Tag Archives: Creativity

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.


Building Habits for Creativity Requires Time

On the wall of my gym is a painting that says, “Motivation gets you started. Habit keeps you going.” People often join gyms or start other health plans with good intentions and enthusiasm, but unless they persist in their efforts, they probably won’t create a habit and likely will abandon the plan.

It was easy for me to build a habit of going to the gym. I started after injuring a knee in 2016. Soon I injured the other, as well. Between working with a physical therapist and also with a personal trainer for several weeks, I used the gym four days a week. Once I was done with PT, I continued with the trainer for a few months. Since I paid for the privilege, I made sure I got there. I still go three times a week when I’m in town.

Most of our behavior is habitual, or part of a well-established routine. And if we want to change our behavior, we need to change the routine and persist in it long enough to create a new habit. I wonder if it’s like striving for the opposite of mindfulness, trying to do something often enough that we don’t need to think about it. hmm… 

When it comes to quilting and good habits, most of my habits of technical proficiency — seam allowance accuracy or pressing or how I prep my fabric — are pretty well ingrained. The bigger issue is the habits that lead to increased “production” and creativity. If you look for tips on improvements in these areas, you can find all kinds of things: focus more, focus less, spend more time working, spend more time having fun.

I would like to be both more productive and more creative. For me, those two concepts can be in conflict. To be more productive (have more quilts finished,) I could reduce the time I spend on planning and design, and choose options that are easy/quick to execute. Doing that I could finish multiple quilts a week. Some people get great joy from that, but I would not. Or, I could be more “creative,” chewing over lots of possibilities, brainstorming endlessly, drawing and redrawing designs, looking up strategies and techniques, taking classes, endlessly gazing at fabric choices online, searching for inspiration. That would take up a lot of head space and boy howdy, I’d have a lot of creative ideas going. But they wouldn’t get made. Well, that’s no good, either.

There is only a conflict or tradeoff because resources are finite. In particular, time is limited. Choosing to do anything necessarily means not doing something else. To spend more time in both creative thinking and execution, I need to do less of something else. Less computer time would help me. I spend a lot of time clicking from news site to news site. It doesn’t always make my life better. 

Once we’ve intellectually decided our priorities (found the motivation,) we need to establish a habit of behavior to keep going. I read an interesting article about habit formation at brainpickings.org. It suggests that to create a simple habit, like drinking a glass of water after breakfast, it takes about 21 days. More complex acts don’t become routine for many more days, and sometimes as much as a year.

Late last year I tried blogging every day for 30 days. I abandoned the effort after about 20 days. Apparently I didn’t stick with it long enough. Or it wasn’t very important to me in the first place. 

This is actually a different issue than how long it takes to create proficiency at a skill. However, persisting with a behavior long enough to improve would certainly help motivate continuing the effort. Four years ago I wrote a post called “(Don’t) Stop Acting Like a Two-Year-Old.” In it I cite sources that claim you can learn a new skill in anywhere between 20 hours (Josh Kaufman) and 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell.) That’s a pretty wide range!

How long can you persevere? At least 20 hours? How many days are you willing to put in to create a new habit? An hour a day for 20 days? Is that enough to change your life?

You may have been in on the Instagram #IGquiltfest, a challenge of sorts to post particular kinds of quilting photos on Instagram every day for the month of March. That might create a habit of posting on Instagram. And certainly it’s fun to see what other people post. I haven’t figured out what else it does to spur creativity or production in quilting. (Not meaning to be snarky here. I just literally don’t know what it’s for. If you can explain, feel free to do so in comments.)

There are “challenges” galore, including various ones that show up on WordPress, the famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month,) and others. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. It takes the intention to create and allows you to commit to that intention for a limited amount of time. You don’t have to finish a novel, you don’t have to show it to anyone. You do have to be motivated enough to commit the time every day to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s it! And for some people, that might be enough to create a habit of writing daily.

