How creative are you?

By Caitlin Kelly

creativity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I’ve been told for decades that I’m creative, which I consider one of the highest compliments anyone can ever pay me. (Of course, compared to people like famous musicians/artists/choreographers/thinkers, I know I’m not.)

So, for the hell of it, (and as research for a story for the BBC’s website), I recently paid $173 to take the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which measures creativity — using a variety of criteria, from emotional expressiveness to openness to ambiguity to humor.

The assessment takes about 45 minutes, with a variety of visual and verbal tests, like a page containing a large black tilted oval with instructions to turn it into something — anything you want! — within a few minutes, then write a caption to describe your choice.

Other elements gave me a drawing to describe and interpret, a product to improve and a number of unfinished lines to turn into drawings or designs of my choosing, all with my own added explanatory captions.

I mailed my booklets back to a distant midwestern address and waited, with bated breath.

What if I wasn’t creative after all? 

Luckily — whew! — I turned out to be in the 98th percentile, which felt good.

Now my much larger life challenge is to actually use this skill much more often, for work and for play.

There are days — and while I’m grateful to be this busy! — I feel like a one-woman industrial production line, moving as fast as I possibly can, gulping down lunch, to get the work out the door.

As a writer, this seems very much at odds with the notion that what I do is creative.

Ford assembly line, 1913.
Ford assembly line, 1913. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I simply have no time to stare into space, waiting for some Muse to show up and tap me on the shoulder.

When other writers, (usually of fiction), complain about writer’s block, I laugh. I have no such luxury if the mortgage is going to be paid on time and there will be gas in the car and food in the fridge.

Here’s a post I wrote — chosen for Freshly Pressed — about the ongoing choice for those of us who make a living doing artistic work, between being creative (noodling, thinking, musing revising) and being productive (shipping.)

Serious question.

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.

Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.

Editors aren’t terribly interested in whether you’re feeling creative — they want accurate
copy/content/visuals and they want it now!

Here’s an audio link to one of my favorite radio shows, Studio 360. The entire hour is devoted to a discussion of creativity, and ends with a seven-year-old girl talking about her paracosms — worlds she has created and populated.

Selfridges has a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop wh...
Selfridges has a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop which has its own doughnut production line thing. Tasty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you a creative person?

How does that play out in your life, personal and/or professional?

41 thoughts on “How creative are you?

  1. Well, Caitlin, I haven’t taken any tests lately but I think they help you figure out where your talents lie and what kind of person you are. I have no doubt that journalists are creative – just think about the mind working away, thinking how best to start a story, how it will flow, the conclusions – just picking the right words, editing, etc. As you know, I paint and do other types of art (and write) and it seems so natural to me. Not that it isn’t difficult – I always start a new work by saying “I can’t do this” and then I push until I do. My worst tendencies are procrastination and self-doubt and when these occur, you will find me doing laundry or cleaning.

  2. I guess journalism appears creative. In some respects it is, but the patterns of how we lay our information seem very static to me: lede, anecdote, quote, fact, another fact, etc.etc.

    I hear you on procrastination!

  3. I don’t know how creative I am, but it seems to me that back in the day, before 24 hour accessibility and expectations of immediate response, people had more time to be creative, and as such tended to be so. As you point out, more pondering time and more down time. Remember when taking a vacation meant you wouldn’t speak to anyone you worked with for two weeks?

    1. So true! I have a post ready to go about vacation time — and how few of us take it to really recharge.

      I need a lot of silence/solitude to just play with my ideas and thoughts, to see patterns. I think we now push ourselves in sadly industrial ways — i.e. all the time, fast. Who now takes time to just play?

  4. Heh Caitlin – some good thoughts in your post.

    To reply – Yes, I too am a creative person – at times it creates (sic) a bit of havoc in my personal life when I get over over-engrossed in it. Finding a happy medium with my work and my wife is important, although as a writer and a counsellor herself, she ‘gets it’. We give each other space and time to be creative, and reconnect at other times. When we travel we are creative together.

    As a self employed carpenter, my work is not a regular Monday to friday 8 to 5, and this bodes well for my creativity. Also, about 10 to 20% of my work allows for creative juice to flow, and I get paid for it as well. Most of my creativity either plays our here at home, maybe in the garden, or making an improvement.

    More recently I get rejuvenated through the blog-o-sphere. A sphere of consiousness ( to borrow from Tielhard de Chardin). Other bloggers inspire me, and I don’t feel as odd and alone. Then I feel – 0K where is my voice – what do i want to share with the world . . . and voila – I’ve come up something myself. Oftentimes I have gone in a direction I never imagined.

