Do you consider yourself to be creative? You should. Poet Luci Shaw explains why:
“We who believe we bear God’s image must realize that the image includes the capacity to imagine and create, because God is himself an imaginative Creator.”
All day every day, every one of us relies on our creative capacities to resolve complex relational issues, pull together dinner on a budget, or figure out how to get a cranky, teething two-year old to go to sleep. While we may not win any accolades or receive prizes for this work, we honor God when we acknowledge this reality.
I’ve spent the last thirty-five years writing and making photographs. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Be inspired by others but don’t evaluate your work based on what anyone else is producing. Comparison kills creativity.
2. Similarly, don’t evaluate your work based on some imaginary standard. It’s far too easy to become perfectionistic when we create. The icing will not always shine the way it does on the baking shows. The sentence won’t always dance off your tongue the way you hoped. The melody might not match what floated through your head while you were in the shower. Don’t let that stop you.
3. Set aside time to create. Unless you are one of the very few who get paid to write, play music, or make art for a living, you will have to be creative to figure out how to make this happen. Some of my writer friends get up at 5 AM to put in a few hours before their kids wake up. Others work after everyone has gone to sleep. Some of us may only be able to carve out a few hours on the weekend. Making things is just as important as cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry so don’t minimize or forsake it. And don’t try to speed up the creative process. There’s a gestational nature to creating which runs on its own clock.
4. Take creative risks. Push yourself to put together new flavor combinations, use a different color when repainting your living room, or write poetry (especailly if the only thing you’ve ever written is non-fiction). When I’m editing one of my photo assignments, I typically throw away about 50% of the images. The final version of my books barely resemble the first draft. Not everything that we make will be good but it’s in the making that we hone our craft.
5. Stay humble and teachable. Go ahead and imagine winning a Pulitzer for the manuscript you just sent in. Imagine having your art work at MOMA. And then when the edits come back or the critiques start rolling in, just plant your feet firmly on reality and keep going. Few of us will be the next JK Rowlings, Ansel Adams, or Lin Manuel Miranda. That should not diminish us or our offering one bit.
6. As you create, expect to experience wildly diverse emotions from ecstatic joy to numbing discouragement and everything in between. Maybe on the same day. While the idea of the tormented artist might be a popular trope, we should not expect that to be normative. When joy comes, relish it. In those moments when you are ready to give up, go for a walk, eat some chocolate, or take nap. Or do all three.
7. Pay attention! The world is an amazing place. These photos were the result of keeping my eyes open to the wonders around me. (And having my camera with me!)
If you don’t think of yourself as creative, it’s time to refute that lie. Creativity is part of our DNA. Therefore, we all have the capacity to bring order, solve problems, and make things which is what being creative is all about. Owning this will not only bring us joy but reveal the kingdom of God to everyone around us. So go forth and create!
Check out my friend Deidre Tao’s beautiful artwork or when it’s safe to go to museums again, find one near you and meander for an afternoon.
Read something by Toni Morrison or Rainer Marie Rilke. A good play to start for the latter might be Letters to a Young Poet
Be inspired by this podcast between husband and wife writers Shawn and Maile Smucker and learn how they both navigate being creative while raising a family.