Monday, November 24, 2008

Creativity Tips

This post will be ongoing. As time permits, I will add tips, suggestions, and exercises that will improve one's ability to be creative. I have 120 of them so far. The goal here is not just to be different - different has nothing to do with creativity. Different has nothing to do with originality. Different has no correlation with better. Different is merely different.
Nothing wrong with different. Nothing wrong with being different. Nothing wrong with making a goal out of being different. Just realize that a goal like that is adolescent. It's nothing more than a rejection of what is and the way things are, and as such, it is a negative mind set, not a positive one. Teenagers choose this attitude when trying to prepare themselves for leaving the nest. If they don't know yet who they are or what they want to do or become, but want an improvement over what they've seen, their frustration will lead them to negativity: "I don't know what I want, but I know I don't want this."
Photographers, at some early stage, will do the same thing, especially when spurred on by friends who say, "Ooh, that's different," and they say it as if it were a compliment. They receive further encouragement when critics and competition judges are bored and jaded. They ache for something new to critique, and so they reward pictures that are different, even if they are worse because of the effort to find something different. Sort of like women's fashion shows. No one would ever wear that crap flopping down the runway, but everyone goes ga-ga anyway.
As photographers pass through the adolescent period of their career, heading toward maturity, their style will evolve beyond the mere appearance of their photographs, as teens will mature beyond concerns that are only skin deep, such as hair and clothes. Mature styles are more natural, less affected, and less superficial.
Trying to be different is, at best, merely an exercise, practice, homework. It should never be our ultimate goal. Trying to be different is what makes us feel shame and embarrassment when we go back and look at our yearbook pictures.

Creativity tip #1
Break habits. The number one enemy of creativity is habitual thinking. Habits are ruts. Ruts are like coffins in the ground, only longer. Really long. Sometimes a lifetime long. Nothing wrong with being in a coffin, mind you, but I think you should be dead first.
People who live by habits alone are in a zone - a comfort zone. Comfort zones dull the senses. Dullness is the opposite of being alive and vibrant. Dulled senses cause us occasionally to sit up straight, look around, and say out loud, "What the heck happened to this year? It's just flown by." If you don't want to live, then please, lie down in your coffin and stop confusing others about your condition.
Habitual thinking causes habitual behavior. Habitual behavior is invisible. To see it, you must become aware of what you're doing. Whatever you start to do in the very next minute, don't. Do something else instead. When you first get up in the morning, change the order of getting ready. Modify the sequence. Put the other shoe on first. Put one sock on, then everything else, and put the other sock on at the very last. These are exercises for the mind in preparation for breaking habits in preparation for using other parts of the brain, in preparation for learning to become creative.

Creativity tip #2
Change your internal dialog. Internal dialog is also called self-talk. It's that inner voice that goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on. It goes on all the time, every second of every minute of every day of every year of your life. The things it talks about are repeated over and over. Same thing. Same thing. Same thing. Same thing.
It repeats so often that you no longer hear it. You are no longer aware of it. That internal dialog repetition is what maintains your world. It provides continuity in your life and keeps things balanced and sane. It creates a comfort zone for you, making your world more predictable. It also keeps things the same. What you think about all day long and repeat to yourself over and over and over and over is your number one habit. Creativity cannot occur in your mind until this self-talk changes. Change cannot occur until you substitute something different for your self-talk. Change the subject. It doesn't have to be some great idea at first - heck, it could be baseball scores. The intent is to break the continuity of your internal dialog so that the change will become noticeable. This awareness puts you back into conscious contact with your internal dialog.
Once you've become aware of your self-talk again, you can begin breaking the habitual conversation. At first you'll have to talk over it to make it shut up long enough to change the subject. You may have to shout. This stage is best practiced when you're alone.

Time for Definitions
create - to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to bring about through a course of action, to produce through imaginative skill.
creative - marked by the ability to create, having the quality of something created rather than imitated, imaginative.
original - relating to the beginning or start of something. Not imitative, secondary, or derivative. New, inventive. The first of something.

