how to kill creativity

After writing for this blog for a few years, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m really stumped for topics, to say the least.  I don’t really get writer’s block, since once I have a topic I can usually fly away with it, but I do get stifled on overall themes and ideas.  I was trying to come up with a list of ways that my creativity gets stifled in order to fight that tendency.  Here they are:

I write for a living. The kind of writing you do in a corporate environment does not encourage any creativity whatsoever.  Here is a lovely gem I put in an email:  “John Doe – Based on your note, I think the 5/31 date needs to be revised for the 2nd and 3rd issues, and the first issue (negative admin credits) still appears to be ready to be closed pending whatever verification is necessary.  These will need corrected close dates, revised action plans if necessary and an updated open/closed status by 6/15 at the latest.”  That is not exactly the kind of writing that would draw visitors back to this blog, I think.  But I have to do it all day long, every day.  Writing like that kills off writing like this.

I watch TV.  I have given up watching regular TV and (try to) only watch Netflix, but every now and then I will be distracted by something someone else is watching at our house or someone else’s house.  I try not to be tempted, but something about flashing lights and loud noises draws me in.  I find these shows fill up the empty, creative and quiet places in my head and replace them with light and fluffy cotton candy-like filling.  The advertising pounds away at your senses and fills your head with jingles and multiple jarring images.  I have a different experience watching a good movie on DVD, since it can inspire me to think about deeper issues and is not broken up every 10 minutes by commercials asking if I have heartburn or want to buy a new car.

I read too much.  I am up to the ninth book of the extremely challenging Thomas Covenant series (which are wonderful books, but the language is very, very dense, to say the least).  I read about 70 blogs, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even the occasional children’s book aloud.  Trying to pull in and process all of that information can crowd out creativity.  I did quit reading any news that was not business or sports-related a few months ago, so at least my attention is not distracted by the latest developments with Paris Hilton.  All of this is on top of my work-related reading, which is full of gems like this one I got in a memo today:  “If applicable, does the appendix include a listing of all applications processes included in the assessment process and the process conclusion for said processes?”  Read that again.  Yes, I have to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

I do not write ideas down as soon as they occur. Too often, I have a great idea and tell myself “excellent post idea!  Write an article about it this evening!” only to forget it by the time I get home.  I make an effort to carry around a small notebook all day and write ideas in it as they occur, but I still sabotage myself constantly by thinking “remember to write that down when you get back to your desk.”

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about eight years ago, I wrote a virulent political blog that was a huge series of links and videos and random comments and thoughts on almost a stream-of-consciousness basis.  If I read an article, I would throw out a link and two lines of commentary, and then move on.  Being creative means taking all of the influences you receive during the course of the day and processing them and creating something new, not just consolidating information.  Many blogs just turn into link fests, but my favorite ones are usually written by people unafraid to present their own ideas rather than linking to others’.

Football. I used to be a sports fanatic, following the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball.  I even watched the Tour de France and most tennis Grand Slams and golf majors.  Other than hockey, I seldom missed a game of any sort on TV.  SportsCenter was the wake up call and the goodnight lullaby.  Those days are gone – the demands of marriage and fatherhood have crowded them out.  However, I still love the NFL so much that I make time for it.  I do realize, though, that spending time reading about NFL roster news, watching the games and buying Jets merchandise are bad, bad habits.  Nothing about football will help me write this blog, be a better person or be more frugal.  Still, I have loved the NFL since becoming a fan of the almost-great Browns teams of the 80s (Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, anyone?) although I left them and moved on to the Jets 20 years ago.  I have to admit I am a footbaliholic.  That barrier to creativity will probably remain.

Learning to overcome these barriers to creativity is part of what I am enjoying about the blogging process; having a small idea and then seeing the words spill out on the page once I get underway writing is a tremendous feeling.  But creativity is a delicate thing; it has to be nurtured and coddled, and indulging in any of the behaviors I listed above is a good way to kill it off before it takes hold.

  • http://www.boomerandecho.com Echo

    I’ve found that since I started blogging I am reading and watching a lot less TV. The TV I don’t mind, but I need to get back to reading, which usually gives me a lot of ideas. As for writing down ideas, I use my Blackberry “memo pad” and just add post ideas throughout the day as they come to me, although sometimes these don’t make sense to me when I review them later on.

    Go Browns! ;)

  • http://singlemomrichmom.com Jacq

    Wow. You read 70 blogs? That’s like a full-time job.

    Totally agree on the business writing ruining the writing process. It took me a long time to learn to even write emails to friends in a conversational tone years ago.

  • kh

    It’s funny because I do all the things you do and I find that every time I watch/read/see something it gives me an idea to blog about. It must be new blogger syndrome! :)

    And on an off note, I ADORE the Thomas Covenant chronicles. They’re very dense, and very heavy in spots, but so well written and I love the story that is sci-fi/fantasy but not. Thomas Covenant is the very epitome of an anti-hero and his humanity and flaws are what make him fascinating!

  • http://funny-about-money.com Funny about Money

    LOL! I also kick myself for failing to write down bright ideas as they come to mind. Easy come, easy go!

    At the Great Desert University, we had a consultant come in and talk to us about jump-starting the creative process (since academics face the publish-or-perish hurdle). He suggested limiting one’s writing to a relatively short period each day, starting out without about 15 minutes and working up to an hour or two.

    The idea is to block out that time for writing and nothing but writing. Anything related to writing goes, though: whether it’s research, reading related stuff, brainstorming, staring into the distance thinking, or actually putting words on paper or onscreen. During this time, keep others away. When they know you will be free at X time, they usually will leave you alone, and so you get a period of uninterrupted time.

    He recommended doing this no more than four days a week. And he pointed out that when you write a small amount regularly, you come up with more ideas than you do when you endure marathon writing events.

    Over time, I’ve found these things to be true. Problem is, your creative passion tends to take over your waking hours. Then you’re challenged with breaking free enough time to lead a real life.

  • http://retiredsyd.typepad.com Retired Syd

    Well since you are only following sports and business news, you may have missed the BREAKING news yesterday that Obama is actually a US citizen! See what you miss by not following the other stuff?

  • http://hopetoprosper.com Bret @ Hope to Prosper

    I used to be a sposts fanatic myself. I gave up my Angels season tickets this year and I haven’t watched a single game on TV. It wasn’t just the time and money that turned me off, the players and owners are out of control. They are sqabbling over billions of dollars, while holding fans and host cities hostage. They definitely don’t respect the fans, who pick up the tab for their extravagant paydays. So, I voted with my feet and my eyeballs.

  • http://questforblisspersonalgrowth.com/ Jean-François Bureau

    Exactly!
    All those distractions may be quite enjoyable but true creativity can only come from a quiet part of us…
    That’s why meditation is more and more an important part of the life of every writer!

    Jean-François Bureau for Quest for Bliss Personal Growth

  • http://www.wonderwomanwannabe.com heidi

    i enjoyed this and shared on my twitter feed. came by via a link on ‘Remodling this Life’ blog ~ thanks!

    ~H

  • http://www.impressionistheart.com/index.html Cathy

    Terry Pratchett (Discworld Series and a truly excellent writer!) wrote that ideas are continuously sleeting through the universe looking for an opening in someone’s mind… I love that image! The trick is not to be one of the many ‘closed’ minds, and the distractions you mention certainly clutter up the entrances to our minds.