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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Not enough people have heard of this little gem, even though it won the Tony Award for best original score in 2005 (Spamalot won the Tony for best musical that year, but let’s not even go there).  The music is so beautiful, it makes me feel like there’s something inside me stretching towards the sky, and that’s really the top attraction for this show. The story line is interesting enough, the character development for the main mother character is well done, and the lyrics are passable although on the whole nothing special.  And given the music they accompany, they almost feel beside the point (which is particularly telling since I am usually all about the lyrics). 

The Light in the Piazza is not a “belty” show, as are most of the new shows we’ve been seeing on Broadway.  No, Adam Guettel draws less on rock and pop music and more on opera and classical music to create his romantic score, filled with soaring violins and Classically trained voices.  It’s possible that this choice is partly why the show isn’t more widely known, but I’m glad he made it just the same. The lush music suits the story and the setting (Florence , Italy).

My local theater company put this show on last fall, and after one of the performances I heard an audience member mention that the story was “creepy”.  Or maybe she said “strange”.  This reaction might also factor into the relative obscurity of the show.  I actually really like the story, although I will admit it’s challenging in that it takes a lot of thought, and it also depends a lot upon the interpretation of the role of Clara.  The general idea is that Clara, now 26, was in an accident when she was eleven or twelve that froze her mental and emotional development, so ever since she has led a very sheltered existence.  But now she and her mother are on holiday in Italy, and suddenly love strikes from the sky like lightning.  One of the questions the show pivots around is, exactly how impaired is Clara?  This is a question that is never answered explicitly, so one just has to guess.  Is she, as her mother finally comes to believe, capable of more than they’d assumed?  Can she aspire to a “normal” life with a husband and possibly even children?  Is she mature enough to truly love?  Or, is this all wishful thinking doomed to dreadful disappointment?  Plus we explore the obligations of disclosure (how much does the mother have to tell Clara’s lover? What about his family?) and we watch events shape and change Clara’s mother, whose worldview has been turned on its head by the end of the show. An ironic twist that happens mid-way through Act 2 highlights the differing values of the two families in question.

The fact is, a lot of these issues and questions are uncomfortable, so I can understand why audience members might be uneasy afterwards.  But for me, this is the best kind of theater: theater that makes me re-evaluate myself and how I see the world, and that leaves an open question.

A few favorite moments, both from the Second Act:

“The Light in the Piazza”, sung by Clara in Rome, when she wishes to return to Florence (and the man she’s fallen in love with).  One of my personal favorites to sing.

 

“Fable”, sung by Clara’s mother Margaret at the end of the show.  This song is truly epic.

 

Ah, so beautiful!  If you like what you’ve heard, “Dividing Day,” “The Beauty Is,” and “Let’s Walk” are also songs worthy of attention. I’ll definitely be on the look-out for any new work by this promising composer.

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Rent has been on my current list of favorite musicals for the longest amount of time.  It came bursting on the scene both off and on Broadway in 1996, and I discovered it by late 1997.  In fact, it is possibly the first CD I ever bought after I received my first CD player in 1998. 

Rent is very much a product of its time.  It shows the HIV/AIDs epidemic when it was at its peak and is set before cell phones became popular, featuring an answering machine used for screening calls.  And yet, its music has a very modern feel and it was always a very popular show with my students, many of whom were born the year the show came out.

From a musical perspective, Jonathan Larson, the composer and lyricist of Rent, was trying to modernize the American musical, and in many ways he succeeded, although it took many years for other composers to successfully build on his innovations.  While the “rock opera” had been quite popular in the 1980s, as showcased by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and Schonberg and Boublil’s Les Miserables, among others, Larson was going for a different sound, more influenced by modern rock and rap.  Combined with his genius for clever lyrics, Larson wrote a score that popped with originality and vitality.  The sheer energy that crackles from a live production of Rent can be spellbinding.

The story of Rent is a modern adaptation of Pucchini’s opera La Boheme, set in New York and featuring several starving (and in many cases HIV-positive) artists.  For me, the first act has always been the stronger of the two, focusing on the action of one night, whereas the second act is more diffuse and covers many months.  Our protagonists struggle with poverty, sacrificing and striving for their art, living with terminal illness, death, violence, homelessness, mainstream disapproval, and heartbreak/lack of trust/relationship drama.  I heard this musical and realized, more deeply than I had before, that musical theater can have just as much depth and as much to say as other art forms.

