In Habitually Living on Purpose, I mentioned how I am focusing on habits this year in an attempt to live according to my Life on Purpose statement: My Life on Purpose is a joyful life of freedom, continuous learning, encouraged and supported creativity, insatiable curiosity, and prolific creation, driven by passion and a desire for excellence, powered by a healthy body and soul.
Previous articles in this series include: “powered by a healthy body”, “continuous learning”, “insatiable curiosity”, and “a joyful life of freedom”. This article will focus on “encouraged and supported creativity.”
When I was young, I would spend lots of my time enjoying the process of being creative. I was never conscious of the time that passed.
I wrote stories. I designed board games. I loved drawing.
And I never worried about who would appreciate it or buy it or how I would make a living from it.
I simply grabbed some paper, sharpened a pencil, and started doodling. Sometimes my drawings were simple, and sometimes they were elaborate. I was fond of the Ghostbusters cartoon, so I’d draw scenes featuring the team fighting off different ghosts in strange buildings and landscapes.
I had one teacher that didn’t like my Ghostbusters drawings for some reason. She insisted I draw something else. I never did figure out why it bothered her, but I drew Pac-man instead to appease her. I recall there being a rainbow and some power pellets. She never complained, so I guess this new drawing was fine.
I don’t recall ever drawing Ghostbusters again.
Sadly, this kind of discouragement happens all of the time, whether on purpose or not. And it isn’t just children who are impacted. Grown-ups get discouraged, too.
In brainstorming sessions, there’s a useful rule that some people don’t follow: nothing gets criticized. The point of brainstorming is to come up with ideas. Lots of ideas. It’s hard enough to get people to make suggestions, but if their ideas get picked apart to determine feasibility from the start, it ensures that those ideas won’t be mentioned in the future.
When I volunteered to teach Sunday school, I learned that girls tend to be called on far less frequently than boys in class. Apparently most boys don’t mind being wrong so long as they get attention, so they’ll throw their hands up whether they know the answer or not. And teachers give them a lot of attention. Girls, however, get a lot less attention from the teacher. For years, people have been questioning why there aren’t more women studying math and science, and perhaps it is partly due to this disparity in teacher-student interactions.
People also can be self-discouraging. I’ve met way too many people who think that you can’t be creative if you’re analytical or vice versa. I know programmers who say, “I can’t draw to save my life!” and artists who say, “I’m no good at math!” People claim they are left-brained or right-brained, as if there’s a whole half of their brain that they can’t possibly use. If you don’t WANT to use it, that’s one thing, but saying you can’t? It’s simply not true.
What’s interesting is that programmers, for example, understand that it takes practice and skill to get good at programming, but when it comes to drawing, they act as if it also doesn’t take practice and skill, as if people either know how to draw or they don’t.
This kind of self-talk puts up an artificial obstruction. There is no law that says good programmers can’t be good artists, and yet people seem content to assume they can’t do creative work. “I’m no good at being creative” is a very destructive piece of creativity.
So how does one encourage and support creativity?
First, you have to recognize that you are capable of being creative. Creativity doesn’t mean coming up with completely new ideas and concepts. Sometimes creativity is making connections between two seemingly unrelated ideas. Electricity in the home was originally meant to make it possible for people to use lightbulbs at night. Someone eventually thought, “Why not make appliances that also use this electricity?” In fact, the on/off switch wasn’t invented for years.
Second, you need creative habits.
One thing I thought of doing is already being done. Jay Barnson of The Rampant Coyote started a series of posts called “Indie Innovation Spotlight” which highlights indie game creativity. By calling out creativity where you see it, you both encourage others and you also train yourself to notice it, both in your work and beyond. I’d like to start just such a series of posts myself, and I guess the only thing stopping me is a lack of source material. It’s not the lack of games so much as the fact that I seem to have become one of those game developers who doesn’t actually play a lot of games.
I’ve been doodling once a week, usually when I’m hanging out with friends at our weekly trivia night. I’d like to turn this into a daily habit, though. Once a week is fun, but I’ll get better at it much faster if I practice daily. Getting better at it means I’ll be more capable of matching the doodle in my head when I put it on the page.
Similarly, learning how to play music would be enjoyable. I remember using anything from Mario Paint to various tracker software to create music when I was younger. There’s bound to be more sophisticated stuff today. I have an app for my phone called My Piano that’s fun to mess with, especially since it offers ways to play a variety of instruments, including changing the pitch of a recording you make.
Playing a game and making up your own rules can be a good exercise in creativity. I read once that Will Wright tried to get everyone in a Tribes server to stop fighting and stand together in peace. One indie came up with a card game based on his experience playing Masters of Orion, a game he wished he could play with others. People like to make up rules to Monopoly such as providing unlimited housing or keeping all of the taxes collected in the center of the board and giving it to the player who lands on Free Parking. Minecraft has a few sub-games such as Spleef.
I think regularly getting together with people of similar interests is a great idea. I meet with local indie game developers in Des Moines at the Midwest Mingle, and we typically share what we’re creating and offer feedback and encouragement. Similarly, I am part of the Association of Software Professionals Indie Games Special Interest Group, so besides talking with other software professionals regularly, I participate in discussions with other game developers who are interested in game development as more than a hobby.
When I lived in Chicago, I would participate with other artists in figure drawing at a place called The Drawing Workshop which had sessions with live models. There was also the online artist community that would pick a topic for the day, week, and month, and people would submit their work. It was a lot of fun, even if my drawings didn’t match up to the people who art for a living. When I tried to combine three topics into one (“Hulk Smash”, “I love the 80s”, and “Before They Were Famous”) resulted in my favorite submission.
Participating in game development jams and competitions is also a lot of fun. Competitions such as Ludum Dare offer a theme and a time limit, and people make some of the most amazing games as a result. There’s a lot of encouragement and support available in those communities.
How do you encourage and support creativity, both in your life and in the lives of others?