Creativity isn’t a big deal. It’s like our breath. It’s just a part of who we are. Some of us don’t realize this. People who say, “Oh, I’m not creative,” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” sound to me like they’re trying to convince themselves of something, rather than telling themselves the truth. They make the idea of creativity a BIG DEAL because then it will stay safely at arm’s length out of reach and require nothing of them.
Again, creativity isn’t a big deal. It’s not an event. It doesn’t so much happen, as it is allowed. It comes out slowly.
When I found my dog, she had been badly abused. I was walking in the countryside, and she was watching me from a mound of dirt in an old church yard where she had been dumped. She started to follow me. If I turned around, she’d stop. If I tried to walk towards her, she’d tuck her tail under her butt and walk away from me. But if I moved along on my own way, she’d follow me. She eventually got closer and closer, and ultimately she followed me home.
This is how I experience creativity. Anytime I try to turn around and catch it, it turns away. It’s not about willing it. It rarely takes to announcements like, “Today I’m going to be creative! I’m going to write a whole song!”
In my experience, it’s a process. It is slow. Creativity is a way of being, and though it can’t be forced, it can be cultivated and allowed. It happens when I’m already open and my mind is receptive and quiet. There’s almost a joyful laziness to it. Kind of a “Hmm, well, what if I tried this…”
There is definitely a happiness to it. A deep happiness and peace. My theory is that when we cling to our vices, when we do unhealthy things that we adamantly say we deserve, what we’re really trying to do is give ourselves what we keep denying ourselves – a fully creative and artful life. Once we start allowing more creativity in, we might find some of those old habits and “vices” just fall away. After all, they are not a substitute for the real thing.
So, if you’re opening up to a more artful and creative life, know that it’s not something to push. It’s something to allow and live. Here are 21 Ways to be more creative, and subsequently, more happy!
1 – Stop watching television
Or better yet, get rid of the damn thing. Any time I teach writing or creativity, this is one of the biggies. TV is a mind-killer. It numbs you. It fills you with emotionally-charged images and over-simplified solutions. It dulls you. Turn it off. Even if this idea scares you, turn it off.
2 – Take a 20-minute walk everyday
It’s easy to become driven about exercise. You go to the Y. You go running. You think that a 20-minute walk isn’t productive or worth much. Take a 20-minute walk and allow the world to just be. Watch things. Stop and smell things. Notice birds. Let the world unfold and show itself to you.
3 – Write with pen & paper (or pencil and paper)
Keep a journal. Do morning pages. Write in long-hand. Typing on a keypad into a computer doesn’t always open up that tactile sense-loving part of us that loves to create.
I can sometimes get weirdly happy just hearing the sound the pen makes scribbling on paper. I also love it when the paper is thin, and my pen makes indents so it feels sort of Braille-y, and the paper makes a snappy sound when I turn the page.
4 – Write songs to your pets
At the first women’s retreat I ever facilitated, (at a college campus in St. Louis) a group of women sat on the floor one night in the dorm and sang each other the songs we’d written to our various pets. It was hysterical. The more we sat there, the more women came and sat down with us.
I’ve written many songs to my dog. Greatest hits include “Mom’s Little Girl,” “She Is Going to Be a Very Clean Girl,” (a bathtub song) and “She is Unbelievably Cute.” Of course, there’s also the “Good Morning Song.” My cats each have their own songs too. I actually make myself laugh as I’m creating them because my animals look so truly unimpressed with me.
It’s easy to do because you can do it anywhere – while you drive to work, while you make dinner, while you lie on the couch with them.
5 – Dance around the House
Put on old disco (Earth, Wind, and Fire, baby!), or new Madonna, or swing. Put it on loud. Dance around your house while you make dinner. Or start the day shakin’ your groove thang.
6 – Walk in the rain
I haven’t owned an umbrella in about 10 years. I love the rain. I love walking in it. I wrote the song Everything Green after I hiked in the mountains in the pouring rain. I was journaling about how alive everything was, and I wrote “It was all just rain and mud and wild and green.” That’s how I got my CD title. Walking in the rain can be a happy thing. (Use an umbrella if you want. Rain on umbrellas makes a good sound.)
7 – Make a collage
Magazines. Some Yes Paste. A scrapbook page and lots of crayons and paints and stickers. (And thou.) This isn’t a vision board. It doesn’t have a purpose. It’s just for fun and beauty and making something. I love collaging. I’m not great at it. But I’ve gotten better and better at laying out the page and learning what colors and shapes I love. I always feel more alive when I do one.