The show is not without weaknesses.  As previously stated, I feel it loses some of its focus in the second act, and some of the sung dialogue passes by so quickly it can be missed by newcomers to the show.  What always drives me nuts, however, is that the musician Roger’s song “One Song Glory” in the first act, in which he sings about trying to write the perfect song, is infinitely stronger and more moving than his song in the second act “In Your Eyes”, which is supposed to be the one perfect song but is, in my opinion, much more clichéd and not as musically or vocally interesting.  And the end feels rushed and doesn’t quite match with the rest of the piece.

For me, Rent is inextricably tied to the time in my life when it was introduced to me.  It deals with artists struggling to make a mark on the world, while I was a music student struggling to improve my singing.  It shows main characters with terminal illness, and delves into the realities of living with illness and with death.  At this same time, my mother had a terminal illness and later died from it.  This musical spoke to the nineteen-year-old me in a way for which I’ll always be grateful.

Here are a few, out of many, of my favorite songs from the show:

– Seasons of Love: possibly the most well-known song from the show.  It raises the question of how to measure a life: what is it in life that we value most?

– Will I: a moving testimonial to the fears relating to terminal illness
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– One Song Glory: one of my very favorite songs of all time.  This song alone makes me wish I was a male tenor.  Every time I listen to it, I get tears in my eyes.  It’s about the desire to create lasting art in the face of mortality.
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What is your opinion of Rent?  Do you have favorite songs or moments, or see different strengths and weaknesses than the ones I picked out?  Let me know!

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I have loved musical theater since I was a little girl obsessed with watching movies such as The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and Annie over and over.  I watched those movies so often that I memorized the accompanying commercials.  I’ve studied musicals seriously over the intervening years, as a vocalist and performer, as a composer, as a critical audience member, and as a musical director.

I’ve noticed that my associations with musical theater are very different from those of many people I encounter.  I often don’t mention my interest, and when I do, it’s even odds whether my companion’s eyes will glaze over, or he’ll try to change the subject, or worst of all, she’ll make a derisive comment.  About musical theater.  To ME.  Musical theater has gotten a bad rap, and ignorance is rampant about much that moves and interests me about musicals.

Not every musical is an Oklahoma!, with energetic grinning and almost insanely enthusiastic dance numbers that consist of singing about the weather (and once you’re aware of the historic connotations of Oklahoma!, it’s a lot easier to take the aggressive cheerfulness).  Not every musical is a puff piece of finely spun sugar that melts in your mouth, leaving nothing of meaning behind.  Not every musical is overwrought rock opera from the 80s.  Not that I have anything against any of these types of musicals.  I enjoy and am interested in musical theater of all shades.  But.

Not all musical theater is created equal.

My very favorite type of musical theater may or may not feature any dancing.  It often consists of a fairly small cast.  There may or may not be fancy lighting or other technical derring-do; in my musicals of choice, the spectacle of the experience is not the point of focus.  I tend to adore musicals that have something to say and say it with passion.  I look for deep characterization and a satisfying narrative arc.  I want lyrics that are both clever and true, and music that drives home the themes of the piece.  My goal is to take something away after the show that has nothing to do with a snatch of a tune to hum for the next month.

Musicals are a form of performance art, and like the best theater, are capable of teaching us about ourselves and the world around us.  They make us feel, they make us question, and they make us wonder.  My favorite musicals will linger with me for months, or in many cases, my entire life.  Yes, musicals do feature characters who spontaneously burst into song (unless it’s through-sung like opera), but if done well, the music can harness the emotions of the character and present them in a visceral and memorable fashion.  If done by a master, the music can actually both cause and illustrate character development.

This post is the beginning of a series I plan to write and publish every Tuesday for the next month or so, discussing each of my favorite modern musicals (I currently have four), all of which were written and produced in the 1990s and 2000s.  I’ll be talking a small amount about the music and lyrics, but my main focus is going to be on the narrative and thematic ambitions of each piece.

For now, if you’re a musical theater buff, what shows are your favorites?  And if you’re not, what is your general impression of musicals?  Do you like Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling” or “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog”, or are all musicals equally anathema to you?  Weigh in and let me know!

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My friend Sean Craven recently wrote an essay about practice.  (Has anyone not heard of Ericsson’s 10,000 hours of practice makes an expert theory?)  The entire essay is interesting, but what particularly struck me was this section:

But I have noticed not just in myself, but in most of the serious beginning writers I know, a sense of stern duty, of feeling that we must steel ourselves for the rigors to come. Writing these days feels like a polar expedition, where we expect to lose a finger or nose to frostbite in the process of starving to death while surrounded by bears.

