Friday, March 20, 2009

Find your creative spirit

I've neglected the blog this week. Sometimes what we have to do gets in the way of what we want to do. But it's Friday, and I'm blogging again.

Tonight I'm thinking about creativity. I think it's inherent in all of us. Some folks protest and say they have no creativity or they're not artistic, but what they really mean is they're not confident enough in what they create to share.

Every year, I do a mini-unit on abstract art, courtesy of my most excellent former colleague, Traci. The students learn some art concepts, and then as a culminating event, create an abstract painting interpreting a book they've read independently. I have yet to have a student that didn't enjoy it. Their comments move from, "My baby sister could have done that," when they see their first Jackson Pollack, to "Do you see how the black line doesn't touch the green circle? It represents the way the main character of my book doesn't let the drama in her life get her down."

We painted yesterday, and every kid was engaged. The excitement they felt as they approached the blank paper with their brushes was palpable. While I admonished them to be careful with the paint, reminding them that horseplay is unacceptable, yada, yada, yada, it wasn't really necessary. The kids were too busy creating something to be bothered with horseplay. There was some good-natured talk in the room, but mostly it was quiet, a natural consequence of focus. I watched kids tentatively lay down the first brushstrokes, gaining confidence as they worked. Often they finished with a flourish. They brought their completed paintings to the drying rack, holding them out almost reverently. The atmosphere as they cleaned up the mess was jovial, and kids who normally wouldn't pick a paperwad off the floor were spray-cleaning the paint off the desks.

Today, they wrote about their paintings, tying them to the books they read. The atmosphere was different. They were not as engaged. The creative energy was dimmed. Writing, for many students, is too tied to academic struggle and failure to be exciting anymore. As a teacher, I understand all the reasons why. As a writer, I am saddened.

I approach my writing the way the kids approached their painting. The first few words on the page are my initial brushstrokes, and then I add layer upon layer until I have something I'm proud of. When I finish a successful writing session, I feel almost euphoric. It's an addictive natural high, and I will never stop writing...even if I'm never published.

We are all born creative. Creating something is the ultimate satisfaction. Tearing down doesn't hold a candle to it. There might be a moment of spiteful, childish satisfaction when we destroy, but it's doesn't last. I have a wall of student art in my classroom, a file cabinet full of poems and short stories, personal narratives and essays, all written by students who felt compelled to put words on the page.

Create something this weekend. Sing a song, play an instrument, write sappy, angsty poetry, cook a creative meal, draw a picture, write a story. You'll feel better when you do. I promise.


  1. Excellent post, and quite true. I don't think I'd ever have the patience to be a teacher, but reading your post about watching the creative process and excitement come alive makes me wish I did.

    Recently told a friend that I get bizarre looks often because I sit in a cafe, ipod headphones in, my hands dashing away as I giggle with glee when the writing actually works. I tend to bounce a bit when this happens, and well, sometimes people look at me funny!

    Keep it up! I'm a twitter follower!


  2. Thanks! I don't bounce while I'm writing, but if I feel good about what I've written, I tend to bounce around afterwards.

  3. Beautiful post. Thanks!

    (When I'm writing I often talk to myself -- testing my characters' dialogue -- and do the motions/gestures they do. Sometimes because I'm trying to figure out how to describe that motion, but mostly because I start acting out every character. My novels are also my one-woman shows! :P )