Another reason I really like the Newsweek article on creativity is that it explodes the myth of creativity has some kind of magical, inherent talent that someone either has or doesn’t have. No, creativity can be learned, creativity can be taught, and creativity can be practiced.
When decoupled from its traditional fused relationship with artistic pursuits, this assertion makes perfect sense. Thinking creatively is just another way of processing information, and if the human mind can be trained to memorize (and believe me, my brain was resistant to this one), it follows that it could also be trained to work creatively, that is, to combine divergent and convergent thinking into a coherent and well-practiced process.
Artists know this about creativity already, at least subconsciously. It is why we obsessively practice. Not only are we practicing our craft and our discipline, but we are also practicing creativity. I’ll give myself up as an example. I wanted to write a musical for several years before I sat down to do so. Why did I wait so long? Partly because I had no idea what to write about. I couldn’t think of a single idea that I felt had enough merit to pursue. I eventually had an idea, sat down, and wrote my musical in 2006-2007. After a short-ish break, I wrote my first novel in 2008. It was still hard for me to think of ideas, and I’m not just talking about that one break-out idea that is the best thing I ever thought of. I had trouble coming up with any ideas, but at least it wasn’t as difficult as thinking up the idea for the musical. During this time period, if I had a truly good idea, I felt like I had to hoard it, save it away until my writing skills improved enough to do it justice. I certainly didn’t want to waste a good idea, after all.
It’s been two years since I started writing that first novel, and now I have lists of ideas. There are so many of them that I’m sloppy and sometimes don’t write them down. It feels as if there is a never-ending FLOOD of IDEAS pouring from my brain that I will never have time to explore. I can sit in the bath and come up with two or three ideas that I believe have merit in twenty minutes. No kidding, I did that last week. Granted, coming up with novel ideas is still more fraught than thinking up ideas for short stories, because writing a novel is a much bigger investment of time and effort, so I want to be sure I’ve picked an idea that will still appeal to me in three months, or six months, or however long. But it doesn’t seem to be the insurmountable task that it did only two or three years ago.
Why the radical change? I think it’s because I’ve been practicing coming up with ideas to the point where it’s not a huge deal anymore. Ideas don’t seem like rare precious things to hide away; the more I play with them, the more of them are born. This may also be why there’s this huge disconnect between readers, who always ask where ideas come from, and writers, who get so sick of what seems like an obvious question that they sometimes lapse into snide remarks. Writers have trained themselves to come up with endless ideas. Readers who don’t also write have not, so to them it remains a mysterious process.
I don’t want to get into a big brouhaha about the current educational system in the United States, and how it’s not training creativity much at all. Feel free to rant in the comments if it makes you feel better, but I’m just going to take lack of creativity nurturing in the public schools as a given at present. Until this can be changed, the onus of teaching children how to think creatively lands squarely on the shoulders of parents. I don’t have kids so perhaps I’m not the best suited to speak on this topic, but I have spent many years teaching kids, so I’ll have a go anyway.
Creativity Training for Kids:
- Avoid over scheduling. I’m serious. Even if it’s all artistic classes, having constant structure even when at play is not going to foster kids’ opportunities to role-play, play make-believe, make up elaborate fictional worlds, or even develop the ability to entertain themselves.
- If a child shows a passion for a certain artistic or creative pursuit, encourage it. If he shows an interest in music, see if you can get him music lessons. If she shows an interest in building complex buildings with Legos, see if you can provide the materials necessary for really innovative construction ideas.
- But don’t force a passion that doesn’t exist. As a long-suffering piano teacher, I can attest that forcing a child to play an instrument they hate is probably not going to encourage them to think creatively, unless they get elaborate in coming up with reasons why they can’t practice. Instead, the child will develop negative associations with an activity typically associated with creativity, and therefore might ultimately devalue creativity itself.
- Allow a child to reason out the answer to her own question. Help her out if she needs it, but let her be an active participant in the process. Also let the child hear you going through creative problem solving processes out loud, and if he wants to , even let him join in.
- Limit time with more passive, less creativity-motivating media. Yes, like TV. I’m not saying no TV, but spending less time watching TV will give a child more time to do other activities that will engage their creativity.
- Read read read. Yeah, I know this one is obvious, but I couldn’t resist. Read to your child, encourage your child to read to herself, ask your child questions about what he has read and what he thinks happened after the story ended.
Let me know if you have other ideas for how to help kids think creatively. Also feel free to throw out your ideas of how you stimulate your own creativity. (If you have no ideas about the latter, check out the blog post I linked to yesterday for a starting point.)