Should We Try to Be Creative?


A Personal Story

I'm about a week away from finishing my first draft of Keepers of the Creatures, when I run into another novel that mentions a refuge for mythical creatures. Initially, I'm crushed. I wanted this to be creative. I wanted it to not feel too much like any other series.

But Christy reminds me, "There's nothing new under the sun. Quit trying to be original and just tell the story as best as you can. If it's a good story, it will be creative."

She's right. When I try to be creative, I often create something that is less creative. However, when I try to do something that matters, I end up doing something creative. The worst drivel I've ever written happened when I was trying my hardest to avoid anything that had ever been done before. In the process, I lost sight of the value of the vintage. Out of a fear of being ordinary, I failed to be creative.

Don't Try to Be Creative

Creativity for the sake of creativity is often a letdown. You end up with meaningless conceptual art where people are trying too hard to be original (something like a paper plate with Jesus pasted in and an American Flag going through the Sacred Heart). You end up with the Astrodome - cool, flashy, different in the moment only to be outdated, dull and shallow a decade later.

When I think about the creative things that I have done, they were never motivated by a desire to do something creative. Teachers have asked how I came up with creative visual writing prompts, for example. It wasn't a mystical process. I just wanted to my students to write something interesting.

Instead, they were motivated by:

  • A desire to make something meaningful
  • The sheer joy of doing something fun
  • Being forced to take a limitation and tweak it until I accomplished what I wanted
  • A drive to keep things interesting 

Creative Classrooms

So, it has me thinking about the classroom. Yes, I want to embrace creativity. I want my students to be innovative. I want students to be able to take risks and do something different. However, I'm not sure that the solution involves explicitly teaching creativity.

I used to include creativity in project rubrics. However, I realized that it often failed. Students would come to me saying, "Is this creative enough yet?" Or they would abandon a great first idea because they were afraid that it would not come across as creative. I still ask students to be creative, but I don't put it on a rubric. Instead, I say things like, "make it interesting" or "find a second or third way" or, if I'm a particularly Fleetwood Mac mood, "you can go your own way."

What if the solution for creativity isn't to teach creativity, but to allow it? What if creativity happens when students make something meaningful, find joy in learning, fall in love with a concept, have the permission to take risks and learn to push past obstacles?