I laughed out loud in recognition, of both myself and many of my writer friends.  In the last few months, I’ve lost contact with that touchstone of living an artistic life: remembering that I love what I do, and making sure I continue to love it.

It’s so easy to become concentrated on the duty aspects of learning a craft.  I must practice this many hours per week, or I must meet this minimum daily word count.  I must write x number of short stories, or add x number of songs to my repertoire.  I must work diligently on mastering a, b, and c issues that I know are holding me back from being the artist I want to be.  I need to submit or audition more, write better and faster, keep up with Writer K who seems to be achieving SO MUCH MORE than me in the same period of time.  And maybe I should consider attending another workshop or masterclass.

It’s not that these goals are inherently wrong or bad (except possibly for keeping up with Writer K, which is a slippery slope filled with disappointment).  But when your brain is filled with the ear-splitting chorus of duty, sometimes it becomes hard to remember why you started in the first place.  In other words, once a beloved hobby transitions into being “work”, how do we keep the fire going?

I faced a similar transition when I moved from office work to teaching music.  I worried that by making my living with music, I might lose my love for it.  This fear proved to be  unfounded because:

1. Teaching music was infinitely better than the office work I had previously been doing.

2. I really like teaching and working with kids and teens.

3. I really do love music and singing and particularly musical theater that much.

4. Finally, and I think this point is crucial, my job was to spread a passion for music, so I was constantly reminding myself of how cool and amazing music was and pointing out these elements to others.

I had to make some small adjustments to keep myself going: I transitioned away from teaching how to sing pop music, for example, because it began boring me to tears.  And my job was certainly not free of duty, not by a long shot.  But when I closed my studio this summer, I still loved music, singing, and musical theater just as much as when I started.  Thinking about this now, I realize I achieved no small feat in keeping my passion alive.

It is my belief that I love writing, fiction, and narrative just as much as I love singing and musical theater.  I’m just so weighed down by duty that I forget to think about the positive, and unlike at my studio, one of my principle duties isn’t to show how amazing writing can be.  On the contrary, I sometimes feel a certain amount of grumbling is required just so people understand that I’m actually working at all.

So I’m going to be trying out a little experiment for the next few weeks.  When I sit down to list my five happy things, I’m going to add something to the end: reminding myself of concrete reasons why I love to write.  My hope is that this exercise will allow me to enjoy writing more thoroughly, not because it’s an item on my to-do list but for the sheer joy of it.  When I stop and think, it doesn’t take me long to realize what a privilege it is for me to have artistic and challenging work.  I’m officially giving myself the time to remember.

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Over the past two years, since my entering into this crazy fiction-writing world, I’ve noticed that many of my compatriots are often discouraged, depressed, worn out, or feeling hopeless about their writing.  Serious devotion to writing as a calling and career seems to take quite the emotional toll.  And two years has been enough time for me to experience this emotional stress firsthand.

What is interesting to me is that I come from an arts background in music.  I did musical theater, got a BA in music, played my own music publicly in London, etc.  And my experience with music and being a pre-professional musician was in no way as brutal as my experience now of being a pre-professional writer.

Please note this is not because I think writing is inherently harder than playing music.  If anything, I think I have slightly more of a natural knack for writing than I do for music.  And I don’t think being a professional musician, especially one who makes her entire income through performance, is any easier than being a professional writer who makes his entire income through writing fiction.  But on the whole and in my own experience, being a pre-professional musician was easier than being a pre-professional writer.1 Here’s why:

1. Higher barrier to entry: Most American adults can sit down and write a sentence without having to practice first.  But have you ever heard someone pick up a violin for the first time and draw the bow across the strings?  If you haven’t, count yourself lucky because the results can be painful to the ear.  This basic difference means that being an aspiring musician generates more respect than being an aspiring writer.  It also weeds out most of the wannabe and non-serious musicians right out the gate, because to achieve even a basic level of musical competence requires non-trivial amounts of practice time.  This is not so with writing.

2. Simple mentorship system: As a musician, it’s common to have a private teacher who will mentor you, give you tons of individual attention, and keep you on the straight and narrow in terms of continuing practice and improvement.  Or you might even have several teachers for different instruments (for instance, at various times I’ve had private piano teachers, voice teachers, and composition teachers).  A good teacher will keep you encouraged and inspired most of the time, and kick you in the ass when you really need it.  There are many resources available for finding a teacher, and you pay a set fee for the privilege of study.  This contrasts to finding a writing mentor, which I don’t know how to do and which has no set way to achieve.  Interest one of the teachers at your workshop or your writing class, perhaps?  But once the class ends, then what?  There’s not a clearly defined business model for this as there is in music.

