I’m going to tell you a secret: for most of the first 50 years of my life I labored under the misconception that I wasn’t creative.
I don’t know why, I think it was a combination of a few things. First, I was never good at, or even remotely interested in, arts and crafts. Grammar school art class was only marginally less horrible than gym. It seemed like a waste of time when I could be learning “real” things. I never looked at a piece of paper and felt compelled to draw. I couldn’t read music. I would look at my grandma and my godmother, who were super crafty, and feel perplexed at how they thought of things and how they had the patience to work on things. Seriously, they would take a wine bottle and turn it into a Little House on the Prairie door stopper. They’d take styrofoam and beads and make the most beautiful Christmas ornaments. They were incredibly creative.
As an adult I know a lot of creative people. My roommates are both super creative, and they bond over things like visits to the fabric store, and I’ve never understood it. Two of my friends are married to accomplished full-time artists (they seriously make a living with their art). I know a couple of authors, some illustrators, a great singer, and a guy who plays the ukulele on his breaks at work. And I’ve looked at them all enviously, thinking, “I wish I was creative”. I thought there was some creativity gene I was missing.
When I was younger I used to love to write poetry and short stories. I wrote quite a lot and I loved it although I didn’t think of it as being creative. Then there was an incident in high school where the nun teaching my English composition class decided my writing was “too dark”. Instead of encouraging my creativity she sent me to chat with the school nurse about whether I had suicidal thoughts, and then called my parents to talk about what was “wrong” with me that I was writing about grim topics. My writing was clearly “wrong”, so I stopped doing any creative writing. My creative flame was extinguished.
Instead I got into journalism, which was one of my majors in college. I edited the high school and college newspapers, and also worked at a local newspaper. Journalism, despite what certain politicians might argue, is the opposite of creative writing. I was taught to write the facts, and only the facts, with no creative embellishment. As I moved through my career I’ve done a lot of grant writing and technical writing, which is again very fact-based.
I went along for years feeling sad that I was not creative. But then I started my “I’m 50 Now Self-Realization Tour” and I started thinking a lot about what gives me energy, what nurtures me, what I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t. That’s when I realized I missed writing. I missed the creativity of looking at a blank page (or screen) and making it come alive with stories or information. And so last month I began writing for the first time in over 30 years. I created this blog. I started some other writing projects. I made a commitment to write at least 30 minutes every day.
Suddenly it’s like I shook up a can of Coke and popped the top: ideas are bubbling out everywhere. I have a running list of things I want to write about. I’m working on multiple writing projects. I’m writing fiction, poetry, essays, non-fiction — I’m writing anything that appeals to me. I’m honing my craft. This weekend I’m attending a writers conference because — I’m a writer now. And I’m super excited about it. It’s the perfect balance to the responsibilities and stress of my demanding grown-up job.
I now understand that it’s not that I wasn’t creative, it’s that I was defining creativity too narrowly and refusing to recognize what my brain wanted to do. I ruthlessly pushed down my creative urges and focused on what seemed like more mature pursuits. But after only a month of writing again, I now believe we are all creative, we just need to find the best outlet for our creativity.
There are so many positive benefits of creativity. Engaging in creative pursuits helps keep your brain young and healthy by creating new neural pathways. It’s a great stress reducer. It encourages innovation. It increases self-confidence. It helps with problem solving. It’s satisfying. It’s fun.
If you are convinced, like I was, that you’re not creative, I encourage you to prove yourself wrong. Take some classes that appeal to you, like painting or macrame or drumming, and see what that sparks. Think back to when you were a kid, like I did, and remember what creative things gave you joy when you were young, then try those. Was it coloring? Play-doh? Light Bright? Who cares, just try it. Do some meditation focused on engaging your creative brain. Listen to music. Dance. Try one of those adult coloring books. Buy a xylophone. Become a patron of the arts. Perform at an open mic. Something will resonate with you if you look.
When you find something that appeals to your creative side, go for it. Go big. Don’t judge yourself or compare yourself to others. You might be the worst painter ever, but who cares, as long as it makes you happy? Your knitting might look more like a rag than a scarf, but that’s OK you accomplished something. You might sing off-tune but go ahead and belt out that song like you’re practicing for your Broadway show. It’s all about finding joy and tapping into the creative side of your brain. Don’t let the judgmental nun in your head keep you from your joy. Embrace your creativity.
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