Maybe you were never who you thought you were.
June 2, 2009 5:25 AM   Subscribe

I used to be creative. How do I get that back?

When I was a kid everyone told me how creative I was. How original. How entertaining. How witty.

Now I'm just a low-level government drone mindlessly filling in spread sheets all week and spending my weekends mowing my lawn like a good 'burbanite.

Were they lying to me? Can I get "it" back? How?
posted by Hugh2d2 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Play guitar with an alternate tuning.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:32 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, how were you creative? In what ways did you channel your creative energy?

The best way to be creative is to be creative--start drawing or painting or writing or playing music. Do that daily. Continue to do that daily. Realize that kids have huge amounts of leisure time that adults don't--so you'll probably actually have to schedule in time for creative pursuits (this might mean taking a class, or lessons, just so that you have solid time devoted to whatever it is you want to do). They might feel like work at first, but once exercising your creativity becomes a part of your routine, once you realize the importance of making time for it in your daily life, you'll wonder how you survived just mowing the lawn on weekends.

Were they lying to me?

Maybe? All kids are creative, and are routinely praised for it when it's sort of second-nature to most. Adults are told that creativity isn't worth spending time on, so most give it up. If you want it to be an important part of your adult identity, you have to prove "them" wrong.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:38 AM on June 2, 2009

I don't have a how-to, but you might be inspired with some of this talks:
Amy Tan on Creativity
Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity
posted by leigh1 at 5:40 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first thing you need to do is do. You could try setting aside a specific time of day to be creative. So for example if you wanted to write, you could open up a blank document and type. or you could just start with a blank piece of paper to draw.

It would help if you told us exactly what kind of medium you wanted to express yourself in.
posted by delmoi at 6:05 AM on June 2, 2009

Take a class in something creative. That will get you into the habit of creating on a regular basis.
posted by lunasol at 6:06 AM on June 2, 2009

Get it back? It never left. Its been waiting for you this whole time.

Create. That's all. Set aside some time in the evening or on the weekends, and create. Write a story, compose a poem, code a video game, learn an instrument, take some photos, draw spaceships on a sketchpad, build a spice rack, restore a vintage bicycle. When you find something that really speaks to you, stick with it. Take a course in it, check out all the books in the library on the topic, find message boards on the internet devoted to it, and bore your wife to tears talking about it.

But, most importantly, create. Do.

You probably do have an amazing talent - most everyone does - but most everyone doesn't do enough to try to discover it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:10 AM on June 2, 2009

We live in a culture that doesn't respect grown-up amateurs very much. Kids, sure, if they keep themselves and their friends entertained with the fruits of their imagination, that's good enough. But creative adults are expected to find an audience for the things they create, and told that they aren't "real" artists/writers/musicians until they do. There's a lot of pressure to either Get Serious or quit creating. And since most of us never really wanted to Get Serious — which involves a lot of hard, tedious, unfulfilling work — we quit.

So the first step is recognizing that pressure and resisting it. Go back to entertaining yourself and your friends like you did when you were a kid.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:12 AM on June 2, 2009 [42 favorites]

All the people I know who do creative work for a living work their ass off at it. They do it regularly, every day: practice practice practice. The only secret to being creative is making sure you exercise your creative muscles regularly, with consistently. Frequency is better than instantaneous volume. Do a little something every day. This requires true commitment, but it doesn't have to be hard, just make it a habit, something you can't live without, like brushing your teeth. There's no magic to it.
posted by dubitable at 6:20 AM on June 2, 2009

Although its tone comes off a bit "self-helpy" for me, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron aims to address your concerns.
posted by GPF at 6:21 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

You probably need a little discipline to get started again like any change of routine. Take a class, I did Drawing 1 at a local college and loved it beyond all expectation. Like the people above say, the creativity never goes away just the time you allocate to it. Get used to allocating that time again and before you know it you'll be wondering how you ever found time to mow your lawn.
posted by merocet at 6:24 AM on June 2, 2009

Think about what you love, or used to love, or something for which you have a passion. Then go out and do it. I know it sounds simplistic, but that's basically what I did, and my community theater is in its fourth season. I started from scratch because I have problems with authority, but if you don't, great! Find a community org that does what you like- photography, painting, theater, nature trail conservation, whatever - there are people out there doing it.