3. A more respected educational system: It is also common wisdom that a writer should major in something besides creative writing, and the opponents of the usefulness of an MFA in creative writing seem to be as numerous as the proponents.  While I’m not arguing these points one way or another, it stands in marked contrast to music’s mentorship system (discussed above) and higher educational system.  While if you’re doing certain kinds of music, a degree might not be necessary, most music programs help develop skills that will obviously come in handy later on, and musicians don’t tend to argue about their usefulness.  This means if you know that you need to build skills as a musician, you can have the institutional support of a university music program while not constantly worrying that you might be wasting your money.  I’m not saying there aren’t MFA programs that are fabulous, just that general opinion is mixed.  And thank goodness for workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, and Taos Toolbox and organizations like SCBWI that take up some of the slack here.  But workshops and organizations don’t generally offer the same consistency as a four-year program.

4. More emphasis on collaboration: As a musician, I had many opportunities to perform with various groups.  I was taught how to work with other musicians and had group performance opportunities in choirs, musicals, and operas.  Instrumentalists have orchestras, bands, and chamber music ensembles.  And then there are jazz bands and ensembles and rock or pop bands.  Finding other musicians to make music with tends to be pretty easy.  Writing, on the other hand, is a fairly solitary experience, and while one could argue that the critique group is the equivalent of a band, a lot of critique groups don’t meet as often and/or aren’t working together as closely.  The result of this can be a lack of deep working relationships.

5.  Possibilities to practice art in the real world: Speaking of performance, not only did I have many opportunities, both during college and afterwards, but it was highly encouraged, even expected.  A young and inexperienced musician went out and gigged, auditioned, joined a band, whatever.  And if you weren’t paid for your efforts for awhile, well, that was the norm while building up your chops.  Contrast this to writing, in which well-respected writers advise new writers not to submit to markets that pay less than five cents a word (the current “pro” rate).  Leaving aside the absurdity that a couple of cents per word one way or another isn’t going to make a difference in quitting your day job anytime soon, this attitude means that new writers are actively discouraged from showing their work in public unless it can hit the bar and taste of the few pro markets.  This in turn lowers motivation and increases both pressure to improve at unattainable rates of speed and accompanying feelings of futility and isolation.  For the pre-professional artist, any recognition, however small, is powerful incentive to continue, and in writing, there just don’t seem to be as many of these opportunities.

6. The stigma (or lack thereof) of indie artists: The indie music scene is vibrant, exciting, and most importantly, not overtly stigmatized.  In fact, it’s hip to be an indie musician.  Sure, you might have trouble paying your bills, but in return you get to make the music you want to make, thumb your nose at The Man, and live a musical life.  Most other musicians will either be actively supportive or not care one way or another.  Cutting your band’s own CD has gotten a lot easier with recent technology, and bands do it all the freaking time.  Contrast this with the indie writer scene (otherwise known as self-publishing).  You may have a hard time paying your bills this way too (or you may have an easier time if your name is J.A. Konrath), but regardless, other writers will sneer at you.  I’m not kidding.  The stigma against self publishing of any sort is incredibly strong.  It’s so strong that a lot of established professional writers aren’t putting their backlists (the rights of which have reverted to them) up on all the electronic platforms.  Now this might just be lack of business sense, lack of interest, or technophobia, but I find it very striking.  To me, this doesn’t even count as real self publishing because the work has already been published with a publishing house and received the full traditional treatment.  But I digress.  Most writers I’ve met are firmly in the “traditional-publishing-deal-or-bust” camp, even though distribution channels and producing a final e-edition of a novel have gotten much easier with recent technology, just as producing CDs is now easier.  The main effects of this attitude are less options for writers of all levels, not just the pre-professionals, and less emphasis on business innovation and experimentation with new business models.  Meanwhile, there are already huge amounts of self-published material flooding the marketplace with no gatekeeper, and somehow readers seem to be surviving the onslaught just fine.

All this said, I’m incredibly grateful for the assistance I’ve received from the writing communities I belong to.  My friendships and discussions with other writers have been some of the highest points of my writing life.  If anything, this analysis shows how critical these communities and fellow writers truly are.  But if nothing else, I hope this comparison between pre-professional musicians and writers will serve to illustrate the difficulty of the writing path, and encourage us to be supportive, patient, and kind to one another.

