Kickstarting Creativity: A Pep Talk (And Writing Exercise)
Ailsa encourages you to create and, more specifically, to write. She believes in you.
Creativity is inherently worthwhile. Like you. Unfortunately, we live in a society that currently seems to value creativity only when it leads to status and/or wealth, as put so eloquently by the wonderful human and poet Vanessa Kisuule in her TEDx talk.
‘We’re telling them that artists with a lot of money or high cultural standing are the only ones that are important… At the end of the day we should be teaching our young people to create because it’s an honest and cathartic expression of how they feel about the world around them.’ Vanessa Kisuule
This is a problem because for most of us, our creativity will not lead to status or wealth or even any kind of recognition beyond our circle of doting friends and family. However that does not mean that it is not a worthwhile pursuit. It is well recognised that journaling helps you to not only be happier but also to be physically healthier (seriously, it’s magic) and many are now turning to creativity to help with mental wellbeing, yours truly included.
My reasons for being creative are: to cope, to survive, to vent, to process and sometimes –but not always– to share my experiences with others, in the hope of generating more understanding around race, mental illness, gender.
Though I wrote a bit in secondary school, I was very much a science kid studying maths, mechanics, physics and chemistry in my final year. I was also deeply unhappy in many ways. After studying more maths at uni for a term I returned home after a term due to a severe depressive episode. Back at home, drained of hope and existing entirely in the thick, smothering fog of depression, I listened to the same song on repeat, didn’t shower for days at a time, struggled to eat and wrote. I wrote a lot.
‘I create because I have a being inside of me with a voice loud and powerful. My body is just a carrier for that voice. I create to survive being destroyed.’ Priyanka
Jump forwards four years and I still haven’t finished my maths degree but am now a photographer and writer and also far happier. Of course there are many contributing factors to my increased wellbeing but I believe that having more creative outlets has been one of the main ones.
Photography helps me to appreciate the beauty –all too often viewed as banal– in the world around me and ground me when I’m not as firmly locked in my flesh prison as usual. Writing helps me to process and vent.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to create. This article is a pep talk to you and your creativity. Because it is there. However latent. You are creative. I’m only a photographer and writer because I started calling myself that. And people believed me. Do I still think I’m bluffing and have no idea what the hell I’m doing? Yes. But people still believe me. Am I worried I’m an egotistical asshole for putting my stuff out there? Yes. But nobody has to read it if they don’t want to. I don’t have to share it if I don’t want to. Am I worried I’m doing Art wrong? Yes. But the artists we lionise the most are often those who broke the rules. Because the rules don’t actually exist. Not if you’re just creating for creating’s sake. Am I worried I ramble a lot? Yes. But you’re still reading aren’t you? (Aren’t you?)
Because the rules don’t actually exist. Not if you’re just creating for creating’s sake.
But Ailsa I hear you cry I just can’t write/draw/photograph/paint/sing/compose/dance. I’ve tried and I can’t.
Time for some harsh words. Stop that. Stop telling yourself, me and the rest of the world that you can’t create.
I’m gonna prove to you that you can create. We’re gonna do a writing exercise (bear with me –please) and I’m gonna do it with you too because I struggle a lot of the time to write despite all the words I put out into the world.
Now get out some paper and a pen and write down what you had for breakfast. It can be a sentence, a list, a series of words. Words is the important part. See? The page isn’t so blank and intimidating now.
If, at any point during this exercise, you are getting the creativity cringes (where you kinda curl up, stomach cramping with cringe and your brain shrinks and screams at you This is terrible. What are you doing?) then I want you to repeat over and over to yourself (out loud if possible) Nobody has to see this if I don’t want them to. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
How did you feel whilst eating breakfast? Write it down. If you don’t know what you were feeling that’s okay. You can write that down. Literally write ‘I don’t know how I felt’. The joy of art is that anything is art. (Plus most of my emotions are still a mystery to me. What are feelings? What is life? I don’t know.)
Repeat over and over to yourself (out-loud if possible) Nobody has to see this if I don’t want them to. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
If you were a colour this morning whilst eating breakfast what would it have been? This doesn’t have to be ‘right’ just scrawl the first thing that comes into your head. Even if it’s just the colour of the watch you happen to be wearing today and that primed you for writing ‘red’. Go with it.
Are there any particular associations you have with this colour? If so, write them down. What does the colour make you think of? Write that down. Even if it makes you cringe. Especially if it makes you cringe. Why do you think you chose this colour?
Now, at any point please feel free to stop reading what I’m saying and jam out freestyle if you’re feeling it. If you’re not that’s totally fine. Have a read back through what you’ve written. Repeat to yourself (out loud if possible) Nobody has to see this if I don’t want them to. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I am writing. There is no wrong way to write. (Seriously. There is no wrong way to write. This is for you. Grammar doesn’t matter here. Spelling doesn’t matter. Stream of consciousness rambling is good. Lists of words are good. Broken sentences are good. Mixing languages is good.)
Were you wishing you could be somewhere else when you were having breakfast? Yes, no, not sure? Write it down. If so, where? (In bed is a very legit answer. Write it down.) Why? Are any memories coming up? Write ‘em down. (Sensing an overarching theme yet?)
If not, what made you happy to be where you were, breaking your night fast? Was it just part of you that wanted to be somewhere else? That’s allowed too! Write that down.
There is no wrong way to write. Trust me (please).
Feeling an urge to write off on a tangent? Go for it. Nothing you write is wrong. Nothing you write is bad. You don’t have to be talking about great themes. You are writing this for you. To prove that you can. There are no rules (though I know that fact is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.)
Now write down what you did once you finished breakfast. Write down any observations.
Finish up by writing about that feeling you had (or didn’t have) during brekkie. Just answer this one last question for me: are you still feeling that feeling? And you’re done! You wrote! You’re a writer! (I’ll let you in on a secret: if you write you are a writer.)
If you take one thing from this article please let it be this: there’s no such thing as good or bad art. It may not be how you envisioned it and maybe it expressed something different from what you intended but it still expressed. Maybe you didn’t convey something completely but you wrote something.
Well done. I will leave you with the face and words of Mr Rogers:
‘Do you like to draw with crayons? I’m not very good at it. But it doesn’t matter. It’s the fun of doing it that’s important. Now, I would’t have made that if I just thought about it. No matter how anybody says it is. It feels good to have made something. The best thing is that each person’s would be different. In a way, you’ve already won in this world because you’re the only one who can be you. And that’s the way it’s suppose to be.’ Fred McFeely Rogers
If you’d like some more real life support and encouragement in being creative, head along to The Hub on Wednesdays at 0930.
And, if you want to read it, the results of me doing my own writing exercise are in the Facebook comments.