As discussed earlier, though, for complex behaviors, it usually takes longer to make a habit. Another project that could push through that barrier is #The100DayProject. Here again, the challenge leaders want you to post everyday on Instagram. That, I think, is both to market the program itself, as well as to continue to affirm your own commitment to the project you’ve chosen. You can choose anything. You could make a health commitment for 100 days, or decide to put a dollar aside every day for 100 days with the ending pot of money given to a charity, or create a 12″ x 12″ painting every day for 100 days. Obviously some things are more visual than others, in terms of recording your progress in photos, but the idea is flexible enough to be appealing.

If I want to make more, and make more interesting things, I need to spend more time on both of those intentions. I’m considering joining The100DayProject as a challenge to myself, to focus my attention and energy on my quilting, and less on doing something else. Because the start date is April 3, I still have a few days to define a project.

What tips do you have for developing a creative habit? Have you found something that works especially well, like paying for in-person classes or forcing deadlines or other motivators? Do you commit a minimum amount of time each day to your creative life? Do you have space devoted to your creative work? Tell us in comments about your creative habits. 



Christmas Is Coming!

The top of my class Christmas quilt is done, but it needs to be quilted. (I’m still working on the bear’s paw quilt, too. As these get bigger, it’s harder to work on them “at the same time.”)

Here are a few pix. Below is the finished top in as big of a view as I can manage. There are a few “Christmas” fabrics in it, but I rarely buy novelty fabrics. My friend Sharon passed a few of hers to me, so bits of hers show up. Mostly, though, it is other reds, greens, and golds I had in stash. I didn’t buy anything new for this.

Quilt top, laid out on the floor. I can’t get quite high enough to fit the whole thing in view. It’s about 68″ square.

OH, that’s not true. I did buy the green paisley in one of the strip borders. I’d used a different green, cut it and attached it, and simply wasn’t happy with it. This green has more light in it and has more interesting pattern.

A decent view of the center block, which finished at 16″. The green border around it is 2″ wide, taking the segment to 20″ square. Notice how the strip border neither encloses the center block, nor expands it. It is neutral. The swirly line print does draw the eye, but does not direct the eye farther out. This suits, because the center block really is self-contained. With its round shape and circling flying geese, it wouldn’t work as well with something like spraying half-square triangles in the first border.

The outside border is the red plaid at the top of the photo. It helps settle down the riot caused by the pile of packages in the next border, all in scrappy fabrics.

I had fun making the green “packages” with their bows on top. The bows are just flying geese, and they echo the shapes in the hourglasses above, as well as the flying geese in the center and the pinwheels in the corner blocks.

The pinwheel corner blocks are a funny illusion. They’re made of the same block as that ribbon border near the center. It’s called a “Y” block in EQ7. There are 4 of them in a pinwheel block, and using all the same “background” fabric makes it look like a pinwheel on point. The pinwheel spins, as do the flying geese in the center, though going in different directions. Finally, they are one more allusion to a package, as it looks like you’re looking down on the top of a fancy bow.

Over the years I’ve gotten over the wish to make my fabrics match for style. While I do want them to “go” together, there is a pretty broad range, even in a quilt like this. There are 1800s reproductions, a few Christmas fabrics, at least one batik, a fabric sold as wide backing fabric… I enjoyed using the last of a few scraps, evening piecing a few scraps together to make patches big enough. I remember where I bought some of these, including on a family reunion trip in Michigan, on an outing to Illinois with Jim, at chain stores and local quilt shops and one online store. A quilt like this represents a large part of my quilting history, stitching memories into the design.

I plan to keep this quilt. Though we decorate pretty minimally for Christmas, I’ll enjoy having this out, either spread across the dining room table or draped on the stair railing, or even bunched around the two of us on the couch. Some day maybe I’ll give it to one of my kids, instead of the coal they usually get for Christmas. 😉

Who Is Your Worst Critic?

Here is another re-run post for you to ponder. I’ll be offline for the next several days. In my absence please feel free to comment on the post, to each other… I’ll look forward to seeing your discussion when I get back.