    For me, creativity is not only fun and life giving – without it, I think I would curl up and die . .. Ultimately I consider my creativity is my spirituality.

    1. Great thoughts…I think it’s really important to have a partner/wife/husband who “gets it” and not only allows you the needed time and space but encourages it.

      I’d feel completely bereft if I could not create…as you do.

  5. Blogging has enabled me to tap into my creative well like never before. If I hadn’t started my blog I would have never written my first manuscript. Creating stops me from becoming stale as a person.

  6. Julia

    Jobs are jobs, and not necessarily creative, but of course every job has that potential from time to time to have a creative breakthrough or to absorb the creative energy that has been building in the background. As you say, work is mostly shipping (and customer service, I’m surprised you forgot to mention!!)). I hate to say this, but maybe creativity lies in *shudder* Hobbies? What a terrible word to describe our creative outlets?

  7. I come from a line of creative people on my mother’s side. My talent seems to lie mainly in the writing field. When I need a break, but I want to keep the energy moving, I make jewelry. It’s my occupational therapy. Doing work by hand has been shown to allow the mind to dwell on other subjects (prayer, meditation, etc.) that refreshes the spirit. There’s something about choosing colors, arranging the beads, and doing the stringing or wire wrap or whatever that helps with piecing together parts of the writing I’m doing. The brain is an amazing place!

    1. So true! When I was finishing the manuscript for my last book, I took a 3 hour colored pencil drawing class every Friday morning. I feared that “lost” time at a crucial point in the production of the book, but came home each time so happy and refreshed. It’s a great thing to use all the bits of our brain for pleasure, not just for work.

  8. Ohh I like this… I definitely feel guilty etc when I’m not being productive! Even when you’re thinking of your next idea. Especially when there is someone else looking over your shoulder saying “I need this by x time”- and you know what you’re turning in isn’t your best work but you need to hit the deadline-it can be so frustrating!

    1. That’s the challenge — being “creative” on deadline. I think deadlines are useful for focusing, but not conducive to producing the best work if you feel rushed all the time.

  9. I believe that creativity is inherent in anyone who strings words together, even journalists or academic writers. Of course, you must get the facts, be neutral, and produce, produce, produce but the ability to recognize when and where there is a story, and to understand that there are deeper meanings and connections than lie on the surface requires an element of creativity. Creativity doesn’t just happen in the down time or the off moments, it happens when you are doing a mundane (less creative) task that you suddenly see in a new light, or when you are doing the things that pay the bills but have an inspiration sparked from a name, a thought, an idea. I sometimes think we define creativity with too limited terms. Sure there are those creative geniuses who continually make magic out of nothing, but creativity exists in the simple act of questioning the world around us. Isn’t that what journalists do all the time?

    1. “creativity exists in the simple act of questioning the world around us. Isn’t that what journalists do all the time?”

      Thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment, but I disagree. Anyone can question (although how many do, seriously?) — it’s the ensuing action that matters to me. Lots of people fancy themselves as creative but what is the next step?

      I also heartily disagree that journalists question the world. The best, yes. Many of them are just thrilled to keep sucking up a paycheck and pumping out the same-old, same-old. I see very little (paid, professional) journalism that truly challenges the status quo.

      1. I can agree with that. It does take doing some kind of action beyond the questioning, but I do think everyone is capable of that, it’s just sometimes they buy into the idea that they aren’t creative and stifle the actions. With a little nudge, however, they could be creative.

        Sadly, you are probably right about too many journalists today. Of course, I still hold the ideal in my mind. Although I never pursued it, journalism once called to me because of the possibility of seeing the world and questioning it. It saddens me to think that people follow that path without realizing the immense creative power that exists (or existed) in the field. What a sour life that must be, writing same-old, same-old for the paycheck.

      2. The power — without payment — lies more often now in the hands of bloggers, whose passion is on display. Old school journalism — the best — digs deep. But I see too much that is silly, shallow, repetitive. Few editors (terrified to lose their jobs) are willing to take chances on riskier work.

  10. I’m a real outside the box thinker, it intimidates and frustrates some people since they don’t always know how to take what I say. Am I joking or being serious? For situations in the work place it helped immensely while working with some local Sheriffs on identity theft cases, spotting things that others missed or dismissed, we caught a few people that had been alluding their department for quite a while. When I was working as a audio visual tech on shows and meetings there was plenty of need for creativity when last minute problems arose. In my personal life, musically I composed pieces, I also used to keep a sketch book.

