Creativity: Action is Everything

The external orientation of creativity: the concept that the self merely ‘channels’ ideas and energy from somewhere else.

Loud Voice

This post is my first contribution to a blogging conversation on creativity with isabella of change therapy.

In a recent series on the hidden workings of our minds I noted that scientists, artists and writers often have considerable difficulty explaining their thought processes. isabella replies that perhaps this difficulty is a necessary part of the process:

“perhaps these accounts of thought processes that are “disappointing”, “unsatisfying” or “implausible” are so murky because creativity needs that muddiness, needs to work away from the light of our attention?”

I think there’s a very interesting point here which I have a personal take on influenced by my own efforts at creativity.

Consider some of the language of creativity; people are:

  • Struck by a thought
  • Hit by an idea
  • Visited by their muse
  • Inspired by…

What these have in common is the idea of something coming from the outside to aid the self. They emphasise the external orientation of creativity: the concept that the self merely ‘channels’ ideas and energy from somewhere else.

Of course we are all influenced by external factors. So, to a certain extent these phrases are appropriate – creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum. But for a person in the middle of creating something, it can feel like the words, images, thoughts, forms, structures, relationships, notes or rhythms are coming from elsewhere. Unfortunately taking this apparently external locus too literally can be extremely detrimental to creativity.

When I first started writing I fell for this externally oriented language of creativity hook, line and sinker. I sat down in front of the computer and waited for the muse to visit me, an idea to strike, or some other vaguely conceptualised kind of external inspiration.

It usually didn’t work, I just ended up going out for a walk to get away from the empty screen and the blinking cursor, still looking for my ‘inspiration’.

It’s the classic rookie mistake of course. The truth is, there is no muse, there is no right frame of mind and there is no perfect moment. There is only now, here, right in front of you.

In some ways the very murkiness and inaccessibility of creativity can lead us to think the ideas must be coming from elsewhere. But I’d argue that this murkiness is really a by-product of an exceptionally complicated process. People can’t explain their creativity because they don’t understand it themselves, and neither does anyone else.

Nowadays my way of approaching creativity is not by waiting for inspiration to strike but simply by starting with whatever I’ve got right here, right now. For me creativity is all about action.

[Image credit: b_d_solis]

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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