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Respect Your Process: 3 Definitions of Creativity


We choose a weathered table in one of my favorite coffee shops. Folk guitar and soft drum music fills the space. Our coffee is served in enormous ornate mugs, and there are piles of sketchbooks on a shelf nearby.

"People draw in these," I explain to my friend Brandon.

We flip through them, laughing at messages left that follow the form, "Hi, I'm single, text me at 703-456-2389." (not an actual number, don't call it. Or do call it. Say hi for me.)

Brandon opens to a blank page and he grabs a crayon.

"We'll play this drawing game that I used to play a lot in high school," he explains, "one person doodles something--anything--and the next person takes a piece of the idea and turns it into something new."

I start and draw a flower, he turns the flower into a little snake, and soon it's his turn and he has drawn a tree with a face. I pause, not sure what to do for my turn.

Brandon notices my hesitation and he, a writer and musician so therefore acquainted with the creative struggle, says to me, "The trick is to trust it and go with your first thought."

I did just that, trying to close the gap of seconds between idea and execution as best as I could. I noticed that hesitation, fear of being dwarfed, and doubt were not very important anymore. This one day underlined some things that I have been learning about creativity this year.

1. Creativity is not about where you are.

Visiting a nice coffee shop to write will not make a bestseller flow from your fingertips. Some of the strangest pieces of literature and life-changing ideas have been stumbled upon at loud family reunions, in cold basements, and in the backseats of cars. Other than being a place where interruptions can not distract you, the most important way location matters is this: go. Go out. Drive to that park that's a few minutes away, explore the State Park even if it's somewhere you've never been. Expose yourself to the new, and ask questions. This quote describes this urgency to act:

Everyone who's ever taken a shower has an idea. It's the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.
--Nolan Bushnell


2. Creativity is not about who you are.

Your experiences form your creativity, but nothing that makes you you should be an excuse to not find your voice. You might scan merchandise at WalGreen's for a living, wear T-Shirts and jeans that don't stand out, or be a quiet person. You might be an Indian girl who likes folk music, Donald Glover, doughnuts, and cheap pizza (hello, nice to meet you). Do not conform to some idea of an aesthetic you need to have; being yourself makes creative projects breathe easy. Take what you are. I promise it is beautiful.

3. Creativity is what you do.
It is the Post-Its on the wall and the lists in notebooks. It's about noticing a crease, a problem, in society or in your everyday life and asking "what if?" Creativity is generating fifty-four ideas, trying out twenty of them, and only liking two and a half of the lot. Over and over and over and over.
Shoot pictures. Don't worry about the camera. Worry about the message. 

Write stories. Don't quit with those terrible sentences. It's all inside you, and now you're taking it out. Translation is always tricky. Tell yourself the story first. It's tiring, and it is hard work. But you earn that wave of good words with strong rhythm saying true things, and it's worth it. 

Draw anything and draw everything. Do studies, draw from your head. Do you instinctively use thin layers of paint? Figure out what to do with that. Respect your process while also taking into consideration what would improve it (especially technical procedures). 

Do not be scared of your creativity. Anne Lamott suggests writing all your childhood memories out, and I find this a good practice. There are things we are troubled by from childhood and we don't want to admit to silly things we thought, and this practice in honesty is important in learning how to be yourself. It brings up those strange questions. It makes you smarter, because you remember your open-minded questions as a kid and now have the resources to try find answers.

These are not new words. Search up "creativity" and there will be pages of blog posts saying all this and more. That isn't the point, though--like we passed down stories of how to hunt and what plants to avoid and which family member embarrassed us all, this is a message that people who create things must share and repeat. You're reading this now, and maybe you need it. I wrote it where you can find it. 

Create, create, create. It's the only way I know how to be alive.

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