On last week’s Genreality, one of the blogs I find most enlightening as a writer, Candace Havens wrote a thought provoking post on creativity that I’d like to expand upon today.
She points out that there is a difference between inspiration and creativity. I’d thought these two went hand in hand or, perhaps, were simply like the left and right feet of the arts and innovation. But thinking back to my experiences with blank screens, afternoons when I knew I really ought to work on writing, and those dreaded times when I’ve received a rejection or five from agents on my latest manuscript but still worked on my next story, I realize that creativity can come without inspiration. It can even come when our hearts sink so low we’d rather curl up in bed, drag the blankets over our heads, and forget the world ever existed.
So what is creativity? And how do we find it when we lack inspiration or motivation?
In the comments on Candace’s post, I said that most of all creativity is the expression of self. To put this more specifically, it is the expression of the self undiluted rather than muddled with the desire to please and conform. When we fit the norm and follow what is expected, we are not allowing our true selves to peek through. This is when we are the least creative.
But in those times or places or doing those activities we are most comfortable with, we sometimes dare to let our real selves out and do something unexpected and, thus, creative. For me, it’s writing, but not just any writing. It’s when I let down the guards to my soul and write from my heart. For others, it may be painting or interior design. It might be gardening, cooking, or physics. Whatever the form, I hope you regularly enjoy yours. Expressing ourselves and encouraging creativity is good for the soul. It is one of the most healing things I know of.
On the other hand, in some instances when we are most uncomfortable, our greatest creativity shines through. In a situation where we cannot find assurance in conformity, we are left to ourselves, our quivering-with-dread-of-notice true selves, to find comfort. This means embracing our natural expressions. It is why, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel, when faced with the terribly awkward prospect of eating as a human, resort to using her fork as a comb. Granted, this is in part derived from the desire to fit in with those around her, but in large part, it also comes from her unique and passionate fascination, encouraged by Scuttle the seagull, for all things human.
There is a point, I think, when we let go and just do and be. That point is when all we pretend to be fades and what we are rises in all its beauty and glory. The trick is that most of us struggle with this greatly, me included. Sometimes we touch it for just a moment, perhaps a day, and then all those things we listen to start poking at us and driving us back behind our masks again. The desire for approval, belonging, and attention or success override our true selves and dampen our potential.
To lower that mask, though, means to expose ourselves. It’s like walking naked into our first college class or that first day of work. A tirade of terrors and self-conscious thoughts pummel us. What does that girl across the aisle think? Those boys are laughing at me now. They hate me. They will never forget this moment, and it will taint their perspective of me from this day on. All our imperfections rise in glaring detail to our minds, and suddenly, we know beyond doubt that everyone else sees them too and is disgusted. Our bodies burn with humiliation. We hunch in on ourselves, and the first chance we see, we flee, perhaps never to crawl from our protective isolation again. Figuratively, we dye our hair, get a massive plastic surgeon to disguise our face, and go to class or work the next time in a burka. After all, they won’t recognize us then.
But hiding from ourselves is no way to live. We must first acknowledge our right to be unique then let the masks down. It helps to have an outlet we’re comfortable with because in gaining confidence in one arena, we strengthen our ability to do the same in all others.
Let your inner selves free from time to time and stretch their weary wings. Fly with them, and remember those delightful heights they took you to. Therein, you will find yourself a little closer to contentment and fulfillment. And it certainly helps to encourage each other along the way.
So how about you? What do you think creativity is? When are you most creative? Do you struggle letting yourself be you? Any success stories that you’d like to share where you found something helpful in being yourself despite all everyone else might think? Any advice?