For me it's the hardest, most rewarding work I do. It's all you can ask for in a hobby (which is a poor, weak word for something one is so passionate about , but there you have it).
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:25 AM on June 2, 2009

Now I'm just a low-level government drone mindlessly filling in spread sheets all week and spending my weekends mowing my lawn like a good 'burbanite.

Stop being a good 'burbanite. Fuck the lawn, let it grow. You can't win anyway, the grass was there before you and will the happily growing on your grave long after you're gone. Attempting to exert total control over something you actually have not control is kinda crazy. If it makes you feel better, give the lawn a mohawk, that'll show it.

You're a government drone 'cause you gotta pay the bills, right? No problem, but that's only part of your day, what are doing with the rest of it? What's your usual routine in the evenings? Break out of it, go to a gay bar/museum/coffee house/art opening etc. Stop doing what you think you should be doing and do something that sounds fun.

Oh yeah, how's that boat coming?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:26 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing that it takes work.

I love to create, music mainly but also I write and try to paint sometimes. It's REALLY hard work sometimes and can be damned time-consuming, but the great thing about it is that it's enjoyable hard work.

So, if you want to get back to being creative, be prepared for hard work with a worthwhile payoff - like a really long bike ride to arrive somewhere you want to be - enjoyable all along even though you have to sweat it, and a great feeling when you make it!
posted by greenish at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2009 around with stuff. That's all creativity is, really, is playing around with stuff.

When you say people told you that you were creative, what exactly did you do? Did you write stories? Did you have super-cool ideas for scenarios when playing with your toy soldiers/matchbox cars/Barbies/whatever your toys were? Did you make toys by taking things and putting them together in unusual ways ("hey, what if we made a go-kart by taping roller skates to the bottom of this box?")? Did you draw a lot? Did you have interesting ideas for the kinds of sandwiches you wanted? Did you make up new weird sports?

Whatever it was you did, start doing that again. Just playing, that's all -- you don't have to Produce A Great work, this is just for you. If you wrote stuff, try just...playing around with stuff you write for yourself. Maybe call it therapy, you know, where after a really bad day at work you go home and write the little revenge fantasy where you finally really tell off the idiot the next cubicle over who tells the same stupid joke every day. If you made stuff by tinkering, try that for yourself -- the next time you need some kind of gadgety thing at your house, try seeing if you can MacGuyver it together out of other stuff first before you go and get it in the store. If you drew, try drawing your own stuff to put up as artwork in your home instead of going to get a poster. Or as well as getting a poster. If you had weird snack or sandwich ideas, bring some of them back -- play around in the kitchen.

Keeping it just for you right now takes the pressure off -- if it's just for you, after all, then it really won't matter if the drawing doesn't come out as well as you want, you can just trash it and shrug and try again. If you are trying photography and you find out that all the pictures you took you had your finger over the lens, just throw the negatives away or delete them all from your digital camera -- no one will ever know, and you can start again. But if you do get something you kind of like, a picture you thought turned out well or a dish you thought was tasty, and you have it around you, it'll be a reminder that "hey, I got a spark of something in me," and it'll encourage you to keep going.

And then branch out to doing other things. Every summer I go through weird crafty phases -- I stumble upon a craft kit or a web site or what have you that sounds mildly interesting, I do it like crazy for a whole summer, then usually I get bored and stop; I've done soapmaking, liqueur making, and jam making this way. But it kept me trying things, and the worst thing that happened is I shelled out about $75 more than I otherwise wouldn't. But it kept me playing. And you never know -- maybe one of those different things you try will stick, like knitting did with me. Futz. Putter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

I like to think of creativity as something that needs to be fed. When I am constantly reading things, or watching things, or listening to or singing music, I get tons of ideas. If I were visually inclined I would look at things or scribble.

