What Does the Creative Spirit Really Want?

…And what does it feel?

Emily S. Whitten, creator extraordinaire, knows – and feels – all about it:

Combatting Fear
by Emily S. Whitten

What do we seek in life, when we get right down to the basics? And, particularly for those of us in creative fields, how is our drive to create and share our creations tied to what we are seeking?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can look at myself. I seek both lasting and reliable personal connections, and the chance to make a difference in the larger world. To shape the world just a bit – to share a thought that’s dancing just behind my eyes, and throw it out into the sea of people that make up this world, to see if it strikes a chord. To discover: are there others out there like me? Do they get what I’ve put out there because they see the world the same way? Or does it make them see things differently somehow? Does something I’ve done change someone? Or make them feel better, or happier, or understood? Does it tug at the emotional core we all have but don’t always understand, or does it make them laugh, or cry, or feel, or think? Does it matter to someone?

We all want to know we matter, but a lot of us are afraid to really put ourselves out there for fear that we will discover we don’t. This can especially be a problem for those of us in the creative fields. I write this as someone who regularly faces the fear of getting too far into an idea or finishing it because I don’t know if the finished project will live up to even my own expectations, let alone another’s. And as someone who hesitates to send that finished project out into the world, because what if it’s something I think turned out well, and then I discover that people don’t care, or worse, that they hate it?

And yet, I have, at various times, managed to overcome my fear and send things out there (this weekly column included) and through this have at least learned that no matter what the reaction (whether it’s someone who loves it, someone who disagrees, someone who vehemently insults you, or someone who tells you you’ve won the prize / contest / awesome person medal of the week), at the end of the excitement, I am still standing.

Read it all

Is Your Ambition Holding You Back?

Or is it the desperation your ambition creates? Think about it while you read a few very choice words:

ambitionby Andrew Dumont

When ambition eats at you, it feels like no matter how much you accomplish or how hard you work, you haven’t done enough. There’s always more to do. There’s always others doing more. It’s a never-ending battle. Sound familiar?

Many days I’ve spent in this state, watching as others passed by while I fell deeper under the growing pile of career milestones that I wished to tuck under my belt. This pile paradoxically growing more unreachable as I achieve more of what I set out to accomplish. The fear of mediocrity always lurking.

I wouldn’t call it depression, though it certainly shares some similarities. But the origin is different. This feeling doesn’t stem from a place of failure, it stems from a fear of not living up to your potential. The difference is subtle, but the impact is drastic.

This feeling doesn’t stem from a place of failure, it stems from a fear of not living up to your potential.

Most of us aren’t short on ambition. We all want more wealth, more success, more accolades, more everything. The ones that succeed in life and in business are the ones that have figured out how to deal with their ambition, harnessing it for good rather than letting it lead to jealousy or inertia. The reality is that there’s only so many hours in a day, and more importantly, so many hours that our bodies willallow us to work. If we can’t control ambition and subsequently, our mind, hours become painful and output becomes less.

So, how does one manage their ambition? It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for years. Below are a handful of things I do when I feel ambition nagging at me.

Each year most of us set goals. Most of us also file away those goals until the clock strikes midnight 12 months later. But goals, not unlike objectives that are set by a board in a business, are fluid things. Circumstances and priorities change; what’s a priority in January seems laughable in December.

Each quarter I have a recurring calendar notification that holds time for my personal board meeting. Yes, a board meeting with myself. During this board meeting, I review my goals, analyze my performance over the preceding time period, and re-prioritize goals based on what I wish to accomplish and what can wait.

So much of the trouble with ambition is that it’s viewed through a lens that shows a hazy picture of where it needs to be applied. Breaking yearly goals into quarters allows you to adapt and execute with a clearer mind on the tasks at hand. It also allows you to appreciate the progress you’ve made since the last check-in. Day by day it can be hard to miss all the great stuff you’ve been doing.

It’s tough not to get caught up in the success of others, especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Almost daily, headlines of million billon dollar exits and “overnight successes” fill the interwebs, often with people much younger than you. If this is the benchmark that you compare yourself to, it’s tough to feel like you’re doing enough. In reality, with this benchmark, it’s impossible do enough. When you’re chasing others, you’re chasing a finish line that’s always evolving and never ending. The more successful you become, the larger and more luminous the person ahead of you becomes. It’s a vicious cycle.

When you’re chasing others, you’re chasing a finish line that’s always evolving and never ending.

