Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How To Be More Creative

In the spring of 1991 I read an article in Parade magazine that changed my life. It was about Amy Dacyczyn and her newsletter The Tightwad Gazette. I subscribed to the newsletter, bought all the back issues and began putting into practice things I learned in them. One article has had a more profound effect on me than any other: How to Be More Creative. Today I'll share it so you can experience it for yourself.

"My own creative journey began nearly twenty years ago. My mother forced me to take an art class in high school. I recall tortured occasions of sitting before a blank piece of watercolor paper without a clue as to what I should paint. I was not the most talented student and receiving the art award in my senior year was unexpected. (So much so that I was delinquent and absent during the awards ceremony.)

"I went on to art school in Boston. At times ideas came easily but often it felt like beating my head against the wall. I did snag a couple of merit based scholarships and graduated as one of three in a dead heat at the top of my class.

"After art school a large advertising agency gave me my first job. There is a clock in the real world. You sit before a drawing board, working under an art director who has a different sense of what is good. The task before you is to second guess how the art director interprets the needs of the client. It is not kindergarten, where the teacher understands the fragile nature of creativity and tells you every idea is wonderful. The real world is where creative failure costs money.

"During my professional peak my creative effort satisfied art directors only 50% of the time. As a result I designed very little and did pasteup, type-specking and layouts most of my eight years working full time.

"Occasionally I obtained a freelance job, such as a logo for a small company. I always negotiated a fixed price and worked tirelessly to come up with the best design possible. My success rate with no clock and no art director was about 90%.

"After I married and my first child was born I freelanced only from home. I had a few jobs but for the most part put my creative energies into personal projects. Christmas cards, birth announcements, children's birthday parties and homemade presents.

"This freedom from the professional grind helped greatly. Some years later, at a business women's dinner, I related the details of recent personal projects to a lady who was one of my clients. She turned to the woman at her side and said "Amy is creative, creative, creative."

"This is a long story to tell you what I have learned about "How to be more creative." My credentials are the years of success and failure. If it had always come easily I would not have been forced to analyze. But through my roller coaster ride I have come to understand something of the nuts and bolts process of creativity.

"People tend to believe that creativity is a mystical gift reserved for a few. They think this mistaking creativity for "craft." Creativity is the process. Craft is the product. When there is a lack of a recognized outlet, such as writing, art, or music, creativity goes unnoticed.

"Creativity is nothing more and nothing less than solving a problem in an original way. As humans we all have this spark. We string together words to express our thoughts. We do not memorize and repeat the sentences that we speak. [Except maybe for Mr. Collins!] We put together new word combinations continually.

"Creativity occurs in subtle ways. While preparing a familiar recipe and you realize that you lack an ingredient and make a substitution. Or while folding laundry the way your mother taught you twenty years ago you discover that by rearranging piles in a different order you can save time. Or you have a problem with a coworker and attempt a new strategy to make the relationship work better. Or you figure how to build a lathe out of salvaged materials and a washing machine motor. These are all forms of creativity."

TO BE CONTINUED! Tomorrow - Ten Steps to a More Creative You.

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