The Magic Behind Creativity  …. and Why it Needs Protecting!

As a child, I was a prodigious daydreamer…. a  GOLD MEDAL WINNING daydreamer!

This often got me into trouble. Resulting embarrassing stories  became part of our family folklore.

…. Like the time (aged 6) that I walked out of my brand new sneakers on the beach (and never went back for them) because I was watching the sun setting over the sea (And could do that better barefoot?!)

…. Or the time (aged 20) when I took the bus back home from shopping in town because I had ‘forgotten’ I had a car!

‘Dolly Daydream’ was a common pseudonym. Not one I liked.

To me though, daydreaming was never a waste of time…..

Wherever I was, however tedious or boring, (dentists waiting rooms, visits to great aunts) I had the patience of a saint!  – I could escape somewhere more exciting in my head, incubate ideas, imagine other lives and outcomes.
I was never bored. Like Alice, I could bolt down my daydream tunnel in pursuit of countless white rabbits whenever I wanted.

As a child, that daydreaming often led to creative ideas too.
Lots of story-writing and poetry (in varying degrees of merit and awfulness).
On long car journeys I was never one of the “Are we nearly there?” brigade. I often preferred the journey to the getting there.
I could think, uninterrupted, let my mind wander wherever it wanted to.

The upshot was often an urgent shout-out to stop at a petrol station an hour into the journey to buy a notepad and pen because I had ‘a story coming’.
Those stories were always better than the ones I had to write during timetabled school ‘Composition’ lessons.

 

However this tendency was rarely seen as positive by those around me.
It was held to be a waste of time,
a childish preoccupation,
a reason to be teased, an eccentric (though endearing) habit I ought to be schooled out of;  dragged kicking and screaming into the harsh glare of ‘The Real World’.

Naturally, I got to feel embarrassed about daydreaming.
And yes, at times my daydreaming did leave gaping plot holes in the everyday drama going on around me, but the story in my head always seemed so much more engaging!

So, as I grew up, I tried to squeeze myself into an acceptable ‘Practical Persona’.

I began to avoid situations where I might daydream. I tried very hard not to be seen to be ‘wasting time’.

I learned how to be productive.
I learned to quash the urge to daydream.
The 9-5 grind,  bringing up children and the maintenance of everyday life tend to drive it out anyway. However….

 

I also stopped up the well of creativity that was my birthright.

Recently I came across this (from Mary Oliver, courtesy of the wonderful Brainpickings site):

‘The most regretful people on earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.’   

That stopped me in my tracks..

No. ‘Stopped me in my tracks’  isn’t really how it felt … more like:

SOMEONE JUST WALKED OVER MY GRAVE.

The message is clear :

“Take your creative side seriously. Give it your time, give it nurture! Don’t dismiss its’ callings like a child you haven’t got time to play with because you need to do the ironing.
It won’t whisper to you forever. Eventually…

Time. Runs. Out.”

Sobering, isn’t it?

Does it sometimes feel in life as if you’re pulled in opposing directions?  ….

Towards Duty, Tasks, Responsibilities;  the ‘world out there’ …. and a creative pull that feels playful, (sometimes irresponsible), joyous and free, but demands paying attention to the ‘world in here’. (Where we introverts tend mostly to live).

Can you guess which side normally wins?

Yup… the duty, tasks, responsibility, ‘world-out-there’ one!

Because its’ demands are RED HOT!  Ignore them and the tax man is at your door, the children go hungry, the rent isn’t paid.

Ignore the ‘world-in-here’, and no one dies.

 

Except maybe you, or your soul , a little more each day.

 

We see time as a commodity, a resource to be well used.
We say we’re ‘killing’ time when we’re not being purposeful, as if the point of all time given to us, (indeed of all existence) is PRODUCTIVITY (measurable productivity).

We were born to be productive surely, to be purposeful … intentional.
To do works of relevance and note.
We can hardly argue with that can we?

Not only are we born to be productive , but our merit seems to depend on HOW productive we are. (Or seen to be, and in a short timespan too)

Being SEEN to be busy signals value and significance.