    1. You sound like quite the polymath!

      I hear you, for sure, on being surrounded by people who don’t know what to make of you or your insights. I took a lot of other work-related assessments last week and another one pointed out (surprise) I do not think or behave like most other people. That can be socially difficult and professionally frustrating — until or unless you find people who value it.

      1. Thank you Caitlin! Though I don’t know if I’d qualify as a polymath, a polyhistor maybe… 😉 But seriously that would be a pretty weighty group to run with…

  11. I work at a long form TV current affairs program as a supervising producer. I need our team of producers to come up with creative topics… or to devise creative ways of covering topics that all already being covered ad nauseum. Usually I give them the option of working from home in this early stage of the production cycle. I tell them to go for a walk in the park and read widely. It doesn’t always work but I think it helps. They have 4 weeks to produce an episode. Long compared with daily turnaround but not that long compared with other long form stuff.

    1. What a neat job! I’d love to come work with you — but I think you’re in Australia. If you can ever use a freelancer, I’d love to do some work like this…One of the things I’m proud of in my journalism is I often run in the opposite direction from the pack. This can terrify a manager but it often brings back fresh, smart stuff.

  12. I consider myself very creative, and I don’t need a test to tell me that! In fact, I find the whole idea of a creativity test ludicrous. I didn’t need a test to give me the idea for the novel that I received in a dream last night.
    I should probably write a blog post on that.

      1. I’m still hoping to be a full-time writer by then! Either that or taking a full-time position at the office I work at now. They already know I’m creative, so what would be the point?

  13. Hmm, let me see. I’m broke, have a heap of debt, no prospect of financial stability anytime soon, hate my job, unfulfilled, dissatisfied, critical of the world at large and spend huge amounts of time wondering how I can avoid/escape conventional employment.

    Yep, I’m creative!

    Not sure which percentile I’m in though… ; )

    1. Sounds like you do need some creative solutions to get out of your rut(s.) Hating your job sucks up a lot of energy that could be applied (?) to finding/enjoying another one. But if you want to be self-employed, there are all sorts of other frustrations in that as well.

  14. I’ve found i’m my happiest when I’m able to spend time in quiet with a camera…and nature. There’s nothing better for me. However I know I have to pay the bills, and while the photography keeps my soul happy and calm, my job keeps me afloat. That’s how I manage it. I also dress creatively for work (here in Perth) and also when I lived in Toronto. I said to someone in Toronto when they commented on my clothes and how I looked like I stepped off a run way…

    “You know, I spend time in the morning being creative with my clothes, it’s the most interesting thing I get to do ALL day”.

    Administration can be very uncreative, so I manage it with my photography in my spare time, and I write…

    1. Your photos on your blog are wonderful! I’ve really enjoyed them.

      Dressing creatively is such fun if you can find a job where that’s appreciated. Journalism is an odd mix of creative/corporate — all they really care about is being first/right.

  15. I think I’m creative, but I’ll tell you something. I used to think writer’s block was for people who had never experienced a deadline. I was mistaken. Then I learned the muck of life can be so heavy it results in writer’s block. That said, at that time I had no deadlines, so I’m left unsure.
    How does it play into my life? It leaves me frequently frustrated, but with the oddest, most wonderful assortment of fabulous people in my life. 🙂

  16. I have always considered myself to be creative. My expression and methods have grown and changed over time, now with writing and collage art and children’s song lyrics and cupcake decorating, I find my creativity in many areas. I am an out of the box thinker and am willing to try creative ideas on for size without fear.

  17. I would consider myself creative. I started writing a blog to fulfill the need for me to be personally creative. As a teacher I’m called to be creative everyday. I build off of what I have done years before, but you have to change and adapt what and how you teach something to fit your audience. I guess this is what I love about teaching, I have to change and grow all the time. I have to problem solve, draw pictures, tell stories, write, etc etc.

    It is hard to find a balance though. I wish I could be more creative with my own child. I am so tired after being “creative” all day that sometimes I don’t feel the muse to sit and draw and color and story tell with her. But I’m working on the balance.

    1. As they say, the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

      I feel the same way about writing! After cranking it out for $$$ all day, I don’t especially feel like working on unpaid projects that are probably far more creative and career-building.

  18. To me ‘creative’ has a very wide definition for writers; and I think the act of creating something where nothing was before – first in the mind, then as words, constitutes creativity even if it’s for something routine or drudged out as a dollar earner. The patterns of thought remain much the same.

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