The Practice of Creativity

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Claiming Creative Space

How does one find and cultivate good ideas – from big thrilling ones to small stepping stone ones? This is a constant question for people who seek to be more creative.

Part of the answer rests in the power to claim physical space for our creative endeavors and to become aware of the types of metaphors we use to describe the psychological experience of generating those “aha” moments. To help creativity flow with the power of a waterfall, as opposed to an occasional trickle, requires us to dedicate physical space to support our efforts and cultivate new ways of imagining an inner repository for our good ideas.

Let’s start with physical space first.

A central question that I pose to clients is “Do you have a space where you create?” I receive a range of answers that include “That space is now where I fold my kids” clothes to “It’s cluttered” to “There’s no space that I can call my own.” I find this especially true for mothers with young children. Mothers often struggle with finding time and support for their creative lives. They routinely have to fight the feeling of being selfish versus “self-focused” when they claim time and space to create.

Find-Your-Creative-Space

Designating space for one’s passion is a key creativity enhancer and important for two reasons. First, many people do not feel entitled to a creative life. To allocate space makes one’s work (and desires) real, visible, and enables a person to create from a feeling of worthiness.

Space affects us emotionally and cognitively. Psychologists, architects and neuroscientists are in conversation with each other and are developing studies that assess how to design spaces that promote creativity in buildings and micro spaces.

Second, when you claim a space it means you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time you want to work on your short story, collage series, ideas for planning a beautiful garden, or collection of songs. If you have designated space (or spaces), then you can go to it and work. Plain and simple. A specific space eliminates 75 percent of the challenge to creating.

Chris Cassen Madden, designer and author of “A Room of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces” reminds us that we don’t even need an entire room to begin claiming creative space. We can “carve out a corner, if you have to, in your living room or bedroom, with a chair and a basket filled with things you love – books, pictures, CDs…etc., If you don’t create the space, you might not take the time.”

I’ve had clients claim creative space in a secret garden, a barn, a window seat, an office in a newly remodeled attic, and on the table top of your dresser. Designating a physical space cultivates an inner authority to continue capturing and acting on ideas.

Potato holes

How do we cultivate metaphors for the “inner space” where musings are captured and brought to our attention?

If in our imagination, we mark those mysterious places where ideas seem to reside, it’s easier to know the path back to them when we’re lost.

I heard Booker T, a noted musician use the metaphor of a “potato hole” as where he gets and keeps his ideas.

Potato hole?

He explained that during slavery, African Americans (and I’m assuming poor whites) didn’t have wood floors in their homes; they had dirt or earthen floors. There was no place to keep vegetables cool. So, enslaved folks dug what they called deep holes in the earth that allowed them to keep vegetables fresh. A potato hole is the central metaphor to describe where he gets fresh ideas from and also where other notions incubate. I fell in love with this unique description of an inner creative space literally rooted in conditions of struggle. His use of the potato hole honors the creativity of everyday folk long gone.

Booker_T._Jones_Potato_Hole_cover

Even though I’m always cajoling people to think outside the box, one of my inner creative spaces that I return to for stimulation is a golden box filled with light. When I get stuck, I think about reaching in this big box of light and pulling out what I need. The writer Stephen King writes about his muse coming up from the cellar and bringing him beer. The image of an “inner cellar” stimulates his fresh thinking. I’ve heard other people say that tapping into their inner space for creativity is like imagining oneself at a great boisterous dinner party. All you have to do is sit back and listen.

This piece originally appeared as a ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News on 8/23/2013

Photo credits: creative space; album cover

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In May I talked about the importance of designating creative space in your home. Lately, I‘ve been thinking about the metaphorical spaces that we draw from as creatively minded folks. If in our imaginations, we mark those mysterious places where ideas seem to reside, it’s easier to know the path back to them when we’re lost. I was half listening to an interview on NPR with Booker T, a noted musician (famously known for the instrumental ‘Green Onions’). He was talking about the title of his new CD called ‘Potato Hole’. He said that a potato hole was where he gets and keeps his ideas. Potato Hole? When he talked about the potato hole idea, I sat up and paid more attention. He explained that during slavery, African Americans (and I’m assuming poor whites) didn’t have wood floors in their homes; they had dirt or earthen floors. There was no place to keep vegetables cool. So, enslaved folks dug what they called ‘potato holes’, deep holes in the earth that allowed them to keep vegetables fresh. Potato hole is where he gets fresh ideas from and also keeps other ideas safely tucked away until they are ready. I simply fell in love with this unique description of creative space literally rooted in conditions of struggle. His use of the potato hole honors the creativity of everyday folk long gone.

