Exploring Women's Creativity

Building Blocks to Creativity

skills and knowledge to develop your creative abilities

planning a creative project

We are constantly being creative. A 3 year old is being creative when drawing a picture with crayons. We are being creative when we use a screwdriver to open a paint can or exchange garlic salt for cayenne in a recipe.

Basically creativity involves being able to make something new from existing concepts. But I suspect when we are involved in our favorite creative endeavor we want to accomplish something far more original and interesting than the above examples. Because of this I believe not only do we need both unfocused and focused time to foster our creativity but we also need to take the time to learn new skills and acquire knowledge about our creative endeavors.

The general public tends to think of creativity as an unpredictable occurrence that strikes a few gifted people. Creativity is thought to flow from such people with little or no effort. Certainly an inspiration may seem to come out of nowhere. But this common assumption is far from the truth.

As researchers study the nature of creativity they discover a very different picture. They have found evidence that creativity is very much grounded in the individual's knowledge and how she combines her knowledge of dissimilar concepts to create new perspectives. Creativity may seem to appear by magic but in truth it comes from a deep well of information. In fact often the real challenge is to sort out the irrelevant material from the usable. Yet one must still be open to ideas that seem irrelevant and yet may be just the piece needed for the desired result.

An occasional creative inspiration won't get us far. Instead we need a deepening understanding of our craft as well as increasingly refined skills in order to expand our creativity. Without knowledge we cannot draw from our memory to find unique and interesting ideas or objects to pull together. A weaver needs to know of the possible materials and patterns she might use while a fiction writer must be aware of the steps to writing good fiction and have a thorough understanding of the material she is writing about. Without skills we can envision a unique quilt, painting or poem but will not be able to bring the dream to life. Also, and this is important, the more knowledgeable and skilled we become the higher our expectations become. So it is vital that we continue to grow in our field of creativity in order to thrive in it.

Of course the more we learn the more there is to remember. If skills are used on a regular basis they become almost automatic and we can draw from them whenever needed. For example if I frequently write haiku I won't have to look up the rules for it's structure and if I frequently use a certain function of my sewing machine I have no need for the manual. So it is important that we practice those skills we want to develop. One reason we want the skills to become a part of us is then we are free to concentrate on the creative aspects.

Remember creativity is a matter of combining our knowledge in new ways. So our next challenge is to be able to draw that information from our long term memory. An interesting thing about long term memory is that we are able to reach into it more easily if we are in a relaxed state. The more intent we become on remembering something the harder it is to retrieve it. We've all had the experience of forgetting a name when it is time to introduce someone only to remember it a few minutes later when the pressure is off. This is why relaxed focus or "moodling" becomes an important part of our creative process.

The other thing that helps us pull information from our long term memory is by association. We can enhance this by reading material related to our project, looking at pictures of similar work or even talking to friends about the subject. In these situations we are not trying to directly pull certain information but letting the natural process of memory occur.

So in a sense we are working with a trio of needed aspects of creativity. We find our creativity is the most effective if we combine all three; unfocused time, focused effort and the synthesis of knowledge and skills.