We march unthinkingly to the tune of the Productivity Police.

Hold on though ….

Maybe we weren’t created to be PRODUCTIVE, maybe we were born to be CREATIVE.

A factory assembly line can be productive …. but it doesn’t deliver the Mona Lisa!

Maybe we need to tweak the concept of ‘valued output’ in our lives.

My ‘output’ can’t be measured in the same way as that of my wrist watch.
Never missing a beat.  My watch is designed for one purpose and one purpose only.    To tell the time. It’s a machine.

But we are not machines, we are living organisms.
Our “purposes” are many and complex.
Unlike machines, We don’t run regularly to the same pace.
We follow unseen inner rhythms.
An efficient machine wouldn’t be designed for a quarter of its working life to be on ‘re-charge’ as we are when we’re sleeping!
That’s inefficient. It’d be scrapped.

 

Quite apart from the sleep we need, research suggests that we are only fully ABLE  to focus productively for around 90 minutes before we need more down time.

And this ‘slack time’  is not a luxury bolt-on that we should be able to do without. Neither is it ‘recharge/recovery’ time.  It’s ESSENTIAL if we are to be fully productive, fully creative. It seems as if that is when our brain is able to process the input. It does this when we’re asleep … and (more interestingly) when we’re ‘idling’.

(If you’re keen on the research, look up Kleitman’s studies on sleep, ultradian rhythms and the basic rest-activity cycle)

No rest, no productivity (or creativity).   Simples.

 

The problem is that we tend to regard our need for rest and sleep as a necessary evil.
We forget that we are organisms, not machines.
We confuse productivity and creativity.

We’re developing hothouse lives, without deep roots.

We’re euthanising creativity!

 

And who do we hurt most if we shame out daydreaming, quiet reflection, pottering and ‘time wasting’?

Introverts (because it’s our life-blood!) – and introverted creatives in particular.

There’s been a lot of interest recently into what specific environments and behaviours FEED  creativity.  And what’s coming out of that research is really exciting.

Again, if you get fired up by research, here’s a sample of current goodies to dip into:

Baird & Schooler: ‘Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation’ in Psychological Science.
‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’ (Joseph Lehrer)
‘Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind’ (Kaufman & Gregoire).

It seems that we’re discovering that creative thinking is generated by:

‘Idling.’    ….   or mental ‘pottering’ whilst we’re engaged in a task that doesn’t require too much effort or concentration, (like going for a walk or taking a shower.)  It seems this non-specific, non-analytical focus is what helps us to process information, think outside the box, play with creative alternatives within a non-pressured environment.

‘Solitude’ –  to prime the creative pump requires occasionally shutting out the world!    It involves being solitary, alone. In their recent work ‘Wired to Create’, authors Kaufman and Gregoire cite ‘solitude’ and ‘daydreaming’ among the ten defining attributes of highly creative people.

‘Rhythm Dance’ –  We need to work within our natural rhythms of rest and activity. To prime Creativity, what’s needed is a rhythm dance of intense focus, followed by restful incubation (daydreaming). Focus  … daydream …. Focus …. incubate.

 

Creative work  (it turns out) grows best from a bedrock of quiet, non-focused contemplation.

As creative introverts it seems we NEED to ‘waste’ time. This can’t happen when we’re in the arena.

We need to protect slack time, “wasted” time. That’s where we  ‘grow’ ourselves, and every dream, idea, theory or work of art flows from this.

 

It’s when I’m pottering, idling along, walking the dog, taking a bath, peeling potatoes that the creative whisper comes.

Or maybe I’ve just got quiet enough to hear it.

 

So let’s stand in the gap and protect “wasted” time. Schedule it into our diaries and give it as much importance as committee meetings and doctors appointments.

 

Don’t kill your creativity on the busy altar of Productivity.

Learn to lay out the quiet ‘Welcome’ mat instead.

‘For some have thereby entertained angels unawares’

 

Don’t know about you, but I’d be happy for a few angels to stop by every now and then….

 

‘Til next time

Blessings

Lynne  🙂 x

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