The best way to combat this may be to establish a checklist of sorts to put the comparison in perspective, providing structure and finality for acknowledging, learning, and abruptly filing away the news of others. Awe can quickly cascade to self-deprecation. Remember, the success of others does not dictate your roadmap or path to happiness. That’s easy to remember in principal, but much harder to practice.

Read it all

The Real Link Between the Psychopathology Spectrum and the Creativity Spectrum

Years ago, our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody’s writing mentor at Northwestern University, E.B. Hungerford, told him, “I don’t think you can make it as a writer. You’re not crazy enough.” So LB bore down and made himself totally nutso. But is that kind of thing still necessary?


by Scott Barry Kaufman

Plato once noted that “creativity is a divine madness, a gift from gods.” Romantic notions of the link between mental illness and creativity still appear prominently in popular culture. But ever since scientists started formally investigating the link, there has been intense debate. Some of the most highly cited studies on the topic have been criticized on the grounds that they involve highly specialized samples with weak and inconsistent methodologies and a strong dependence on subjective and anecdotal accounts.

What has become much clearer, however, is that there is a real link between creativity and a number of traits and characteristics that are associated with mental illness. Once we leave the narrowed confines of the clinical setting and enter the larger general population, we see that mental disorders are far from categorical. Every single healthy human being lies somewhere on every psychopathology spectrum (e.g., schizophrenia, autism, mood disorders). What’s more, we each show substantial fluctuations on each of these dimensions each day, and across our lifespan.

A major issue in attempting to scientifically study the link between the various dimensions of psychopathology and creativity is the outcome measure. What should we be predicting? Because here’s the thing: Creativity also lies on a spectrum, ranging from the everyday creative cognition that allows us to generate new ideas, possibilities, and solutions to a problem, to the real-world creative achievement seen in publicly recognized domains across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Therefore, the link to psychopathology spectrum disorders may differ depending on the outcome.

Enter a new study by Darya ZabelinaDavid Condon, and Mark Beeman. They examined whether levels of psychopathology in a healthy non-clinical sample are associated with creative cognition and real-world creative achievement among a group of 100 participants, aged 18-30. None had been hospitalized for psychiatric or neurological reasons, and none abused alcohol or drugs.

The researchers measured creative cognition by having participants imagine hypothetical scenarios (e.g., “What problems may arise from being able to walk on air?”) and having them create pictures out of incomplete figures. They measured real-life creative achievement by having participants catalogue their prior creative achievements across ten creative domains (visual art, music, dance, architectural design, creative writing, humor, inventions, scientific discovery, theater and film, and culinary arts). For example, in the music domain, questions ranged from “I have no training or recognized talent in this area” to “My compositions have been critiqued in a national publication”.

They found that both real-world creative achievement and creative cognition (as rated by four independent judges) were significantly associated with two personality traits: psychoticism and hypomania. These findings remained even after taking into account prior academic achievement test scores.

Read it all

Three Rules to Follow When You Live With Someone Who Works From Home

This one goes out to my significant other. Significantly:

pilbox.global.ssl.fastlyby Leda Marritz

When my husband, Tim, quit his job to develop his own game almost two years ago, I knew there would be challenges. For example, he was funding its development entirely with his own savings, with no guarantee of any kind of return—and I became the sole breadwinner in a city famous for its unaffordability. To save money, he decided to work from our small one-bedroom apartment, where his desk and our living room share the same space.

I definitely anticipated stress over money, long hours, and uncertainty, but I looked forward to the perks and flexibility of having someone at home during the day. But in reality? It was him working from home that caused much of the stress we experienced that first year.

I work in an office and keep pretty regular hours; while I stay late sometimes, I endeavor to not work after I get home. Tim used to be this way, too. Back when he was a salaried employee at a game design studio, evenings and weekends were time for friends, relaxation, and outside interests. When he started working for himself, all of that changed. Work was now home, and home was work. Not to mention, sharing our small space became a whole lot more complicated.

Over time, we’ve managed it better, but looking back, here are three things I learned that helped us navigate the transition.

1. Agree on a Quitting Time

When I get home at the end of the day, work is over. I’m ready to talk about my day, spend time on personal projects, or watch a movie. But when your home is your (or your spouse’s) workspace, this divide becomes much harder to observe.

In the beginning, I’d come home and start chatting right away—I was, as usual, ready to talk about the details of the day, and I’d be hurt when he wasn’t.

