Stress kills creativity, exhaustion kills creativity, but does age?
We as authors and artists rely a lot on our brain to remain elastic and creative, as if we were still children who could find a cape in a blanket, a sword in a stick, or a magic land simply by crossing a stream. But is it really that easy? As adults?
What got me thinking about keeping a creative mindset was an article on Slate Why are Younger People more Creative than Adults? It caught my attention because … well I write fantasy and know a lot of fantasy writers, and I’d say they are pretty darn creative. Considering the level of world building where I feel like I could step into the world of these books, I’d even say many writers are more creative than children. But that is the world I hang out in.
Pulling back, there are a lot less corporate execs creating awesome play forts out of chairs and desks than they did as kids. Do any of them pretend their motorcycle is an armored horse or mini-spacecraft? Maybe. If they are writers in their spare time. 😉
But are we as adults really more creative?
I mean, we tend to worry a lot about the rules of our fantasy worlds. The magic has rules. The worlds have rules. Writing has rules. Kids don’t care about rules.
Add to that stress and adult commitments. Like jobs. Kids. Spouses. Let’s not talk about household chores (I swear I’ll get to laundry soon…!). Limited writing time, frustration, balancing obligations … all of that can easily translate into writer’s block.
Oh you thought writer’s block just meant a problem in your WIP?
It can but it can also be triggered by atrophying creativity. If life is draining you, if you didn’t get enough sleep last night, if you are under a mega-ultimate deadline and your boss yelled at you then your boyfriend complained you don’t spend time with him and you went and locked yourself in your room to write … I bet you won’t get a word out other that a string of expletives in 72 point bold font.
A creative mindset is a mental state as well as a physical one. When you are creative and ideas are really flowing, aren’t you excited? Your breath comes quicker. You may even feel warmer as your heart is pumping a bit faster. I couldn’t find any scientific links between what a person’s physical state is when they are in a top level brainstorm of ideas, but I know what it feels like for me and it is a cross between an adrenaline rush while winning a race with a bit of magic thrown in. No wonder it is addictive!
I wonder if part of the reason that taking a walk can help loosen stuck ideas is because it helps to mimic some of the physical aspects of creativity. Get your blood pumping, your breathing up a bit from a stalled form in front of the computer and your body’s trained response kicks in and starts providing ideas.
Which means a creative mindset can be developed and, especially as adults, it requires work to maintain. You want your body to associate a certain state of being with creativity. You want to be able to trigger it with a bit of yoga or a jog, which will offset the multiple negative influences like stress which reduces creativity. Wouldn’t that be awesome? A quick walk to “clear your mind” and you can get back to writing, and writing well!
How to develop a creative mindset
As adults, just like the Slate/Quora article suggests, we’ve already figured out a pattern of what works. We don’t need to try everything under the sun from sky writing our resume to juggling printers to get a job. We have limited ourselves because we’ve found set behaviors that work.
To develop and maintain creativity, we need to break out of our known patterns.
“[Creative Professionals] develop predictable habits that take them into unpredictable territory. This is a lifestyle choice to stay in the uncomfortable territory of the unknown.” – Paul King
Because the good news is there is no sign that creativity declines with age due to any natural or biological reason. Staying creative can be as easy as an eclectic reading list. Me? I tend to seek out world wide news stories and travel articles on cultures I wouldn’t have known existed otherwise. If it peaks my interest, I read it, feeding my brain and my creativity with a smorgasbord of ideas. And I like to travel. A LOT. New horizons also fuel my passion and creativity as well as a slew of hobbies like hiking and kayaking.
The point is to purposefully seek out new experiences. It could be a class on jewelry making. You could learn web design. Yes, it takes time away from your writing, but if you are sitting and staring at your computer screen frustrated that another great ideas is fizzling, are you really writing?
Understand the aspects of stress
I really like this short article on the Link between Brain, Stress, and Creativity because it outlines the emotional reaction stress causes.
“Workers are so insecure and stressed that they creep along in terror until they find safety.” – SharpBrains
Under stress we seek familiarity for its calming influence. Familiarity does not breed creativity. Calm is just about the opposite of brainstorming. Of course, it is difficult to flip straight from stressed to creative without passing through calm. Unless maybe you write high stress thrillers or horror? If you can turn stress into creativity, you definitely have an advantage because I’m sure the spheres of what is a new experience that induces creativity and something stressful overlap at least a little.
In general though, if you are stressed you need to calm down, possibly in a familiar routine and way. Meditate, yoga, listen to music. DO NOT just sit down in front of the computer. Work your way into the proper creative mindset first.
Happily, creativity really can become a habit as Amy Novotney points out in her article on The Science of Creativity on the American Psychological Association.
She has a few other tips such as capturing all new ideas as they come to you in a notebook or voice recorder. Capturing ideas declutters the mind as well as positively reinforces that ideas are a good thing (rather than trying to remember them or ignore them which reinforces the subconscious mind that they are a nuisance).
My brain is my favorite toy
I’ve told that to several people, because I am never bored. There is always another world building inside of me. I don’t need an electronic device to entertain. I think I’m smarter and more creative now than I was as a teenager or even in my late twenties and thirties.
Creativity does not have to diminish. Nor were you the most creative as a child. It was just a different sort of creativity. Though it is fun to say that I’m a writer because my mind never grew up! 😉
What You'll Learn
What about you? How do you stay creative? Are you more creative now or when you were younger?
I’m continuing my monthly giveaway on my blog! I will put the names of anyone who leaves a comment on my blog from now until the end of October in a hat and draw a winner to receive the course What’s in a Name: Creating Fantasy Words and Languages! Just say hi, tell me what your are writing, give me post ideas, or comment on this post — any comment counts!