Revive your creativity - Through journaling

Jan 4, 2008 at 12:22 p.m. ET

Creativity is the seed that produces invention and innovation. It allows a person to come up with fresh solutions instead of settling for the status quo or coming to a complete halt when faced with the unexpected. In this article, discover how you can nurture your creativity by keeping a journal.

What happens to childhood creativity?

Being creative is defined as characterized by originality and expressiveness, imaginative, inventive and productive. Perhaps nowhere is creativity more visible than in young children, particularly toddlers and pre-schoolers. Everything is new to them, and their minds are busy combining new thoughts and ideas as they discover the world around them.

By way of example, I can remember sitting across the table from my 2-year-old son who was eating round pretzels. He took a couple bites out of one side and said, "Look Mom a 'C.'" He flipped it 90 degrees: "Now it's a rainbow!." Then he held it up against his cheek between his mouth and ear: "Or a telephone!" Lastly dangled it in the air: "And a fingernail moon." He saw endless possibilities in that one curved piece of pretzel.

Studies note that creativity often declines once children have been in school for a couple years. Why? The major contributing factors seem to be criticism and fear.

When a youngster goes to school and draws a completely green flower, no matter what his reasons for choosing to do so, he is reminded that this is not how a "real" flower looks and is instructed to do it "correctly." For the most part, school is about conforming to the expectations of others rather than cultivating the ability to think and react in ways that are unique. Under these conditions, the critic inside grows while creativity wanes.

Fear arises when classmates begin to think a student is "weird" if he or she expresses views or ideas that are different. To avoid ridicule, a child may keep fresh and unique ideas inside where they are left to die. Over time, it becomes easier not to have the different ideas than to continually repress them.

Lastly, when a school is subject to budget restraints, what are the first programs to be cut? Arts programs. The arena where creativity is nurtured is deemed unimportant and expendable, though recently educators are beginning to recognize the disservice this trend has done to students.

Why creativity is valuable

Creativity is the seed that produces invention and innovation. It allows a person to come up with fresh solutions instead of settling for the status quo or coming to a complete halt when faced with the unexpected. For instance, an experiment was conducted in which an accident was staged on a city sidewalk. The "doctor" treating the "patient" who had fallen and scraped her knee, would flag down a passerby and ask the person to go into the nearby pharmacy to get 2" square bandage. Inside the person was told that the pharmacy was out of 2" square bandages. Most people went back to the accident site empty-handed. Creative individuals, however, would request some sort of substitute, like a larger bandage or plain gauze, adhesive tape and scissors.

Which person would you rather have on your team if your company were in danger of going under? Which individual would make a better counselor? Teacher? Parent? Creative people have an edge. They are saved from the trap of doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. If one idea doesn't work, they think of another. Creative individuals don't just follow the crowd; they look for processes that are more constructive, effective or efficient. And what mother isn't faced with problems to overcome each and every day? Wouldn't a strong creative bend be helpful in discovering the best way to deal with your stubborn toddler or your moody teen when "expert" advice doesn't seem to be working?

How does journaling help creativity

Anais Nin, a noted diarist, portrays the creative person as an individual alive and curious, and always finding new ways to grow, expand and enjoy the moment. She used her diary to live her life more fully and deeply.

You can do the same.

Creativity is renewed in the journal because of the absence of what stifles it--criticism and fear. Your journal becomes an arena for honest self-expression; you are free to explore, take chances and tune in to new ideas and concepts. Creativity has its roots in being in touch with intellectual and emotional processes and in listening to, trusting, and nurturing what comes from within. When you cultivate the habit of genuine self-communication, creativity becomes part of your daily life.

Once you learn the basics of creative expression, you can apply them in a variety of situations. Just as a guitarist learns basic chords and then combines, inverts, and augments them to create new music, so too can you apply the principles of creativity in not only in artistic endeavors, but also in solving problems, improving relationships, and making decisions.

Nurturing the creative you

You can begin nurturing your creativity by becoming more aware of the details around you. Our lives are at once ordinary and magnificent. The difference lies in how we perceive what surrounds us. We are important, and our lives are important. Our lives are made up of details that on the surface may appear mundane, but are critical.

This is perhaps best illustrated in where we live. When you live in a place over a period of time, it grows dull. You stop noticing what is around you. The reason a trip is exciting is because you get to see a new place in a fresh way. Yet all those things that are new and fresh to you while you are on vacation are ordinary to those who live among them.

Practice recording details as you look at the familiar "for the first time." In our journals we can begin to view what we have in a different way. We make the ordinary come alive, much in the same way the toddler experiences the details for the first time and delights in them.

More ways writing can inspire creativity

There are other methods of writing you can use to nurture creativity. Some are:

Use your diary to construct practice conversations with people you'd like to connect with on a deeper level.

Try altering your point of view. For instance, write about an argument from the viewpoint of the other person involved.

Perhaps you want to capture a childhood event that had a large impact on your life. In your writing, record the event in the child's voice as it unfolds, rather than as a memory.

Sketch verbal portraits of people in your journal with a view to discovering something new and exciting about those you live or work with.

Write down a problem, then list any and all solutions that come into mind. It doesn't matter if the solutions sound crazy or impossible. It's those crazy and impossible ideas that sometimes can be worked into top-notch solutions.

In these ways you bring creativity to work in all aspects of your life.

After keeping a diary for a while you will be able to see your own creative strengths. Because you become familiar with the tools of the creative process, you will bring to all aspects of living the individuality of style you have developed in the pages of your journal.