You don't find creativity... it finds you

An examination of creativity and how to embrace your own creative genius

In this week’s issue of Story Cauldron, I address the question of creativity, and how we are all creative, even when we don’t think we are.

“I’m just not creative.” It’s so common for people to tell that story about themselves.

I get it. Your job might not be in a creative field. You work all day and take care of your home and family, and you don’t have time for creative projects. Or maybe you’d love to be an artist or a writer, but you tell yourself that there’s just not a creative bone in your body.

And no matter who you are, I don’t accept the premise. We’re all creative in our own way.

Let’s take a look at where this mistaken belief comes from, and along the way, investigate what’s really going on.

We were born creative

All children are creative geniuses.

It’s absolutely true. When we’re little, we live in fantasy worlds of our own creation.

In my case, I loved playing make-believe. My friends and I would create stories on the playground—on the fly—pretending to be superheroes or other TV characters. I was in 2nd grade when I learned how to do the Vulcan salute. You had to know that if you wanted to join our own Starship Enterprise, complete with construction paper Federation insignia. Or I would wander the playground making magic potions with the milkweed pods and other plants that poked through the fence.

When I was home, I’d create insanely complex stories with my Barbies (along with my Charlies Angels dolls, which were shorter and became teenagers, and my Princess Leia and Bionic Woman dolls, who were taller and couldn’t wear any of the other clothes and so had very strange roles in my Barbie society).

Bath time was another place to play pretend. I’d imagine I was in a commercial when I was in the tub, waxing eloquent over the extraordinary properties of shampoo and conditioner, and sometimes mix them together in my mad scientist way. I’d even make things with the soggy bars of soap. (Sorry dad!)

As a grade school kid, I oozed creativity—and I couldn’t turn it off if I tried.

But that was childhood. I don’t play with dolls anymore and I can’t remember the last time I pretended to be a fictional character. I can imagine that for some people growing up feels like pulling the plug on creativity and watching it drain out of us. All of our ‘adult’ responsibilities and the serious side of the world make it harder to drift off into a world of our imagination.

But here’s a question: Did we really become less creative, or is something else at work here?

Creativity and the aging process

Years ago I encountered a theory that explains why the creative spark seems to fizzle out as we get older. It has to do with the calcification of the pineal gland, a tiny endocrine organ located near the center of the brain. The pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate many of our biological rhythms, including our cycle of waking and sleeping and the menstrual cycle, and also controls some of our reproductive hormones.

Many people consider the pineal gland to be the location of our ‘third eye’ and the 6th Chakra. This association appears to date back millennia but is first attributed to Descartes. In the 19th century, Theosophy founder Madame Blavatsky connected the pineal gland to the Hindu concept of the third eye. To this day, many believe the pineal gland to be the seat of intuition, inspiration, and creativity.

And before you think I’ve gone all woo-woo on you, it’s not such a far-fetched idea. Back in 1966, the Atlantic suggested the pineal gland had some connection to the production of serotonin and might be involved in LSD hallucinations in some way. And scientists today recognize that the pineal gland is involved in the production of N,N-dimethyltryptamine—also known as DMT.

DMT is a drug our bodies produce naturally but which, when consumed orally, causes hallucinations. As cited in a research article from the National Institute of Health, DMT “was suggested to be exclusively generated by the pineal gland at birth, during dreaming, and/or near death to produce ‘out of body’ experiences.”

Over time, however, due to a buildup of fluoride, calcium, and phosphorus, the pineal gland can become calcified, and scientists estimate that calcification has occurred in 40% of Americans by age 17. While it’s unclear exactly how this affects the human body, it may be one of the reasons why people often become less creative as they age. Scientists are uncertain whether the pineal gland can be decalcified, and as a natural consequence of aging are also uncertain as to whether it matters.

Some websites suggest you can reverse pineal calcification by limiting the intake of fluoride, skipping calcium supplements, and avoiding processed foods. For most people, these are harmless suggestions that might help. And herbs that stimulate brain function and lucid dreaming and creativity, such as astragalus, blue lotus, and ginkgo, could also make a difference. But there is no hard science to prove any of these things work, so it’s up to you to do your own research.