Who is your worst critic in general?

Who is your worst critic about your quilting or other crafting?

What does that critic say to you about your quilting or crafting skills and talents?

Do you believe that critic from an intellectual standpoint?

Do you believe the critic from an emotional standpoint?

If the critic is right, do you care?

If the critic is wrong, do you care?

If you care (and want to “improve,”), is there something you are willing to do to address the criticisms?

If you don’t care (or don’t want to “improve,”) is there something you are willing to do to address the critic?

Does the criticism affect your desire to try things?

Who is your biggest fan?

How do you know?

What can you do to get more positive feedback from that fan or others, including yourself?

Will you show up, be big, regardless of the feedback?

Will you listen to this talk by Brené Brown, about the critics in your creative arena? It’s about 20 minutes. I found her affirming and inspiring.

Be Powerful. CREATE!!

I first published this two years ago, and had linked it on my personal Facebook page. Today Facebook “memories” brought it back to me. I thought it was worth sharing again. 


In my class on making Design-As-You-Go medallion quilts, students choose their own center block and borders, one decision at a time. As the quilts develop, the students engage and encourage their classmates in making skillful choices. All the quilters in that class are very experienced and talented. But not all of them design for themselves regularly.

Last night I received an email from one of my spring students. Sarah said, “I feel so liberated after taking your class.

Her ability to create, to design for herself, allows her to become more of herself. Liberated. To be herself. She is more powerful. And I believe we all have that power.


I had a long discussion about art and creativity with my friend Ben recently. I asked Ben, “Why is art-making so rewarding? Why must we make art — write, play, sing, act, paint, quilt, arrange flowers — ? How are we transformed by the creative process?”

Within a much larger answer, Ben said,

I think we are least destructive, even within ourselves, when we are most creatively fulfilled. Isn’t this where we separate ourselves from all other animals? In the ability to create what was not there before? In new and totally unique ways? Doesn’t creative exploration create new and different creative pathways within us? Don’t we thereby become more than we were before?

I think we are most true to our natures when we create, when we engage creatively. …

I think it is rewarding because we are doing what we are meant to do. Growing, learning, trying, failing, succeeding, exploring and expanding our natures.

We are expanding our natures. In my response to him, I agree with his summary and explain my personal experience.

I find creation to be powerful. My tagline on my blog is “Be powerful. CREATE!” I mentioned when we visited in July about my work to regain my personal power after my illness. And I have found that expression through writing and designing, and transforming ideas and colors and shapes into tangible objects is one of the primary ways [for me] to build power.

I keep pushing my personal boundaries of what I can do. That growth makes me more powerful and MORE OF THE PERSON I AM.

A book I read several years ago by Anna Quindlen is called Object Lessons. One of the things that struck me most when I was finishing the book is how the characters, through the period of the novel, all became more themselves. NOT that the book revealed that, but that their true selves were more revealed to other characters and even to themselves through the story. They became themselves.

And funny, I just dipped into the first of the novel on Amazon and I find a passage I hadn’t remembered, don’t remember as being part of the theme of the book, about the 12-year-old girl main character. The passage describes being in school and told by the nun to write an answer to the question “who are you?” The girl wrote “I am still becoming who I am.”

That’s how I feel. … my quilting work has taken off in ways I never would have anticipated. And that also has been creative growth, which has pushed my other personal growth in new ways. Mostly, perhaps, I’ve become more willing to try other things that are different or “hard,” even if not in the realm of creativity.

All I know is that creation helps me become myself. And becoming myself is powerful.

We all have creative power within ourselves, though we express it in different ways. It is a power of transformation. We transform materials, notes on a page, our thoughts, ourselves. We transform others as we reach out to them to teach or encourage. As we exercise that transformational power, it gets stronger. We become more liberated to be our true selves, revealing layers even we did not know were there.

You can become more powerful, too. Be powerful. CREATE!