While doing some Christmas shopping at Hobby Lobby, I came across a sign that read,
“Live a Creative Life.”
I took a minute to stop and stare. Threads of thought formed like a spider spinning its web.
Thought: I live a creative life. I smiled at the certainty of it. As quickly as my smile formed, it fell. Do I?
Doubts: I mean, there are creative parts to my life. I’m sure that’s what that means. It’s not like you can shut life out and do nothing but create things. My brow began to furrow, and I shuffled my feet as I walked further down the aisle away from the sign.
Question: As the thoughts continued to spin, the same question the Grinch asked about Christmas came to my mind about living a creative life.
“Maybe a creative life…perhaps…means a little bit more!” — adapted from The Grinch.
Is there something more to this than the time I steal from everyday life to pursue my creative passions? And if so, what would a little bit more look like?
Answer: As the days passed, I continued working on this question. I asked myself, who do I know that lives a full creative life? And then it hit me, quite out of the blue. The answer is Children. Children live a creative life, and here are the nine ways they do it.
1. Every day is a day to create.
Creativity is hardwired into a child’s DNA. Through creative living, they process information and learn about the world, their family, and their place in life.
You can see this creative living in how they play with toys and make-believe games. This creativity can open them to amazing possibilities like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
Adults tend to plan their creations. We juggle projects and creative goals throughout the week. We set timers and make ourselves sit down and write or paint. We mistakenly think creativity is a well-defined project we try to fit into our lives. What would be different in our lives, or how wide would our world be, if every day was spent with our imagination and possibility switched on?
Children know it’s not what we do, but the approach to the doing that defines a creative life.
2. Anything goes.
Albert Einstein said, "Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought." This concept is played out over and over with children. Children have no creative rules. Any object can be any color. The lines in a coloring book are only guidelines. Glue is applied LIBERALLY. They go into a play or a project with the same anything-goes attitude. Their imaginations haven’t yet been limited, nor have they been taught how to think or plan. They don’t know the rules; without them, they are free to ‘create’ in any form they choose.
When I write, I have an outline. I have specific beats that have to be met. When does the first event happen, and when does the story rise and fall? What does my character need vs. want? What will the hero do or not do? What is the relationship between my characters? Is the ‘formula’ all there?
Children, write a story. They act out a "then this happens, and you say that" play. They grab whatever object they want and call it what they need.
Children know it is not in the rules but in the free space we create.
3. Nothing is perfect, and most things aren’t that good.
I know that sounds harsh, but we have all worn the macaroni necklaces and before the age of about 4 to 6, we can’t tell what anything they have drawn is. They bring their creation to you with pure joy and allow you to share in it. They don’t discuss how all the macaroni noodles on your necklace don’t match or that they spilled the glue. They don’t point out the places they erased or crossed out. They don’t care if a story doesn’t ‘make sense.’
Creativity is less about the result and more about the creation.
4. Children give it all they’ve got
When my children would play with toys, they would never play with just one thing. They needed a block, various action figures, assorted Legos, and all manner of other toys to set up whatever was needed for their latest pretend game. In the meantime, leaving all the other bits and pieces not needed all over the room like an island of forgotten toys.
I think the phrase "pure abandon" works here; this energy is spent on anything they do. Mess and creativity seem to go hand in hand. We try to tidy up and organize our space—all good things—but what if we don’t? What if we ‘abandoned’ the conventional and let the workspace reflect the project? What if we rolled a piece of butcher paper on the floor, laid down with crayons, and drew? What if we pulled everything out of a closet with the excitement of making the closet into something new?
Creativity is an evolution of imagination.
5. Children listen to their muse more and judge less.
Children think what they creatively accomplish is great, and what others do is great. Everything looks just as it should. I remember when I was a child, I had drawn a picture and proudly showed it to my artist dad. He loved it, as I knew he would, but then said, "This is great for your first time trying." Even though he meant it as a compliment, I was confused. I thought it was great as is. Children don’t have the judge in their heads, drowning out the soft voice of the muse. That loud voice that, with the first stroke of creativity, tells us we can’t. It questions why we are even trying. It points out all the ways we could and should have done better without any suggestions for achieving them. And even though there is a part to be played by the judge, remember,
Creation belongs to the muse.