Creativity gets in the way of real life

If we assume for the moment that scientists are correct and the pineal gland becomes less effective as we get older, how do we explain the fact that many people are wickedly creative into old age?

While I do believe that there are physical forces that hinder some of our creative impulses, there are a number of other things at play—and the good news is that most of these things can be reversed.

  1. Impatience. People who engage in creative pursuits without a lot of practice or training might get frustrated and blame their ‘failures’ on a lack of creativity and good ideas. But that’s unfair. If you’re writing your very first short story you’re unlikely to be as good as someone who has been writing for 20 years. If you’re trying to arrange flowers and the results are a hot mess, that might just be due to a lack of experience or understanding of basic design principles.

  2. Fear. Some people are insecure about their ideas and are afraid to put their creations out in the world. But for others, the fear has such control over them that they’re afraid to even try. They’re so certain that anything they might do will be terrible that they won’t even try. They just write it off as “not being creative” and think those words will somehow magically protect them from criticism and ridicule. The cure for this is to recognize that even great authors and artists fail at least some of the time. After all, Van Gogh couldn’t sell his own paintings in his lifetime—but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a genius.

  3. Pragmatism. We have lives to live, jobs to do, children to care for. There’s simply no time to be creative, right? I call bullshit on this excuse. Try carving out 30 minutes a day to a creative pursuit—doodle during your lunch hour, write a story while on the train, bring a camera along when you’re at the park with the kids. If you exercise your creative brain, you might be amazed at what can happen.

  4. Electronics. Come on, you knew I was going there. Video games, computers, televisions, cell phones—these are all the enemy of creativity. Sure, you can use a computer to write a novel or create an artistic masterpiece, but more often than not, we use all of these devices not to create but to escape. Reducing screen time can give your creative juices a real boost.

(I addressed some of these points in my previous newsletter, “When is it good enough?”)

We’re ALL creative

When asked, some people will shrug and just claim that they’re not creative. They’ve tried, but it just doesn’t happen for them as it does for other people.

But is it actually true? In her book Embrace Your Weird, Felicia Day writes,

“We are creative EVERY DAY. Creativity isn’t just about painting a Picasso (only Picasso could do that), it’s about the way we uniquely navigate our day-to-day worlds.”

Every time you cook and deviate from a recipe, you’re being creative. Whenever you take a different route home, you’re being creative. If you have to figure out how to make ends meet this month, or decide what to get your best friend for her birthday, or solve a challenging situation at work, guess what? That’s creativity.

How will you be creative?

By this point, hopefully you believe me when I tell you that I am absolutely, 100% positive that you’re a creative person.

Maybe you’re not an ingenious scamp who creates massive forts for their cats out of cardboard boxes or makes doll jewelry out of aluminum cans, but there’s still a brilliant mind inside you.

If you want to take a step forward, here are a few things you can do to give your creative muscles a workout.

  • Buy Felicia Day’s book Embrace Your Weird. Seriously. It’s really fun.

  • Try an adult coloring book. I’m a big fan of the high-quality books by Joanna Basford, but you have lots of other choices.

  • Go on a photowalk around your neighborhood or office. Use your cellphone as your camera. Try to take unusual and interesting shots of the mundane and extraordinary things you find along the way.

  • Give writing prompts a shot. You can find some from Sprinkled Inspirations or Stop Writing Alone.

If none of these appeal to you, maybe it’s time to get creative and choose your own adventure! You can make up new lyrics to your favorite songs. Paint your fingernails with silly designs. Take up a creative hobby like knitting, gardening, baking, or playing an instrument. Try a painting or drawing class. There are so many ways you can exercise your creativity, and the best part—they’re really fun!

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. If you did, be sure to subscribe to my free version.

In addition to sharing articles like these as part of Story Cauldron, I’m also writing serial fiction called
The Favor Faeries, a YA fantasy about teenagers who turn to faeries to solve their problems. You can follow the story on Kindle Vella (where it’s #70 for the month of July!) or subscribe to my paid newsletter here to read The Favor Faeries whenever the fancy strikes you. New chapters drop every Friday.