Even though I’m always cajoling people to ‘think outside the box’, one of my inner creative places that I return to for stimulation is a luminous, golden box filled with light. When I get stuck or afraid, I think about reaching in this great big box of light and pulling out what I need. Stephen King writes about his muse coming up from the cellar bringing him beer. For him, the inner cellar is a place of creativity. I’ve heard other people say that tapping into their creativity is like imagining oneself at a great boisterous dinner party. All you have to do is sit back and listen. What about an inner creative space as a gorgeous tropical island that has an unending supply of chocolate? Well, you get the idea—any inner place that resides in your imagination that excites you counts. Over the next few days you might ask yourself: What is my ‘potato hole’? Where metaphorically do I keep ideas stored?Where do I go in my imagination to connect to my creativity?I hope your answers delight and surprise you.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, always a day that’s a bit hard for me. I lost my mother in 1997 after a long bout with illness. She was the most uncelebrated creative woman that I have ever known. She was responsible for giving me my first ‘creative space’ when I was six years old.

 
Creative people spend a lot of time thinking about, hunting for and fantasizing about a space that they can call their own. One of the first things that I do with clients is ask “Do you have a creative space for your work?” I receive a range of answers that include ‘that space is now where I fold my kids clothes’ to ‘it’s cluttered’ to ‘There’s no space that I can call my own’.

 
Designating space for one’s passion is important on a few levels. One, it helps to not have to recreate the wheel every time that you want to work on your short story or that collection of songs. If you have designated space then you can go to it and work. Plain and simple. The second reason why designated space is so vital for one’s creative work is that it also reminds you that you do deserve to do your creative work. Many people do not feel entitled to a creative life. To designate creative space makes your work (and desires) real, visible, and enables you to create from a place of worthiness.

 
My family lived in New Jersey when I was six. I don’t know if I was exhibiting any special signs of ‘creativeness’. For sure, I was already reading and drawing a lot. But something must have occurred to my mother to encourage her daughter’s creative outlet. She designated a walk-in closet as MY CREATIVE SPACE. I could do anything I want in there. We painted the walls and I filled that room with my drawings, toys paperdolls, etc. More importantly, I was allowed to daydream and do “nothing”. We were living in a rental townhouse and I did not have a room of my own, so I’m sure that this was one way for my mom to allow me some private space. Well, she made it feel special–like nothing else other kids had. I know that spending time in that room pretending, performing and playing was a formative experience for me. In some ways, I feel that I’ve been trying to recreate that place in both my imagination and physical space for some time. When I was a graduate student without a lot of resources, I became a big fan of the ‘creativity altar’. A creativity altar is a great idea for people that don’t have a lot of space or currently can’t designate a a large space for creative work. Your creativity altar can be on top of a dresser or a small table, or even in a drawer. It can be a decorated shoebox! Be willing to start where you are. You can place anything (in)on your creativity altar that will keep you inspired: symbols of creativity, affirmations, pictures, etc.
After finishing graduate school, I moved to Las Vegas and finally had a place of my own. I took a small walk-in closet and designated it my ‘womb room’–a creative healing space. It was painted purple and I hung up lots of dried flowers in the room. I didn’t feel the need to put furniture in the room because I so often wanted to lay down and just daydream (with my journal handy). Now, I have a home office that mirrors my creative cycles and intentions.

 
What does your creative space look like? Is it outside in a secret garden, in an office in a newly remodeled attic or on the table top of your dresser? Is it in a barn? More importantly, is it serving you creatively when you spend time in it or near it? Have you claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else?

 
If you’ve been procrastinating on claiming a personal space, imagine for a moment that you have found a permission slip in your jeans pocket. It was put there a long time ago by your creative guide. Imagine that this permission slip is beautifully written and decorated and is enticing. What would your slip need to say to remind you of your ability and innate worthiness to create? You may want to even write such a permission slip.

 
If you get stuck and need some help in visualizing how your creative space could look, I highly recommend thumbing through the exquisitely photographed, A Room of Her Own: Women’s Personal Spaces by Chris Casson Madden. She explores thirty-eight delightful rooms created by women for nurturing their creative spirits. This great book was given to me by a dear friend right before I moved to Las Vegas.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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