Practicing Creativity

Creativity is a skill

Creativity is often conceived as a special gift, something you are either born with, or not. There is a small grain of truth to this—everyone is born with their own set of tendencies that may lean toward what most people think of as "being creative." However, creativity is also a skill, or set of skills, that is learnable, practicable, and teachable. Anyone can practice these skills to develop creative fluency, and they must be given the same care and attention as any other set of skills to be developed.

It's easier to talk about individual creative skills than to talk about creativity as a skill in general, but it might be described as something like the ability to navigate and enable the generative cycle of divergence and convergence in the development and discovery of new forms. Now, with that exceedingly dry and general definition out of the way, we'll never speak of it again. Dissecting this too much will only render a living and mysterious thing lifeless—Creativity is a mystery.

However, this definition hints toward the shape of the creative skill tree (to borrow a term from video games... it is perhaps more like a skill lattice). There are skills related to divergence—collecting or generating raw material and quickly iterating over possibilities. There are skills related to convergence—narrowing down options, selecting the "best" possibilities, and eliminating others. And there are skills related to enabling and navigating the spectrum between these two modes—knowing when to shift from the big picture to small details, when to go slow and when to go fast, when to rest and when to act.

Many of the skills within this lattice appear to be conflicting opposites—Creativity is a paradox. Creative fluency involves being able to shift between extremely different modes. At one moment what's required is to move fast and loose, roughly sketching at a high level and following your intuition. At another moment what's required is to move slowly and carefully, being accurate and taking care of small details. Most people have a natural tendency toward one or the other of these modes, so practicing creativity is getting better at the skills in each mode, especially the one that doesn't match your tendencies, and going through the cycle repeatedly to get better at transitioning between them.

Without these skills, we run into the all-too-familiar feeling of getting stuck—most commonly known as writers' block. Getting stuck usually means being stuck in one mode and not knowing when to switch, or not knowing how to switch. Through practicing creative skills, we learn how to navigate this stuckness, and also understand why getting stuck is itself a creative skill and a helpful part of the cycle.

These are also highly transferrable skills—mastering creative metaskills in one area will make picking up others easier.

Pages that link here

Creativity is arcane and mundane
Creativity is obscured by misconceptions—it's commonly misconceived as a magical ability only accessible to special geniuses, or as a fixed ability determined at birth

These are my draft notes on creativity—as a skill, a practice, and a mystery

About Practicing Creativity

These are my notes on creativity—as a skill, a practice, and a mystery. Everything you find here is in a perpetual draft state and much of it may not make sense. I hope these notes become clearer over time as I continue writing and updating them, although I hope they might be useful even in disarray.

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