#58 The Problem with Creativity

(And how to use it in your storytelling)

I generally avoid talking or writing too much about creativity (I know, a storytelling newsletter that avoids the topic of creativity). Especially when it comes to defining it. Mainly because I think it is a widely amorphous concept with too many definitions, all of them right. But, many of the great storytellers across time have thought about it and shared those thoughts because it is an essential part of great storytelling (and has to be an essential part of yours).

According to Maya Angelou, "You can't use up creativity. The more you use the more you have." It is abundant. Einstein said, "Creativity is intelligence having fun," which I just love as an idea. According to Kurt Vonnegut, "To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." It is necessary. A popular explanation of the phenomenon (yes, I think of it as a phenomenon) is from Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” It is noticing patterns and making connections though I define us all as “creative people” by nature of our humanity—but more on that later.

The poet Sylvia Plath wrote in her journals, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” While Oscar Wilde said, “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” And Emily Dickinson put it simply: “I dwell in possibility.”

Brené Brown speaks to some of the requirements of it when she wrote, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” so it has an origin. And for Lady Gaga it demands true dedication: “When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time.” I agree.

One of my favourite stories is The Little Prince, in it Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single [hu]man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Binary language of his era aside, I couldn’t agree more—creativity is a force powered by possibility. Whoops, there I go trying to define the prolifically undefinable.

But often when I think about creativity, I think about how Elizabeth Gilbert describes it (and specifically ideas) in her book, Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear, as something fleeting that lives in the ether all around us. Something that if we don’t capture it and commit to it and bring it to life, it will move on to someone more willing to take it on and make it real in the world. There’s a sense of urgency in her description that I find evocative.

What I hope guides you most when you think about your own creativity is this quote from the mystic and poet, Rumi: “Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” It’s not about creativity, but something more important—creation.

Creativity and what it means in your life is yours to define. And that definition will impact what you bring into the world and share. Your story is uniquely yours to make and infuse with all that you know. I think creativity is essential for storytelling, but I think it comes to life differently for each of us. Here are the connections between the many quotes I’ve read about creativity over the years. The themes that have emerged for me.

Creativity seems to require:

  1. Urgency

  2. Vulnerability

  3. Bravery (and a bit of defiance)

  4. Imagination (and a belief in magic, just like great storytelling as I’ve written before)

  5. Commitment

As does storytelling.

Is there anything else you’d add?

Above all, I believe we all have creative capacity. Even those of us who have believed all our lives that we are NOT creative. You are, just in a your own unique way. As humans we make and share stories and create art and life in so many different ways. So, I want you to ask yourself how do you define creativity? What does it mean for you and how does it come alive in your life and your stories? Share your perspective in the comments below or send me a note by replying to this email.


A Story Well Told

If any of you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m a bit food and cooking obsessed. Mostly baking, but I also love a good cooking show. The classic instructional shows (shout out to Martha Bakes, which I have been getting my life from on YouTube over the pandemic) NOT the competition shows—why do we need to make cooking even more stressful? But a true delight of the cooking competition genre that I just have to share with you is Padma Lakshmi and specifically her Instagram. She does recipe videos and I have fallen in love. I hear Top Chef is great, but I’m all about the sharing she does on insta and encourage you to check her out there. The woman is a beautiful badass who cooks and I can’t not stan. Let me know what you think.

Also, general enrolment opened yesterday for Brand Storytelling 101! And it closes Friday. So if you’ve been thinking about joining, you only have a few more days to take the leap. The course won’t be returning until next year (at full post-pilot pricing) and spots are limited so I can work directly with participants. You can take a look at some of the frequently asked questions if you need a bit more context and you can sign up here.


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