Some people treat creativity and originality as synonyms. To do so is a travesty, because that negates the distinction and therefore the benefit of the other word.
Here's the difference: whoever invented the first stained glass window was original. Whoever invented Little Bo Peep was original. Whoever used Little Bo Peep in a stained glass design was creative. Whoever copied that design was derivative, imitative, and a lazy, thoughtless cad.
Elvis, in some ways, was original. Whoever invented velvet had an original idea. Whoever first painted Elvis on black velvet was creative. This points to my next point: creative ideas are not always good ideas. In fact, most creativity dies an early death, and thankfully so. Earlier in this post, I stated that different isn't necessarily better. Well, creative ain't either.

Creativity tip #3
This is an exercise to designed to prepare the mind for creativity by breaking some habits. We typically wear only 20% of the clothes in our closet 80% of the time. 80% of our closet space is taken up by clothes we seldom, if ever, wear. Whatever you reach for tomorrow morning, leave it there. Go down to the far end and find something to wear that you almost never wear. This isn't an exercise to be different - it's to help break you out of a rut.

Creativity tip #4
Make up a new word. Make it up. Invent a word that describes how your wife spreads jelly on a piece of toast. The word might take off or it might not. Doesn't matter. This isn't a search for a way to become famous; it's only an exercise to help develop a creative mind. My lovely wife and I created a new use for the word "porch." We didn't invent the word. What we did wasn't original. The word already existed. As a noun. We converted it to an active verb. We needed a word to describe the many things we did on the porch, things that helped us evolve as humans. Porching involves way more than sitting in a rocker on the porch. It helped us develop a higher level of relaxation, a greater appreciation of birds, trees, and other parts of nature. It raised our levels concentration, meditation, and reason. We learned to see, hear, and smell. Root beer floats tasted better. Porching helped us evolve to the point that the porch was no longer necessarily a part of the equation. Porching became a state of mind.

Creativity tip #5
Throw something away. Go to your closet. Pick something. Throw it away. This does two things: it makes room for something new, and it's an exercise for the mind, because eventually, with practice, you'll be able to throw old thoughts away...thought that prevent you from thinking new ones.

Creativity tip #6
Give something away. No, this isn't the same as above. And it serves a different purpose. What you probably did for tip #5 was to pitch a pair of old nasty sneakers that no self-respecting homeless person would even be caught dead wearing. Go to your closet. This time pick out something you place some value on. Go give it to someone. Personally hand it to them. Here's the secret: More than likely, knowing that you'll be face t
o face with them, you'll polish up the item a bit, give it a little cleanup, dry cleaning, ironing, or a new washing. This process gives you practice on what to do before you start giving away ideas. See, what I'm doing right now is giving away ideas. I'm no longer being possessive. Part of my self-assigned task of losing my self-importance. But before I give an idea away, I need to polish it up a bit. Make it shine. Clear it up. It gives my mind clarity. This blog must be win-win. So, when you give something to someone, make sure it's presentable. It will prepare your mind to give away thoughts. Clarity of mind is good for creativity.

Creativity tip #7
Sell something. This is an extension of tip #6, only better. It's one thing to give something away. Totally something else to expect to get paid for it. By way of analogy, tip #5 would have us throw away some leftover pie that's been in the fridge too long. Moldy pie is a perfect pie to throw away. In the trash, no ceremony, no big whoop. Tip #6 would have us giving a pie to a neighbor, for example. But first, we'd make sure of its freshness. We'd wrap it carefully, and maybe a bit decoratively. When you take it over, you can apologize for the edge being a little too brown. Tip #7 would have us baking a new pie for the school bake sale. It must be perfect. No one will pay money for a burned crust, amateurish design, or boiled-over filling.

How are we doing so far? The next tip has to do with creating a new recipe. Please be awake for this one. I don't want anyone getting hurt.

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