Think You Have to Be Original to Be Creative?

hummingbirdYou don’t have to reinvent the wheel. . .just steal the hubcaps. – Michael P. Naughton

One of the misunderstanding around creativity is that you have to be utterly original to do it. Yet the truth is all creative people stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Writers learn to write by reading, painting students are sent to museums to copy the masters, while great chefs learn the already tested basics of cooking in order to create some new dish.

Pulitzer prize winning poet Mary Oliver in her poem titled Stanley Kunitz, honoring one of her mentors, has a great line that describes this, “like the human child I am/I rush to imitate.” We play with the work of others as we develop the sense of how it works and then how we can make the form our own. Ultimately our own unique creative expression is a remix of all our influences. Most of this is going on at the level of the subconscious and comes out when we get to work.

Innovation stands on a platform that already exists. Yes inspiration is involved, those flashes of insight, the ah…ha moments. Yet you start with something that already exists and take it to another level. So relax. Let go of thinking you have to do something original. Take the pressure off. Celebrate that there is all this help available.

One the best exercises I use as a writing and creativity coach, is having people ask advice of an imaginary mentor. I teach this as a stream of consciousness writing exercise, where you ask a question of someone you admire, like Einstein or Emily Bronte. Then writing faster than you can think, you write the answer as if it is coming from them. Ten minutes is usually enough time to get good advice.

Try this now. See if you don’t feel the support of those you have come before you in what creative form that calls to you.

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