Most things I have read about creativity call it the ability to make connections between unrelated things. If you are not feeding yourself these unrelated things, your mind will make fewer connections. Anyone living will get some degree of unrelated things coming into their mind, but as you've already noticed, there aren't a ton of these if you're spending your days with spreadsheets and your lawnmower.

So: read, look, listen. Two of my creative friends listen to audiobooks at their office jobs; one is a writer, one is a writer and artist. I have another friend who is a civil engineer for the government and when he goes home, he does tons of musical stuff. I write full-time so I am actively creating roughly four hours a day, but for nearly the remainder of the time I'm awake, I'm feeding the creativity: I read everything I can get my hands on, I watch a lot of things (especially documentaries), and I think a lot about the people around me.

A lot of people like to say of creativity that you either have it or you don't, but I don't think that's true. It isn't something that comes to you, it's something you actively cultivate. That's rather reassuring, I think, for creative slumps; you can always pull yourself out of it by essentially finding a productive way to goof off.
posted by Nattie at 6:53 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised. It won't feel natural at first, but just try doing something creative. Write a limerick, draw a doodle. Commit to doing it regularly.

I strongly recommend being around creative people, regardless of what they do, as long as it is creative. I tend to be doing things in music and writing, but an art show, particularly one where I get to interact with the artist, can leave me with fruit for other projects for weeks.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:58 AM on June 2, 2009

Join a Fight Club
posted by serak at 7:18 AM on June 2, 2009

All of the advice above is better than mine in most respects but I would like to add something practical you could do that I think many of the prior commenters would nod at:

Stop mowing the lawn. At least stop mowing it in straight lines. Better to rip it up and plant some strange plants. Experiment with landscaping. Design a garden that delights you, that frightens your neighbours and makes you think. Make it witty. Play with ideas. Talk about it. Blog about it! You will have to do research, spend time conceptualizing, more time practicing on bits here and there. It may take many years. You may never be completely satisfied or fulfilled. It's up to you. It's your garden.

I would say more but its late where I am and I need to sleep so I am well rested for my spreadsheets tomorrow.
posted by evil_esto at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2009

Speaking of creative landscaping, you could replace your lawn with a garden maze a la Larry Wall in Carol Shields' book Larry's Party.

You could do worse than reading Larry's Party for creative inspiration. Here's a guy that was classically lacking in imagination - became a florist because his mother suggested it and he had no other ideas, married the first woman that would have him because he got her pregnant, etc. On his honeymoon he went to England, again because that's what his parents did. When he was there, he visited a garden maze and spent 45 minutes getting lost inside. This one visit transformed him. He became a maze fanatic and over the course of years he left his drone flower job to build garden mazes for clients around the world.

Maybe it's a matter of finding your muse, of taking the time to travel and experience new and exciting things, and then coming back home and using them as creative inspiration.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:46 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

D'oh! Brandon Blatcher just called me out! LOL!

I never did it. Maybe this summer.

Thanks for the input. Just feeling bogged down right now in the routine. I think it is time to break it. Hivemind for the win.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2009

Sounds like you just want your crayons back.

Worth reading the whole whole series on 'How to be creative'. Many wince-worthy moments of truth on the mythos and multiple self-inflicted difficulties we place on ourselves about creativity. And cartoons!
posted by Happy Dave at 8:36 AM on June 2, 2009

I read a book a while back that said most creative people had a time when they were about 8 years old where they spent a lot of time alone & had to learn how to entertain themselves. That's certainly true for me and makes sense to me.

Do you spend a lot of time alone now? Do you spend time with people? Perhaps you should shift the balance in one direction or the other.

PS mindlessly watching tv, surfing the internet, etc. counts in the "spend time with people" column because it ticks the "people" box in that it's entertaining & pseudo-interactive and doesn't let your mind wander on its own.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2009

I find the book The War of Art, to have practical and down to earth tips. It addresses the very real issue of how difficult it is to get stuff from your mind, where everything's perfect, into the world, where you have to interact with physical materials. To work with a medium, whether it's wood, guitar, paint, words on paper, or whatever, you've got to play/practice a lot, and get rid of the notion that products have to be good.