Read it all

How to Raise a Creative Child

Yeppers, TV writing fans, TVWriter™ has done it again. We’re bringing you something absolutely essential for your life – if your parents had read it 20+ years ago. This article still has some relevance, though. For one thing, it’ll rekindle all that vitriol you felt for your family. You know, the emotions that made you turn to writing. And for another, if you read and remember, then this definitely will help those strange little aliens known as your kids:

litte girl creatingby Dr. Judith Schlesinger

2014 year brought a delightful piece of serendipity to my mailbox. When Canadian Bernard Poulin read his local newspaper’s account of my book,The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the myth of the mad genius, he was moved to send me a copy of his own, Beyond Discouragement—CREATIVITY: How to raise a creative child(Classical Perceptions, 2010).

Poulin (POO-lin) is a successful and world-class professional (see his amazing artwork here).  Beyond Discouragement builds on four decades of his so-called “wonderings,” as well as his years of working with kids in remedial settings, and is illustrated with his own charming drawings.  It’s hardly news that self-publishing can restrict one’s audience—this book has been out for four years without acquiring a single amazon review. But it also enables authors to color outside the lines of political correctness without alarming any editors.  And so this one does. Frequently.

True, the area is already chockablock full of advice. A Google quest for “teaching creativity” produces 50,000 hits, while amazon offers over 4,000 resources of its own (including that 24-pack of quill feathers in assorted colors, and the fuschia violin). As you’d expect, most books were written by educators, psychologists and motivational entrepreneurs of various stripes.  It’s far less common to hear from those in the actual trenches whose immersion in creativity is most direct, personal, and visible—i.e., the artists themselves. It’s even more unusual when these author/artists have a background in mental health, and can pinpoint the issues of psychological concern.

In fact, Poulin’s history does give more weight to his wonderings. Originally trained as an elementary school teacher, and later certified in special education, Poulin founded a residential school in a former orphanage. A warm and welcoming respite for children with difficult living situations, his school flourished for three years until the government pulled the plug, dispersing the young ones from the only home and school many had ever known. Poulin then ran the first-ever classroom for troubled French-speakers for the local school board, as well as one that was part of a psychiatric hospital. In 1978, after too many battles over the benefits of nurturing staff versus psychotropic medication, Poulin began his visual arts career.

Read it all

What You Don’t Know About Creativity & ADHD

Unless, of course, you do, in which case we know you haven’t even read this far in this sentence:

calvin-attentionThe Creative Gifts of ADHD
by Scott Barry Kaufman

“Just because a diagnosis [of ADHD] can be made does not take away from the great traits we love about Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend, Hobbes. In fact, we actually love Calvin BECAUSE of his ADHD traits. Calvin’s imagination, creativity, energy, lack of attention, and view of the world are the gifts that Mr. Watterson gave to this character.” — The Dragonfly Forest

In his 2004 book “Creativity is Forever“, Gary Davis reviewed the creativity literature from 1961 to 2003 and identified 22 reoccurring personality traits of creative people. This included 16 “positive” traits (e.g., independent, risk-taking, high energy, curiosity, humor, artistic, emotional) and 6 “negative” traits (e.g., impulsive, hyperactive, argumentative). In her own review of the creativity literature, Bonnie Cramond found that many of these same traits overlap to a substantial degree with behavioral descriptions of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)– including higher levels of spontaneous idea generation, mind wandering, daydreaming, sensation seeking, energy, and impulsivity.

Research since then has supported the notion that people with ADHD characteristics are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement than people without these characteristics (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, and here). Recent research by Darya Zabelina and colleagues have found that real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a “leaky” mental filter– something in which people with ADHD excel.

Recent work in cognitive neuroscience also suggests a connection between ADHD and creativity (see here and here). Both creative thinkers and people with ADHD show difficulty suppressing brain activity coming from the “Imagination Network.“

Of course, whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing depends on the context. The ability to control your attention is most certainly a valuable asset; difficulty inhibiting your inner mind can get in the way of paying attention to a boring classroom lecture or concentrating on a challenging problem. But the ability to keep your inner stream of fantasies, imagination, and daydreams on call can be immensely conducive to creativity. By automatically treating ADHD characteristics as a disability– as we so often do in an educational context– we are unnecessarily letting too many competent and creative kids fall through the cracks.

Read it all