February 19

Finding Your Creativity in the COVID Age

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By Bryan Johnston

February 19, 2021


You are a creative being. We all are. Children are creative from the beginning, never being taught how or why. They just do. Sadly, though, it seems to grow out of most of us. We learn to stop being creative, or to hide it, or that creativity is something for only children and the immature. 

We stop. From fear, jealousy, self-doubt, external criticism, self-sabotage, and about a million other reasons. As children, we joyfully committed to creativity on a daily basis. Through sloppy art (finger painting, Play-Doh, arts and crafts), make-believe (and we were serious method actors, firmly believing we were whatever it was we were pretending to be), and just general play. It wasn’t something we had to think about. We didn’t have to remind ourselves to be creative. We just were. All day, every day, and in everything we did. It was glorious. 

Then, at some point, it was conditioned out of us. Some well-meaning but misguided adult told us to “grow up” and “start acting our age”. So we did. And we put creativity aside for more important things. We became too busy for it, too mature for it, and eventually, we forgot that we were ever creative in the first place.

But we were. And now we’re discovering that all of us need it again. Creativity, far from being the domain of just the gifted chosen few, is within us all. It’s just buried. Finding it again, digging it out, dusting it off, and bringing it to the surface is not only good for you, but necessary. And it doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and get yourself an artist’s loft somewhere in Soho. 

Creativity manifests itself in many ways. In the arts, of course. Painting, sculpting, drawing, composing, writing. But also in teaching, baking, marketing, cooking, sports, management, banking, parenthood, engineering, medicine, law, technology…you get my point. 

Creativity is life, only better. It hasn’t abandoned you. It’s only hidden in the back. Call it forward.

Get Bored

We’re all terrified of boredom these days. Afraid of having nothing to do, so we fill every moment with mindless junk online or on another screen. We spend hours surfing the net, but never really looking at or learning anything. We’re just afraid of missing out on something (FOMO – fear of missing out – is the reason you’re always on your smartphone or tablet). And that’s too bad, because boredom can be the best thing for your creativity.

A little bit of boredom allows your mind to wander. To experiment. To play. To forge new connections, which is the definition of creativity in the first place. So allow boredom into your life. Consider the times when an idea or solution to a problem suddenly popped into your head. Chances are, it was while you were bored. In the shower. Just before bed (we get bored and figure, “I might as well go to bed”). When the television or internet was down. 

Study after study have identified the creativity-boosting properties of a little boredom. So don’t run from it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t lock it out. Open the door and invite boredom to come in and sit down for a while.  

Artist Dates

Julie Cameron describes two tools necessary for awakening creativity in her seminal book “The Artist’s Way”. The first is what she calls the Artist Date. It’s basically assigned play, and that can mean literally anything. It’s a weekly appointment with yourself (it must be done solo) to do something fun, different, or slightly outside your comfort zone. They need not be overtly or obviously artsy or creative. But they must inspire play, whimsy, and your imagination. Perhaps you’ll visit the dollar store and spend five bucks buying some toys or art supplies. Maybe you’ll go to the park and fly a kite. Or visit the local museum. Or build an instrument out of cardboard. Or collect a few rocks at the beach. Or go for a walk through the nature preserve. Think “mischief more than mastery”. Anything. Just you. Once a week. 

Morning Pages

The second tool promoted by Cameron is Morning Pages. She calls them “the bedrock tool for creative recovery”. As the name implies, these are pages you write out each morning. By hand. Cameron suggests three full pages. They’re not meant for anyone else, so you need not edit or worry about them in any way. They need not be creative, either. Ironically, our creativity is often stifled for not being creative enough. Morning pages are a daily “brain dump”. Just write about whatever is bouncing around in your head. Whine. Complain. Bitch. Moan. Predict. Question. There’s no wrong way to do them. But by writing down everything in your head at the start of each day, you’re preparing yourself to allow creativity into it. You’re opening your mind and heart to it. Three pages. On anything. Every day. 

Drink a Couple of Beers

There are quite a few studies coming out recently that sing the creative praises of the humble beer. It can stimulate your creativity as few things can…but only up to a point, so don’t overdo it. The research seems to suggest that a slight buzz opens you up to new and creative ideas. The ideal BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is about 0.07, which is about two beers for most people. Any more than that, and you’ll lose whatever benefits it has.

But why? Alcohol hits your cerebral cortex like a distracting best friend. It makes your brain less focused on the stimuli around you, and more on its own network of connections both new and old (which, again, is what creativity is all about). Marketing execs allowed to drink came up with better and “more creative” ad ideas than the control group in one study. Students doing a word association riddle did better after a few drinks in another. 

Create Something 

This one is obvious. Want to bring creativity back to your life? Then create. Paint, draw, write, mold, sculpt, craft, knit, crochet, sew, cook, bake, or whatever. Creativity is as creativity does. No wrong choices. And how “good” you are is completely irrelevant. 

Ignore Your Inner Critic

Even if only for 30 minutes. Or 20. Or even five. Allow yourself the privilege of being creative without worrying about or listening to the voice in your head that tells you ad nauseum how much everything you do sucks (you know that voice). Even if it’s true, who cares? Where is it written that the only people allowed to draw, for example, are those with an understanding of depth perception, and shadowing? Or that the only people allowed to write a story are those with a grasp of the archetypal characters? It’s not, and they’re not.

Let your inner critic rail, but you’re under no obligation to listen to him or her. In fact, tell him to go fuck himself. Out loud. And with glee.  

Capture Your Ideas and Thoughts

You’ve maybe never noticed how often during a typical day that you have a creative thought or idea. Or maybe you have noticed, but dismissed them as inferior. Or perhaps you do recognize their value, but never get around to recording them, and by the time you do, it’s gone. Ideas can be fleeting and ethereal. They flit from person to person. Many of us have learned to tune them out completely. So…do the opposite. Capture each one as it comes to you. No judgment. No editing. Write it down in a notebook, or record it in an audio note, or jot it down on a list on your smartphone. Creativity begets creativity, and when you give yourself the opportunity to examine your creative thoughts and ideas in this manner, you’ll be surprised how many are not just decent, but excellent and valuable. 

Avoid tv, Social Media, and the Internet

Even if only for one day each week. These things fill our heads with useless, worthless, meaningless noise. They take away valuable space and time that could be used to cultivate our creativity. It’s part of the whole “afraid to be bored” endemic that plagues modern society. Don’t buy into it. Set aside a tv/social media/internet free zone, and the more the better. Use the time for something else. 

Feed Your Curiosity

Creativity is the forging of new connections between old ideas. By that definition, the more “old ideas” you have (i.e. the more you know about anything), the greater the possibility for a new connection to be made between them. So feed your curiosity at every opportunity. Read about things that interest you. Look up answers to questions you have about everything (and here, your smartphone can be invaluable). 

Reimagine a Familiar Story

This is a fun activity for anyone, regardless of age. Explore a familiar story from another character’s point-of-view. “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” by Jon Scieszka examines the old fairy tale as told by the wolf. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by Tom Stoppard explores the events of Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the eyes of two minor characters. You can do the same. Take your favourite story, fairy tale, play, or movie, and reimagine it as told by a secondary, or tertiary participant. How does it change? Explore. Play.

There are many ways to invite creativity back into your life. All you have to do is open the door and welcome it in. 

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”~Mary Oliver

Don’t be one of them.

About the author

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.

International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a high school junior & a Portuguese water dog. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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