Creativity. Taking something enormously strange and somehow making it strangely familiar.

– from Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams: Inspiration for Living Life Outside the Lines.


My daughter came to me today and announced that she had to write a historical fiction short story. “I hate writing historical fiction,” she said. “It’s all been done before.” No matter what era I suggested, she declared it “boring” — although she did note that if it involved violence it would then be more interesting to the class.

I found her comments interesting because the previous night I had been paging through the small book, Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams, and came across the quote written above. It seems that maybe creativity is not only the ability to make the strange familiar, but to also make the familiar new and fresh.

When I sat down to write a post on creativity for today, I was definitely not feeling terribly creative. After all, this subject has been written about in some form or another many, many times. So I did what most writers do when feeling blocked–I went on YouTube. You’re laughing, but you know you do the same thing (although it might be Facebook or Twitter or some other black hole of time.) The funny thing is, I found a fabulous video of John Cleese

John Cleese

talking about creativity — and telling lots of lightbulb jokes too.

The encouraging news (for me) is that creativity is not talent. Nor does it depend on IQ. John Cleese talks about what McKinnon’s research found out about creativity.

  1. Play. Creativity needs an open mind and a spirit of play–of curiosity.
  2. Space. To foster creativity, one must put aside a time and place to be quiet.
  3. Time. McKinnon also found that those who are more creative are also those who are willing to stick with a problem longer. They are willing to put up with the discomfort of not knowing.
  4. Confidence. The fear of making a mistake is the biggest killer of creativity. This is the lousy first draft stage–the play stage–nothing is “wrong” stage.
  5. Humor. One can be serious without being solemn. Play needs the lightness of humor to thrive. Humor is an essential part of creativity.

John Cleese also reminds us that pondering on a subject will help your brain come up with a creative solution. “Keep your mind resting against the subject gently and you will be rewarded.” This might be why listening to a recording of the chapter I want to edit gives me a new perspective.

The last of John Cleese’s advice: If you don’t know how to begin — start generating random connections and let your intuition tell you whether they might lead somewhere interesting. Maybe I’ll see if my daughter wants to give this a try. Vampires and Abraham Lincoln? Oh wait, that’s been done already.

Happy creating.



3 thoughts on “Creativity

  1. I needed to hear this today! Sometimes I get so caught up in the process of creating, I forget about creativity. Does that make sense? There are pressures to complete articles, essays, manuscripts etc and sometimes it is more grind than grin. Sadly, I think it shows in my writing.

    • I agree–deadlines can be a blessing and a curse. They do help us “find” the time to write, but they can also take the play factor out of the equation. Hopefully it doesn’t show in the writing as much as you think it does. We are often our own worst critics.

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