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1 of 2 Questions Any Creative Person Should Ask Themselves

Question mark: 1 of 2 Questions Any Creative Person Should Ask Themselves
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are two questions that you need to memorize and train so they become reflexes. I’ll cover the first one today:

Can It Get Any Better?

We often use the reverse question, “Can it get any worse?” in a bizarre attempt to make us feel better by focusing on how bad it could actually be. Unless you’re writing a modern version of Job, that’s the wrong question to ask. Switch your mindset and ask, “Can it get any better?”

Ask yourself this question when you’re feeling down about your creative project. Maybe the painting you were hoping would win accolades from your family actually solicited a “that’s ugly” comment from one of your kids. Perhaps the first document you wrote and submitted for approval to a client came back with a ton of red marks. Or maybe you’re being your own worst critic.

Asking if something can get better can suddenly open the floodgates of your imagination simply because the answer will always be yes. You’re already frustrated, maybe embarrassed, maybe even depressed, so why waste your mental effort on what could be worse? Inspire yourself. Let your imagination focus on what could be better.

Second question coming up next week!

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Every Little Bit Helps Your Goals

Child building a snow fort: every snowball helps.
Children don’t think twice about how long it’ll take to build a snow fort. They just do it.

The desire to achieve your dreams can be overwhelming. Maybe you’re trying to stop spending so much, or maybe you’re trying to write or paint more, or maybe you dream of running your own home business. It’s easy to see the big picture, but what about all the little pictures that make up the big one? That’s where the overwhelming feelings come in.

Setting goals is great. Taking time to plan out the little steps is great, too. But finding the motivation to complete all of those little steps can be daunting, especially when you see your end goal, and it’s really, really, reeeaaally far away.

That’s where I tell myself, “Every little bit helps.”

My grade 10 math and computers teacher, Ms. Schindler, also headed up the environmental club at our school. It was important to her that anything we wrote finished with “every little bit helps.” She’d apparently read research that proved this sentence actually increased charitable contributions. I don’t know what research she was citing, but the sentence stuck with me.

“Every little bit helps.”

So I took ten minutes one morning and quickly wrote a short kids’ story. I didn’t set up a schedule to do one every day or even every month. I just did one. If I didn’t write another story for a while, that was okay. It turned into a fantastic new bedtime routine with the kids.

So if you’re waiting for that moment when you suddenly feel inspired enough to paint your first portrait, write your first novel, or start up a home business in one day, stop waiting. That moment is now, it is all the time.

Sketch something on paper, write a quick story, jot down some ideas for a business. If you have nothing to write or draw with at the moment, dream your sketch, your story, your business idea. Just do it now. Even if you only have ten seconds before you get off the bus, out of the car, or run out the door, do it now.

Every little bit you do will help you succeed, and when it comes time to the bigger steps, you’ll be ready for them.

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Writing Stories for Children, With Children

Two pages from my kids' creation: a book about their grandfather losing his bed and finding it under some books.
Two-page spread from my kids’ first book.

In my quest to expand my creativity, I set my notebook and pen on my night table. I frequently started writing as soon as I woke up, spending 10 minutes creating children’s stories to share with my kids some day.

After a few weeks, I finally had the courage to read one to them. It was about a friend of theirs who had lost something. My two sons were the Super Sleuths and helped their friend find the lost object.

Their eyes seemed to listen as much as their ears: They loved it.

I might as well have climbed Mount Everest! Not only did they request it again, but they created their own series: “The Friend Story.” Like any true series, it has a standard plot line and the same characters. They alternate turns giving me a sentence to add to the story, and I write down as best I can whatever they tell me. We write their children’s stories evenings, after our reading time and before sleep time.

I eventually suggested we write a story for their grandfather. The plot line was the same: their grandfather lost something (his bed), looked everywhere, and eventually found it (under some books). I typed it up, spread out the sentences over about eight pages and printed them. Then I asked them to draw the pictures. They were in a bit of a silly mood, and you can tell! (I also added in my own story at the end as a way of saying, “I’m back!”)

After spending a fortune laminating the pages and having everything bound, we had a finished, published children’s story. I could not have been happier, and neither could their grandfather.

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Practicing Your Creativity

Practicing creativity in basket weaving in eastern Europe
Any craft takes practice. Here are members of an older generation long gone doing their craft.

Ever practiced your creativity? If you’re like me, probably never. So when I read Daphne Gray-Grant’s three blog posts on deliberate practice, I was intrigued. I thought you had to be born a good writer. Kind of a laughable belief when I think about it. I don’t know of anyone who came out of the birth canal or c-section incision with a completed novella in hand.

When I was young, I used to get into a writing fury, punch out a short story in a week at most, and then let it sit forever. I thought that was practicing. But that’s the scribe’s equivalent to a novice pianist learning to play by randomly hitting the piano keys each week instead of practicing scales or studying master composers. Can you imagine attempting to knit a sweater by randomly moving yarn and needles together?

So why should writing be any different?

Author Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that anyone wishing to become an expert at something needs about 10,000 hours of practice. He talks about The Beatles, Wayne Gretzky, and Steve Jobs, to name a few. While he does believe that success is part situation, he also believes that the mastery needed to achieve success rides on practice.

But I have a job to do, a family to look after, and friends I’d like to hang out with. I don’t have 5 to ten hours a day to practice so I can accumulate my 10,000 hours in three to six years, and I refuse to be the Loner Writer.

However, I do have 10 minutes in a day, and that’s what Gray-Grant proposes. So I started practicing. Not every day, but frequently. My ideal time is in the morning as a sort of warm-up to my day’s deadlines.

Not practicing 10,000 hours doesn’t mean you’re bad at your art. On the contrary! It means that you can accomplish mastery in your chosen art form: mastery isn’t genetic, it’s learned. Moreover, chances are pretty good that whatever your creative passion is, you likely did quite a bit in your youth already. A little practice goes a long way and it’ll help you grow your creativity even further.

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What Do You Believe About Yourself? It May Affect Your Creativity

Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10)
Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1884 (age 10) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did a few comedy improv workshops once for troubled teens in a local high school. Most of the scenes were about sex, so I urged the students to try something else. A young man spoke up.

“You know we’re teens, right?”

That young man illustrated for me what many people believe: the stereotype they accept for themselves (“teens think only about sex”) also includes a belief about creativity (“therefore we can’t think of anything else”).

When I was young, I actually believed that creativity = good writing. I didn’t realize that practice and learning = good writing. By the time I got to university, I’d stopped writing fiction, because I couldn’t remember anyone (except my parents) saying I could write well.

It’s amazing how 16 years, two kids, and a daytime job improve your self-esteem. I’ve allowed myself to write fiction again.

I didn’t do it by setting aside “me time” at the computer, where I’d spend two hours completely immersed in my writing. I did it the old-fashioned way: the notebook beside the bed. (I believe L.M. Montgomery did this, though I’m sure many other writers did and do, too.) If I had the urge to write in the morning or before bed, I wrote, usually about ten minutes or so, and then went on with my day.

I ended up writing a few kids’ stories and sharing one with my little ones. They loved it, by the way, and it’s sparked a new bedtime routine for us: practicing creativity by writing a kids’ story together.

What if they hadn’t liked it? I would’ve been ecstatic with the small step that I’d at least written something. Then I would’ve tried to figure out why they didn’t like it, and I would’ve tried again.

But first thing’s first: break out of your self-defined stereotype, and create.