If you just start up making clay pots, or just keep writing, or whatever, something good will be much more likely to turn up than if you wait until you have the perfect idea to start working. I also second the suggestion of Cameron's The Artist's Way if you need help addressing your barriers to creativity.
posted by jasper411 at 9:08 AM on June 2, 2009

Maybe your spreadsheets are especially creative at solving problems concisely and your charts unusually good at displaying data. Creativity isn't just poetry and dreamy imagining. But you've attained some of the standard goals of good job, nice house, etc., and you want some sparkle. You're a little bit bored.

Lawns are pretty easy. Mow it enough to not piss of the neighbors, and stop worrying about the dandelions. Turn off the teevee. Let the car be dusty. Spend 30 minutes every day investigating hobbies or projects that might appeal to you. Not just online. Visit hobby shops, craft stores, art galleries, museums. Stimulate your brain. Go to the Public Library, one of the best resources available.

Then start projects. Who cares if you finish that sketch, or that sculpture. Keep exercising your creative side, and it will get back in shape. You'll reawaken a passion, and your creativity will be more apparent to you. If you decide to start a mural on the garage, you're gonna have to finish, though.

Good question. Have fun.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2009

Hallucinogens, paper, a pencil, some markers, and any musical instrument should be enought to get you started.

Also, remember that there's no pressure to create anything valuable - it's just a hobby for you and if other people like it and start complementing your creativity again, then that's just a welcome byproduct.

Go with your gut. Don't force yourself to draw if your natural fluency is to use words for expression and vice versa.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:56 AM on June 2, 2009

One simple thing to get you started - doodles. Not yours, but someone elses. Find a scrap of paper that someone has doodled on? There's your challenge. That doodle becomes the starting point of your drawing. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, although it can be if you're so inclined. You'd be surprised what you come up with after doing this a few times.
posted by azpenguin at 10:52 AM on June 2, 2009

Oblique Strategies
posted by Greg Nog at 12:56 PM on June 2, 2009

posted by weh546 at 1:09 AM on June 3, 2009

It depends on what you do, but I find that looking at samples of other people's works - things that I could, eventually, with a lot of practice, accomplish, but cannot possibly create now - really lights a fire under me. I draw, and used to draw all the time. Now I don't have a lot of time for drawing, and since I've stopped, ideas have also stopped popping up unbidden in my head.

So I keep an account on deviantART. Everytime I go through the new pieces of art that the people I "watch" have submitted, I come up with something else neat that I could maybe draw or design, or something I can incorporate into a website or something. And I favourite the pieces that inspired me most, and keep my ideas in a little notepad file on my desktop. The next time I have a bit of free time and find myself refreshing MeFi more often than I should, I pull up that notepad and go down the list of ideas and try them out, whether or not I "feel" like it at the time. A lot of the times it'll suck, but once in a while I'll come up with something I'm actually kind of proud of.

Because really, creativity is no different from any other talent: totally useless if you don't practice. I've heard it said that authors who force themselves to write every day for a year regardless of inspiration will find very little variance in the quality of the writing when they look back on it. To finish a piece of creative work, like anything else, only requires perserverance.

Anyway, deviantART works for me. If you like writing, there's FictionPress, though it's been a while since I was a regular and I can't vouch for the quality. deviantART also has a decent selection of writing. There's the ubiquitous Etsy, for crafty things. I'm more familiar with the arts and writing side of creativity, but if you prefer things like improve theatre, stand-up comedy, drama, or things I can't even conceive of (there's your creativity for ya), I guarantee there's a community out there.

Best of luck.
posted by Phire at 5:46 AM on June 3, 2009

Become a hipster and start reading ;)
posted by 0217174 at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2009

Throw out your teevee, and limit the amount of time you spend on the internet. Use the extra time to actually do something that isn't what everyone else is doing.
posted by talldean at 5:34 AM on June 4, 2009

Get off of metafilter, at least for a while.

A thousand voices suggesting how to do "be creative" actually doesn't inspire much creativity, and in fact will flatten it. You gotta find your own way, and that is all I can say on the matter.

Then come back when you're done with your project.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 7:16 AM on June 8, 2009

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