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12 ideas to help you live more creatively (1981)

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12 ideas to help you live more creatively

Despite what most people think, artists, composers, writers, and designers do not hold a copyright on creativity. There are wellsprings of creativity within each of us. But our upbringing, our schooling, and our daily routines often seem to conspire to drain the spontaneous creativity we all once had as children.

No matter what anyone tells you, creativity is not something you are either born with or not: it needs to be discovered, exposed, nurtured, and expressed in order for it to grow and expand.

Here is a gathering of simple ideas that might help you to become more creative, and which will certainly make you more responsive to the world around you:

1. Look at bad art: That back gallery at the art museum filled with 19th-century Salon paintings, or even the $19.95 Masterpiece Supermarket at your local shopping mall has more to teach than you might realize. If you’re unsure what makes good art good, bad art can often give you some clues.

2. Read reference books: A bit of the Encyclopaedia Britannica each evening or a few definitions from the dictionary before heading off to bed (facts learned immediately before sleep are said to have a greater likelihood of being retained) are easy ways to increase your general knowledge. Remember: Most truly creative people have generally worked hard to gather expertise.

3. Visit an art supply shop: They have that magic motivating power shared by stationery shops, hardware stores, and kitchen-supply distributors, inspiring all kinds of previously unthought-of projects suggested by the inviting array of materials. But don’t be just an impulse shopper: Make sure you really use your new-found toys and tools!

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4. Take the first paragraph of a short story that you’ve never read and finish it yourself. Then for fun go back and read the rest of the original story. You might find that you’ve got more of a literary imagination than you’ve ever given yourself credit for.

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5. Rearrange your daily routine: Group dissimilar things together — people at a party, tastes in a meal, objects in a room, events during your day. Out of change often erupt exciting new combinations.

6. Look up at the buildings you pass every day: It’s surprising how few of us can describe the second stories of buildings we think we know very well. For a change, walk across the street from your usual route on your daily trip to the store, to school, or to work, and really scrutinize entire buildings, rather than just their ground floors.

7. Try word association games: Have a friend suggest a word to you, and then give an instant association; have your friend do the same, then alternate again. Keep a running list of who thought of what, and after l0 responses each, try to guess what spontaneous thinking inspired each other’s word associations.

8. Create your own course: If a Shakespeare troupe is coming to town, get tickets to a performance, and study the play with an annotated text — such as the paperback Pelican Shakespeare series — beforehand. Similarly, prepare for a concert by listening to at least two different recorded versions of one of the pieces (or the whole work, if it’s an opera) that you’re going to hear. Compare interpretations with the one you later attend not so much for technical skill, but for what you think the conductor or soloist is trying to “say” through the music. In all cases, read program notes on record jackets or opera libretti (available at your local library) before you get to the concert hall: There’s nothing more distracting to you (and your neighbors!) than trying to follow a text during a performance. Instead, devote your full attention to experiencing the music.

9. Daydream more, sleep less: Just lying there is much more restful than you might think, and those moments of mental repose can free a great deal of your unconscious creative thinking. Have something soothingly abstract to stare at: clouds, the calligraphy of bare branches, sweep of color on a canvas, the stylized patterns of an Oriental rug, a mass of indoor greenery, or a brilliant sunset.

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10. Get to know someone much older or much younger than yourself and develop a continuing friendship with her or him. The valuable insights of childhood and old age are too often neglected by those of us in between, and can serve as a real spur to greater creativity.

11. Look at things from a new perspective — literally: Use binoculars or a magnifying glass to investigate and rediscover your everyday surroundings. Especially helpful: Try looking down on where you live or work from a tall building or a high place, an exercise that can give important scope and scale to our often too-fragmented and inner-directed sense of who we are and what we are doing. Read Kees Boeke’s entertaining, provocative book Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps (John Day, New York), which provides a similarly stimulating reminder of the relative magnitude and importance of things.

12. Don’t let inspiration strike when your pencil isn’t sharpened, you can’t find a needle, you’re out of blank cassettes, you don’t have the ingredients, or you’re just too busy. Be organized and disciplined enough to be spontaneous now and then, whenever the magic comes upon you!

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