8 – Make a list of things you love
My song Loving Hands (on my first CD) was born out of a journal exercise I did where I just wrote a long list of all the things I love. That song remains one of my most requested songs. I had so much fun thinking of things that delight me in the world. Finding feathers, finding pennies, the sound of big flags flapping in the wind, the smell of my cat’s fur when she’s been out in the snow (she smells like a big box of wool mittens). I remember reading it to a friend of mine who just sat there smiling and nodding his head. Even though this was years ago, I still remember how much fun I had making that list.
9 – Write 10 postcards
Go pick out some really cool postcards, and then go to a cafe somewhere, and order your Genmaicha Tea (Okay, get yourself a Latte if you want) and write postcards to friends and family.
10 – Get up early and watch the sun rise
11 – Listen to music you’ve never listened to before.
After I saw the movie Tortilla Soup, I downloaded a bunch of Latin music from iTunes. One of my favorite nights in my memory this year was a hot rainy night thick with humidity. My husband and I opened up all the windows and doors. We pressure cooked (I love our pressure cooker) some black beans, shared a froo-froo mixed drink and made a fantastic dinner while all of my new Latin and Tejano music was cranked up. It was one of those really happy nights, partly because I loved discovering new music.
12 – Eat with your hands
Be a kid again. Make a meal and put the silverware back into the drawers. Eat with your hands. Have some friends over for a silverwareless dinner.
13 – Be quiet
Light a few candles after dark and just sit. Don’t meditate if you don’t want to. Just sit quietly and listen. Watch the candles. Allow for more silence in your life.
We are a noisy people. I hear people say they can’t stand silence. But it is in silence where we can hear the voice of our creativity. Maybe not at first. But it will come.
Drive with no music on. Make dinner in silence. Pay attention to your hands as you slice the veggies. Just be quiet.
14 – Take a nap
15 – Take photos. Real photos. Not digital photos.
My favorite camera is a Pentax K1000. It’s completely manual, and it’s how I learned to take pictures. I’m not very good. When I first moved to Asheville, I used to walk around town on Sundays (the whole town was closed up then) and take pictures of all the buildings. These photos are now a treasure to me because nothing is the same anymore. (Every building has been bought, remodeled and now is filled with stores that sell trickly fountains, Buddahs, and things that smell grassy.)
Take pictures of anything. And have fun in the old method of actually getting your film developed and the excitement of flipping through photos you haven’t seen yet.
16 – Make an event out of watching the full moon come up
One of the things I love about my husband is that he’s always looking for the perfect place to watch the full moon come up. He’ll make an event out of it. We pile in the car and go to this one field or to a bench on the college campus and sit and watch the moon rise.
17 – Read poetry aloud
Poetry is meant to be read aloud. The words and phrases will tilt your brain and open doors like you never thought they would. My favorites: Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Sharon Olds, Barbara Brooks, and Alicia Suskin Ostriker. There are lots of collections of poetry if you don’t want to pick just one.
18 – Go see a play or live music or live anything
Get out of the house and experience creativity. Avoid mega-blockbuster-Hollywood movies whose trailers begin with the deep gravelly voice saying, “IN A WORLD…” (And then bombs go off and Mel Gibson appears)
Live performance is an exchange. As an audience member you get to participate. I know this because I perform. Every night is different. Everything is about the audience. You receive so much more energy from live shows. Go see the symphony, even the small local symphony. See a play. See some improv. There is so much life on a stage, so many improvisational moments, so much about authenticity. You can’t help but take it in.
19 – Visit a gallery
See another artist’s creation. The downtown of any city is bound to have some great galleries. You don’t have to buy anything. Just experience the artistry of someone gifted in glass blowing or pottery or woodwork.
20 – Write a letter
When was the last time you wrote a letter? I just got a long letter from one of the women who participated in my last retreat. It was funny. And it was fun to read. And I kept thinking, “Damn. It’s been too long since I’ve experienced this.” Every time I write a letter, I feel clearer and happier. Not only is it more fun to make something for someone else, it’s also just a way to get out of yourself.
21 – Stop watching television
This is an important one. It bears repeating. There are so many better things you can do than watch American Idol.
Help each other out! Leave your own thoughts or ideas in the comments…