Hacking Creativity: Why We Need it and An Attempt to Find it

The first step in becoming a good writer is to write every day.

You don’t have to write for long and you don’t have to write anything good, you just have to write and write often. Stephen King, Hemingway, E.B. White, Maya Angelou, Kurt Vonnegut – they all had/have their daily writing routines.

And as of June 1, so do I.

Welcome to a new month, folks. I am once again jumping back into the world of words and settings, characters and conflict, where I’ll finally share the short story about a little girl and a magic wand that’s been eating at me for more than half a year.

Book cover

And while daily routines, discipline and willpower will certainly play an important role in how I approach and execute on this challenge, I have no intention of spending the next four weeks rehashing these themes here.

Instead, I want to talk about creativity – the exploration of it and what it means to express an idea artistically.

creativity featured image

It’s is one of those words like love and pain and happiness that’s not so easy to define, so I’ll borrow a definition from Maria Popova of BrainPickings who calls it the ability to connect the unconnected, to take our existing knowledge and with it find new insights and possibilities.

This kind of thinking is hard and uncomfortable (this video sums it up really well). Kids are naturally curious and imaginative, but us adults? We like to conform and stick to what we know, and as a result we’ve developed an unconscious bias against the truly out of the box, imaginative thinking that drives real innovation.

That’s why this month, I’m pushing creativity to the edge and I’ve chosen the arts (or the manifestation of these ideas whether it be through music, literature, performance arts or visual arts, to name a few) because it is the ultimate form of creativity.

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve decided to not just share my story as words on a page (an already ambitious undertaking for a novice like myself) but attempt to express it through images and music.

If you’re slightly afraid for me or wondering what the heck that even means, stick with me. There’s some good stuff brewing in my head… I think. That and I’ve recruited a few talented friends to help me out.

The Creativity Habit

This challenge, while spontaneous in theory, will be regimented in execution. I have to flex the idea muscles if I want the creative juices to flow, and that happens by routinely engaging in a variety of exercises, activities, research and experiments.

My days now begin at 5:30 am (don’t feel sorry for me, I wake up at that time anyway) to start work on my morning pages.

Introduced by “creativity guru” Julia Cameron, morning pages are three pages of stream of consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. There’s no editing, no thinking, no judgement, no wrong way to do it, just a chance to get words out of my head and on paper. I can write about my silly problems, giant worries or lofty dreams, or I can take a writing prompt and craft a little story or scene around it. It’s a powerful exercise that hundreds of artists and entrepreneurs swear by, and for me, it’s a perfect way to begin the day.

writing prompt

Next, I write write write. I’ll carve out 60-90 minutes in the morning to dive into the nuts and bolts of my story, writing, re-writing, editing, and tweaking, again and again, one word at a time.

And when I’m not hanging out with my kids, working on Hackerella, or on one of my freelance projects, I’ll find some time in the afternoons and evenings to either:

  • Study writing – because it’s one thing to work on my story and another to really practice the art of writing. I don’t enjoy it at all, but it’s a necessary part of the process, one that includes participating in writing forums and working on writing exercises and prompts.
  • Play – because after trudging my way through a most unsuccessful challenge last month, I need to find balance between the work (and the structure and discipline that comes with it) and the fun. I fear I won’t be capable of tolerating 30 days of pure word-smithing and it’s another reason I’m playing around with music and pictures and other artsy side projects.

Having a fierce dedication to grinding out the work is often not enough. Without some sense of fun or play, people usually can’t make themselves stick to any discipline long enough to master it – Stuart Brown, author of Play

And finally, every night before bed, I read. These days my bed stand looks a little different (think young adult books like Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time, and reference books like On WritingBird by Bird and the 3am Epiphany), and the process of reading is much more purposeful because now, I’m reading not for entertainment, but to learn.

So what am I hoping to gain from this experiment?

For starters, I want to, once and for all, share what I’ve been yammering about for so many months but haven’t given a fair shot.

I want to prove to myself that, even if the story is crap and the writing amateurish, I can bring this thing to life.

I want to tinker with new ideas and mediums – just to see what happens.

And finally, I want to find better ways of “connecting the unconnected” in original and interesting ways because I do believe in the power of creativity, not just for artists, but for each and every one of us.

I believe in the importance of broadening our perspectives, of seeing and thinking about things in new lights and find interesting solutions to common problems, and the empowering feeling of creating something that began as nothing more than a simple idea.

I’ve always been an optimist and I suppose that is rooted in my belief that the power of creativity and intelligence can make the world a better place. – Bill Gates

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