6. Children don’t have habits that take up their time.
A child is as busy as you make them. And more often than not, they are available for a schedule change. Announce an art project, suggest baking, play a game, read books, or go to the park, and they are in.
There are things in our adult lives that can take up our time, so much so that if feels like we may never get to the projects we want to work on. We make plans for when the children are older, we retire, or we have an empty nest. I agree with that reasoning; some things just can’t be done until our lifestyle changes. However, let me share something I have learned from being an empty nester over the past few years of being an empty nester. Yes, there is more time for some of these pursuits, but if we don’t make time for them now, we won’t make time for them later—at least not how we think we will. Commitment to a creative life comes from within. You may have less time now, but the results of less time fully committed to a cause are sometimes more fruitful than more time later without the commitment.
I have a daughter who came into my room one night. "Mom," she said. I need to learn how to knit. I feel it down into my soul."
What do you feel in your soul? What changes and shifts can you make in your free-time habits to make room for those things that are felt so deeply that they wake you up at night?
Put the phone down, turn off the TV, and watch fewer videos. Even if just for a little while, a few days a week. See what happens.
Commitment to a creative life comes from within.
7. Creativity is not defined
Children don’t define creativity into groups, descriptions, or categories. Everything a child does is creative.
What if we looked at everything we did as creative? How would you fold the laundry? Make lunch? Sweep the floor? Talk to your friends? Organize your closets? Create spreadsheets? How differently would you play with your children, pick up a paintbrush, or play the piano? What if everything you do is a creation?
What if living a creative life isn’t a task or talent but a state of mind?
8. Children share their creations with everyone.
Whatever they create, they want to share. The words, "Look what I made!" ring through the house as you are regaled with explanations and scenarios regarding their latest creative work.
As we get older, we tend not to share so freely. We keep our creativity hidden until we think it’s ready. Writers don’t want you to read what they have written until it is better; Artists cover their work until the painting is done. Before we demonstrate our creative endeavors, we give them a qualification—we set the bar low for others. Children allow themselves to be vulnerable, and they don’t create with judgment or perfection in mind. They just create.
It is the excitement to create, not the goal of perfection in what we create that brings out the ability to share, show, and bring others joy.
9. Children express emotions creatively that they can’t say with words.
We have all seen the pictures children draw. They can be so honest that it hurts. They might draw a picture of their family and leave off the sibling they are mad at. The star of a story they tell may be the thing that scares them the most.
There was a time when my son Michael, about age 5, was afraid that we would move away and leave him to live in a red brick house. I didn’t know he was worried about this until he drew a picture of a red brick house. When I asked him about it, he told me that was the house we would move into without him. We discussed it, and I assured him that any move we made would include him. Ironically, our next move was to a red brick house.
Sometimes, children have to act out their fears in some way.
My son, Eric, was afraid of spiders. When he was anxious, I would use my hand to look like a spider, and "Mr. Spider" would come and talk with him. He and Mr. Spider would discuss his fears, and somehow, they always worked it out between them. I’m not sure why something he feared became a comfort to him, but it helped.
Sometimes, you can’t say what you want to say with your words. When I have a challenging experience, I write. When I am upset, I write. People draw, clean the house, walk, cook, or bake. We turn the world off and dive into a good book or movie to take ourselves out of our current situation. All of us have ways to work out our emotions creatively.
Living a creative life allows us to express ourselves in a more universal language.
Children live in the creative part of life that is full of possibilities. Sometimes, as adults, we live in the land of situations where what was once possible has now been proven false. Children believe in capabilities they do not yet have. This allows them to believe they can be ninjas and superheroes. They imagine themselves as successful, adventuresome, and brave in every circumstance. There is a saying that says, “It’s not who you are that holds you back; it’s who you think you are not.”
What if the secret to living a creative life is to believe you can?