have knowable answers. Kids are great at this game. Try it with someone about ten years old or younger and see what happens and how exhausted you are by the end. What if all the birds in South America suddenly migrated to Iowa? What if weeks only had four days instead of seven? What if I shrunk down to 10″ tall? What if I use purple fabric there instead of teal?

Try stuff that is scary. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that would happen? It doesn’t have to be terrifying, just a bit outside your comfort. Maybe you’ll be like Kerry, weaving beautiful practical items like scarves and dish towels, but now and then trying different colors or a slightly different pattern. Maybe you’ll be like Tierney and contact a famous quilter/author//teacher, and suddenly be debuting art quilts in national exhibits. Maybe you’ll be like me and decide to appliqué the center block of a quilt, rather than piece it. Oooooh scary!! Seriously, what’s the worst that would happen? You can live through it not working out, or someone telling you “no.”

Don’t give up too soon. So you tried the scary thing and it didn’t work out. Why not? (See that, asking questions again?) If you tried it again could you do a better job? If you contact someone else, might they have different information for you? Did it not work out because you didn’t persist long enough? If you need to take a break, that’s okay. But if it is still valuable to you, come back and finish it.

Have dedicated space and time for working. You don’t have to be “good” at it! You do need to find it important enough, and to find yourself important enough, to make room for it in your life.

Share. When you create, you express yourself. That expression is your power. When you share your process, you help other people become powerful, too. When you share your stuff, you spread good into the world. What could be better than that?

I’ll be offline visiting with family for the holiday. Thanks as always for reading and for any comments. I’ll respond soon.

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56 thoughts on “Creativity Tips from Experts — and Me

  1. audrey

    Thanks for the shout out! I love posts about the process of creativity, they always make me think. Your last paragraph really hit home with me, sharing, expressing ourselves and the power therein being used for good. Off to check out the links!

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kate. We had a good weekend visiting. Back home and in the swing of things now. I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
      1. katechiconi

        Don’t worry, you’re not alone, I’ve been spam-splattered too, to the point where I can’t keep track of who they’ve done it to. I’m now getting ‘comments’ which take the form of a plus symbol and am marking them all as spam (over 50 at the last count). They’ll get tired of it soon. The other bother is weird random email followers, all with the ‘.outlook.com’ ending to their addresses. I do a universal Remove of any of them that turn up, too.

        Reply
      1. katechiconi

        Thanks! For some reason, my option doesn’t toggle, so they’ll continue to be able to like, but at least you’ve made people aware of the issue. Sneaky way to try and creep in at the back door…

        Reply
  2. KerryCan

    Great post, Melanie! I agree that we can learn to be more creative, even if some seem to have a head start on the rest of us! I like your tips, as well as Austin’s and Audrey’s–maybe I’ll make a comprehensive list, to refer to when I get bogged down!

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kerry. I’d love to see your list. I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
  3. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    In my studio, I have posted the list of 10 Things to Do for creativity during chaotic times. Thanks!
    As for trying something new and not giving up, that is what I am doing with fabric painting. So far, I have not had the results I wanted, but I am not giving up.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No, don’t give up yet! I know it can be done! I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
      1. Chela's Colchas y Mas

        I did not see a comment but I got an unknown contact with your post. I do not know how to get rid of it. I do not get the option to approve, disapprove, or open the site ( although I do not want to open it.) Thanks for your comment.

        Reply
  4. Kerry

    Thanks Melanie, the list of 10 is good to have handy – I’ve also bookmarked Audrey’s list so I can refer back to it. Perhaps shouldn’t be so guilty about having multiples of things in line!
    PS – quilt retreat was such fun with a terrific small group of ladies – booked up to go again next year!

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      No, don’t feel guilty! Just enjoy. I’m glad you had a good retreat. I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
  5. Cjh

    A long post but worth reading every word! I’ve liked Austin Kleon for a long time ever since you called my attention to him awhile back, but now I love him even more for his first tip. Groundhog Day is my favorite film because it essentially addresses all of life. So true! Anyway, I really enjoyed this whole post and I’m sure it will generate interesting discussion.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for reading and the nice comments. I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
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  7. snarkyquilter

    My fave is the quote from the neuropsychologist about creative people – they have the “capacity of seeing new things, new relationships, create novel things.” “People who are creative also force themselves to work. … they push the limits. They get rejected. They still keep going. They’re curious.”

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, the most creative people I know see linkages between things that others don’t see. They figure out how to make those links into something new and more than there was before. Thanks for reading. I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Mary. No one likes rejection but there is information in it, either about what you’ve done or about who is critiquing it. (And not always about both!) I don’t know who liked your comment but it looks like spam. I’m sorry that happened. I don’t know how to remove it.

      Reply
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  9. Pingback: Creative Inspiration: Peek Inside My Journals – tierneycreates

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