For those of us who are nonconformists, it can also act as a reminder that change may be coming, but change isn’t always such a terrible thing.

1 Note that I am most familiar with the speculative and YA communities in writing, and have at least passing familiarity with Classical, jazz, rock/pop, and musical theater in music.  What I’m talking about may not hold true in other genres or styles.

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Dichotomies are popular partly because they’re catchy and partly because they’re so easy on the brain.  Black vs. white, capitalism vs. socialism, introversion vs. extroversion, right vs. wrong.  Sometimes I wish things were actually this simple, but most of the time I don’t because these comparisons don’t allow any wiggle room or tolerance for difference or adjustment.

So when we talk about quantity vs. quality, both of these attributes contribute to overall well being and success (I’ll save defining “success” for another time).  Is one more important than the other?  I would argue that for many people, one is weaker than the other, and therefore we need to expend more effort and awareness on whichever side is more personally difficult.  Let’s look at some definitions.

Quantity:

  1. Music: number of hours spent practicing and learning new music.  Also preparing music for a performance or audition deadline.
  2. Writing: butt in chair principle; number of hours spent writing and revising, or a daily word count goal.  Also would include having a submission goal of how many markets you submit to per period of time.
  3. Interpersonal: amount of time spent both thinking about what your relationship (and loved one) needs and implementing that, whether by spending more time talking, doing activities, writing emails, cleaning the house, or what-have-you.
  4. Running a business: amount of time spent both on finding and implementing strategies in advertising, marketing, getting your name out there, as well as time spent providing your core service or product and planning special events.  Focused on goals either financial or quantity-based.

These are all great goals, concrete goals, measurable goals.  They require self discipline and commitment to achieve on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, sometimes quantity is not enough.  Standing in the practice room day after day for sixty minute practice sessions that go exactly the same way every time is not usually going to lead to improvement or make a great singer.  Being so obsessed with word count that you can’t afford the time to stop and think how you can use your words more effectively does not make a better writer.  Trying really hard to be a better spouse without being willing to take some personal risks isn’t always effective.

But what happens if we don’t focus on quantity?  Our brilliance is often derailed by lack of organization or dedication.  Projects don’t get finished or maybe don’t even get started.  Businesses fail due to lack of exposure or avoidance of hard financial numbers.  The people we love may feel neglected or friends might characterize you as a flake.  We might sound great when singing but our inability to learn music on time and behave professionally holds us back.

Quality:

  1. Music: choosing one or more technical suggestions to work through during that day’s practice session.  Being willing to try new things even if they feel weird and don’t work right away.  Working on what your teacher brought up during your last lesson and then giving her feedback as to how it’s going in practice.
  2. Writing: choosing subjects/stories that are close to your heart and therefore dangerous.  Taking the time to revise as much as a story needs.  Doing the necessary preparation work (whether that be research, outlining, note taking, character profiles, etc.) that you personally need to write your best story.  Focusing on a particular aspect of craft while writing, even if it slows the work down.
  3. Interpersonal: prioritizing by finding out what makes the most difference to the other person in the relationship.  Getting to the root of any issues between you.  Attempting to see that person without your usual bias and love them unconditionally.  Being honest and open about hard things as well as good ones.
  4. Running a business: Providing individualized service to your clients.  Prioritizing the goal of improving your product or your abilities.  Remembering the people factor in business.  Not cutting every single corner for cost reasons if the quality detriment is high enough.  Focusing on goals of service and satisfied customers.

What happens if we don’t focus on quality?  We work hard for many years and get “stuck” in the same spot, like we’re running in place.  We crank out large volumes of work lacking the spark that will lead to publishing that novel or winning that part during auditions.  Our relationships coast along but don’t necessarily deepen.   The business tends to get a higher than average turnover of clients or customers.  We rush to complete a task without thinking of the meaning behind the task and making sure we do it to their best of our abilities.

Now for me, quality is a lot harder than quantity.  Quantity is easy for somebody like me who has determination, self discipline, and organizational skills in spades.  Quality, on the other hand, is a bit more mystical because it depends on stuff you can’t measure in numbers.  It depends on taking risks.  It doesn’t always conform to plan.  It could end in spectacular failure instead of middling mediocrity.  So for me, I need to put a lot more focus on quality to get myself in balance.

What about you?  What do you need to focus on, quantity or quality?

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)

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