Are You Frustrated With Writing Blocks? —
Do You Wish to Become a Writer, But Can’t Make the First Steps to Commit?
Creativity isn’t as common as we think. We draw from it, examine it, and try to coerce it to bend to our needs. Just what is creativity? Can it be taught?
I often thought, collectively as writers, we’ve been blaming a lack of creativity and numerous blocks — days staring into a blank computer screen — on The Muse. “They” tend to talk to us only when we don’t wish to listen or when we don’t have a pen handy. It’s as if they are tapping our creative minds to drain them just when we need them the most.
Are the Muses siphoning off our “creative juices” to bank them for others? It sounds like I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone rather than the discussion of professional teacher/leaders who claim to know how to teach it. Can it be taught, really?
Mythological females with the power to beguile
First, I needed to do some basic research and recall those impish deities. I better dig deeper into this topic before I go accusing The Muses of draining the reservoir of knowledge. At the Louvre Museum are the nine muses — Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania, Melpomene — in relief on a Roman sarcophagus (2nd century AD, from the Louvre). They represent the arts, music, poetry, astronomy, drama, and comedy. They don’t seem to control one strain of creative thought but tend to overlap a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, creative study is not poring hours over the books to understand each Muse and her history. What it does is give a face and a name to these bothersome Muses who tend to taunt rather than help. Mythical tales abound throughout history. The girls are famous … or infamous.
“The point of creative studies,” says Roger L. Firestien, a Buffalo State professor and author of several books on creativity, “is to learn techniques to make creativity happen instead of waiting for it to bubble up. A muse doesn’t have to hit you.”
Some Capacity for Creativity
So, I found out, to study is to play with your creative mind, and, as with any “muscle,” it can improve with practice. He also implies that every mind has some capacity for creativity. We begin at play as infants, then with our parents, then siblings, toys, other playmates, and on from there. Play is creativity. As we mature, we tend to pigeonhole much of our creativity, willing to stifle it as being childish, and ignoring it as being useless. As adults we often lose our creative insights.
“The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative,” says Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, which has the nation’s oldest creative studies program. Dr. Puccio, another authority in this field, developed an approach that he and partners market asFourSight and sell to schools, businesses, and individuals. The method, which is used in Buffalo State classrooms, has four steps:
- CLARIFYING — asking the right question — is critical because people often misstate or misperceive a problem. “If you don’t have the right frame for the situation, it’s difficult to come up with a breakthrough,” Dr. Puccio says.
- IDEATING — is brainstorming and calls for getting rid of your inner naysayer to let your imagination fly. This would also include “mind mapping.”
- DEVELOPING — building out a solution, and maybe finding that it doesn’t work and having to start over.
- IMPLEMENTING — calls for convincing others that your idea has real value.
In the study, they find that people tend to gravitate to particular steps, suggesting their primary thinking style.
Yet the other side of creativity is failure. To be creative you must try, fail, adjust, try, fail, recreate, and accept failure as part of the creative process.
It’s a lesson that has been basic to the ventures of Brad Keywell, a Groupon founder, and a student of Dr. Matson’s at the University of Michigan. “I am an absolute evangelist about the value of failure as part of creativity,” says Keywell. He noted that Groupon took off after the failure of ThePoint.com, where people were to organize for collective action but instead organized discount group purchases. Dr. Jack V. Matson, an environmental engineer and a lead instructor of “Creativity, Innovation and Change,” taught Keywell not just to be willing to fail but that failure is a critical avenue to a successful end. Because academics run from failure.
Remember why “Formula 409” cleaner is #409?
Keywell says, universities are “way too often shapers of formulaic minds” and encourage students to repeat and internalize fail-safe ideas. Yet, being creative is a value that many search for.
Breaking that mind-set are colleges across the nation that offer studies and certification in not only Creative Writing but being creative. Businesses are now looking at a creative quotient when considering new hires in business marketing, communications, web content, and even brainstorming sessions. When I worked in commercial radio my work title was a “creative” — a new name that is used today for crafting radio ads. These days “creative” is the most used buzzword in LinkedIn’s online profiles two years running.
For over 15 years, non-traditional high schools, small colleges, and advanced Charter schools have recognized the need to cultivate creativity which is just now becoming the center of attention. This is something I’m sure any one of the nine Muses would enjoy.
So the next time that Muse annoys you or is nowhere to be found, consider that many others across the nation are actively pursuing their Muse through college classes and brainstorming sessions. You’re a writer. Be glad you can tap into the Muse much easier than most.