The True Nature of Creativity

I’ve always considered myself to be creative. I love making up stories – I have since I was a kid – and I make a living off of marketing and editing creative products. I’ve always had an active imagination, sometimes overly so. I even moved across the ocean to get a Master’s degree in “Creative” Writing.

By these criteria, some would call me “a creative.” Not “a creative person,” just “a creative.” As if my creativity were my label even more so that being a person. As if my creativity flows through everything I do. I’ve always liked this label. I like labels in general, but especially this one. There’s something ethereal and interesting about it. But lately I’ve been wondering if it actually fits me.

Perhaps the fact that I like the label should be your first hint. Isn’t the more creative thing to want to transcend labels? Shouldn’t I be fighting against it?

Actually, my relationship with someone who is NOT “a creative” has really opened my eyes about what creativity is. Alex is an accountant, which I have heard on several occasions used as the anecdotal antithesis of a creative profession. And based on what he’s told me, there’s very little creativity involved in his job, at least outside of management.

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And see, for a long time I bought into his claim that he’s not very creative. He told me that on one of our first dates when I mentioned the novel I was working on. And every time I would pose a hypothetical question (“If you could go anywhere in the world RIGHT NOW, where would you go?”) he would get so caught up in the details of the hypothetical situation that he would never actually answer (“Can I teleport, or do I have to account for travel time? Am I alone, or do I get to bring you with me? How much money do I have? Only what’s on me? Because I’m in my pyjamas. It’s 11pm; I should be in bed, not traveling. Can I go in the morning?”) and I resigned to the fact that he couldn’t just think creatively enough to play that game.

But I’ve slowly learned that Alex, an accountant, is actually an incredibly creative person.

For example, with all of those questions, who was actually thinking creatively? I was thinking impulsively and wildly, but Alex was thinking more widely. I just wanted him to say “Morocco” or “New Zealand” but instead he got creative in considering details I hadn’t even thought of in my half-asleep state. He was creating a whole scenario – a story, even – while I was just offering a single thought.

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Alex being an absolute child at Waddesdon Manor

Our wall calendar is one of my favourite things we have. It’s themed after one of those adult colouring books, so the top page of each month’s spread is a nature-themed drawing you can colour in. I did January’s on my own when the calendar came in the post, but Alex and I did February’s together. Our exchange went a little like this:

HIM: “I’m going to colour these trees purple!”

ME: *gasp* “Dont. You. Dare.”

HIM: “Fine. I’ll colour these flowers over here and you can work on your stupid conformist trees.”

And you know what? My trees look stupid and conformist. In fact, he spent as long on one little section of foliage as I did on the rest of the sheet. Some leaves are technicolour, some have a cool gradient effect, and others are just plain wacky. He even put colour outside the actual drawing to make it look like it’s glowing. We joked that it looked like the part of the forest a wizard lives in, and my part is the normal bit to surround and disguise the magical bit.

His part looks way better than mine. In fact, I plan to keep it even after the calendar comes down off the wall.

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The February drawing in our wall calendar as we were finishing it. You can see the section he coloured at the left compared to my boring trees at the top.

We also play loads of board games together. Almost every night, in fact. There’s one particular game called Ticket to Ride that started out as my favourite but has recently become quite frustrating for me.

See, Alex and I are both very competitive, but in different ways. I want to play the game and achieve the objectives to the best of my ability. If I’m having trouble doing that, I still focus on doing that until I get it right. And when I do have it on lock, I find new objectives to work toward. Not Alex. He’s the nasty kind of competitive. He’ll sabotage you even if it does nothing to help him reach his objectives. (He’s only like this in board games, btw. He’s the most generous and helpful person in real life.)

The first time it happened in that game, it took me by surprise. There were so many other things he could have done! It didn’t help him reach his goal! Even if he had already done it, he could have drawn new destination cards to have new objectives and earn more points down the road! Why would he choose to sabotage me instead?

I resolved myself to do the same to him, but I actually couldn’t do it.

I’m not saying that I’m too nice. No, if you had seen how sore a loser I was and how petty I was being, you would know that I’m definitely not too nice for that. I just genuinely couldn’t get my brain to work that way. I couldn’t focus on meeting my own objectives and on sabotaging him at the same time.

When I mentioned it to Alex (in a frustrating moment of – yet again – defeat), he told me I just needed to think creatively about it.

These things messed with my insecurities a bit. It sounds dumb, to get wigged out over a colouring page and some board games, but it made me question what I’m doing with my writing. Am I creative enough to flesh out an original story, or will it just be derivative because all I can actually do is establish set rules and follow formulae?

Am I good enough for this? Am I talented enough for this? Am I even capable of doing the thing I’ve wrapped my identity so tightly in?

I know all writers go through this at some point, but it felt very individual. It freaked me out.

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The flowers Alex brought me on Valentine’s Day. He said they reminded him of the picture “we” coloured. Despite how rigid I was being, he saw the creativity as a joint effort.

The truth is that maybe I’m not creative enough for it. Maybe I’m not “a creative,” as much as I want to be. But does that mean I’m going to stop? Does that mean I’m going to throw in the towel and take Alex’s colleague up on her offer to recruit me?

No. I’m going to reach my objective to the best of my ability. And once I’ve done that, I’ll find a new objective to work toward.

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