The secret to unlocking your creativity? Stop trying to be original, says Imogen Bond, TW’s expert on all things creative.
You’re all ready to go: notebook open, pencil in hand, brushes at the ready, or cursor blinking. What’s stopping you from starting?
I bet there’s a creeping little voice at the back of your head…‘It’s nothing new’, ‘it’s all been seen or said before’, ‘It won’t be original’, it says.
Creativity means making something new, right? – But does it have to mean being original? It’s really hard to be original; it probably has all been said and done before.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
People have been making things since the dawn of time. You’re following the likes of Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Dickens, Tracey Emin, Shakespeare and every other Tom, Dick or Harriet who have ever decided to put pen to paper.
There is nothing new. Not a sausage. Every moment of human experience has been commented on, deconstructed, satirised or explored in minute detail.
There’s even a book claiming that every story ever told falls into one of just seven plots. If you’re interested in how we tell stories, it’s worth a read but ‘spoiler alert’: it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Look up The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell Stories by Christopher Booker.
Every artist stands on the shoulders of those before them. In fact, it’s pretty impossible to understand a piece of art without connecting it to something else – you can’t create in a void, otherwise how do you define what you’ve made? We do it with books, films and TV all the time – ‘the new Fleabag’, ‘the next Harry Potter’, or ‘this year’s Normal People’.
With the weight of everyone else’s artistic endeavours piling up behind you, I totally understand why it sometimes feels hard to be creative – no one would blame you if you decided to just never start.
But the important thing (I think, anyway) is that creative originality is personal: whatever you make just needs to be new to you.
Anything you make comes from your unique perspective: it has your thumb prints all over it. Because although we all share plenty of experiences, no one has looked at things from quite the same place that you have, and it’s that understanding that colours whatever you create.
No instructions needed!
Over the last few years there has been an explosion of creative kits for adults – from cool cross-stitch to pom-pom making and terrazzo coaster kits…you can get pretty much anything sent straight to your letterbox.
I think these kits are brilliant – but here’s my slightly controversial take: I don’t think they help you to be creative.
They help you try something new, perhaps even develop a skill, but they don’t actually make you more creative. What they ask you to do is follow a set of instructions. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s really fun and it can be great for mindfulness. But, essentially, all the creative decisions have been made for you; you just need to follow the steps. You will hopefully end up with a lovely thing to keep that you can be proud of, but it won’t, truthfully, have sparked your own creativity.
Instead, being truly creative is about experimenting and making friends with failure.
That might mean you take inspiration from other artists, writers or films (or even a Bumblebee creative prompt!). It means you need to start without a set of instructions and with a blank piece of paper.
It might mean it’s a disaster, or you want to start again, or that you hate it – it might not result in a lovely thing you proudly put on your mantelpiece, but I bet by trying you’ll learn more about yourself, or even about the world you live in.
If Shakespeare was ok borrowing all of his plots, I think it’s ok if you steal a bit of inspiration to bounce off too. Throw away originality and get creative!