Improving Your Creativity

Creativity is the phenomenon of finding imaginative ideas and turning them into reality. It’s the process of bringing something new and original into existence. The results can be intangible products, like theories and songs, or tangible products such as inventions and the new crime-thriller novel I’m struggling to create. Creativity appears to come easier to some folks than others, and we tend to see high achievers as gifted, natural creators rather than nurtured normals.

But is that so? Are there a chosen few, born with greater creative ability? Or can creativity be learned—a skill that can be taught, practiced, and mastered?

Back in the Greek and Roman days, creativity was seen as facilitated by a muse who connected individual human minds to the gods. Daemons were the Greek equivalent of guardian angels. They accompanied a soul from birth to death, some being highly creative which manifested themselves in outstanding and intuitive people like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Romans saw these paranormal intermediaries as Geniuses—disembodied messengers from a heavenly intelligence, delivering divine wishes to mortals.

The Renaissance era disagreed. Creative individuals were enlightened, they posed. Creativity came from within the self and gifted ones—DaVinci, Beethoven, and Shakespeare—were born intellectually superior with unique abilities to create. They were the geniuses; being able to connect directly with a plane of higher intelligence rather than having an imaginary genius translate for them.

Today’s neuroscience has another view on this. It sees creativity as a complex psychological process that occurs via the brain’s ventral striatum and amygdala and can be enhanced through neuroplasticity or rewiring the brain through practiced behavior. In other words, a planned and continual workout program for your brain can definitely improve your creativity.

Improving creativity starts with a foundation of subject knowledge, learning a discipline, and mastering a proper way of thinking. You build on your creative ability by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination, and synthesizing information. Learning to be creative is like learning a sport. You need a desire to improve, develop the right muscles, and be in a supportive environment.

You need to view creativity as a practice and understand five key behaviors:

  1. Associating—drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields.
  2. Questioning—posing queries that challenge common wisdom.
  3. Observing—scrutinizing the behavior of others in, around, and outside your sphere.
  4. Networking—meeting people with both common and different perspectives.
  5. Experimenting—constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.

Read this as — listen, watch, ask, mingle, and stir. Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that’s bred into the corporate DNA of his Virgin staff — A-B-C-D — Always Be Connecting Dots. Branson swears that creativity is a practice and if you practice these five behaviors every day, you will improve your skills in creativity and innovation.

Now, if these five behaviors put you in the right direction for improving creativity, then there must be behaviors to avoid. I found eight:

1. Lack of courage—being fearful of taking chances, scared of venturing down new roads, and timid about taking the road less traveled. Fear is the biggest enemy of creativity. You need to be courageous and take chances.

2. Premature judgment—second-guessing and early judgment of outcome severely restrict your ability to generate ideas and freely innovate. Let your initial path expand and follow it to its inevitable destination.

3. Avoidance of failure—you can’t be bold and creative if you fear failure. Creativity requires risk and making mistakes. They’re part of the process.

4. Comparing with others—this robs your unique innovation and imagination. Set your own standards. Be different. Something new is always different.

5. Discomfort with uncertainty—creativity requires letting go and the process doesn’t always behave rationally. Accept that there’s something akin to paranormal in real creativity.

6. Taking criticism personally—feedback is healthy, even if it’s blunt and harsh like 1&2-Star Amazon reviews. Ignore ridicule. Have thick skin, a tough hide, and don’t let criticism get to you.

7. Lack of confidence—a certain level of uncertainty comes with any new venture. Some self-doubt is normal but if it becomes overwhelming and long-lasting, it will shut down your creative abilities. The best way to create is to first connect with your self-confidence.

8. Analysis paralysis—overthinking renders you unable to make a decision because of information overload. “Go with your gut” is the answer to analysis paralysis.

Aside from positive and negative behaviors, there is one overall and outstanding quality that drives successfully creative people.


Passion is the secret to creativity. It’s the underlying feature that’s laced the successes of all prominent creators in history.

Passion is a term we’ve heard over and over again. Chase your passion, not your pension. But few understand what passion implies. The word comes from the Latin root “pati“ that means “to suffer“. Passion is what perseveres in getting to your goal despite fear, discomfort, unhappiness, and pain. It’s the determination—the motivation—to push through suffering for the sake of the end result. And this passionate feeling of motivation has its source in your brain.

A study released in the Journal of Neuroscience identified the ventral striatum, in connection with the amygdala, as the brain’s emotional center that controls the motivation feeling—the higher degree of motivation you feel, the higher the activation will be in this part of your brain. So that intense feeling of motivation you feel when you are in a creative state—that feeling of euphoria when engaging in something you feel truly worthwhile and meaningful to you—is real and is something physiological occurring in your brain. It’s one of the least researched areas of psychology yet has the biggest impact on your creativity.

I sense you’re wondering if there’s a trick—a method to stimulate your ventral striatum and amygdala—in improving your creativity. Well, yes there is. It’s long been known and practiced by the greats:

Relaxation, along with definite purpose.

Relax. Put your thoughts and desires out to the ether. Relax and wait. Creative ideas will come.

I’m a life-long student of the Napoleon Hill Philosophy of Personal Achievement which is the psychology behind one of the world’s bestselling self-help books, Think and Grow Rich. Hill clearly outlines the path to unlimited creativity which he postulates comes from the source of Infinite Intelligence that we all can tap. To get creative ideas from Infinite Intelligence, first you must know what you want, then you must relax and let Infinite Intelligence deliver ideas or answers to you.

Relaxation can be done in many ways. Meditation. Workout. Vacation. Change of environment. Retail therapy. Long showers. Reading. Music. Deep breathing. Long walks in nature. Maybe a stiff drink or two. The methods are varied but whatever you choose, it needs to put you in a headspace receptive to creative ideas.

Napoleon Hill didn’t have the anatomical knowledge of how the ventral striatum and amygdala worked, but he sure understood that definite purpose, motivation, and relaxation opened the doors of creativity. Hill described this part of the brain as being like a radio transmitter and receiver which exchanged creative thought with Infinite Intelligence.

So, if I can give one single piece of advice on how to improve your creativity it’s to read, understand, and practice the seventeen principles of success Napoleon Hill outlined in Think and Grow Rich.

A postscript to this article—while I was researching this piece, I came across a TED Talk with well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her presentation on creativity for writers is a fascinating look at the process. Click Here to watch it.

Kill Zoners: Enough of me preaching T&GR. How do you find and improve your creativity?

24 thoughts on “Improving Your Creativity

  1. “How do you find and improve your creativity?”
    Interesting post that has my brain going off in many different directions. I’m not very science-y. I simply believe we’re each given different gifts and hopefully we’ll use them.

    So to me, I don’t need to ‘find’ creativity. It’s there. Now whether or not I use it, that’s a different game. The avoidance behaviors you mention are spot on. I’ve dealt with all of them in my journey.

    Time (or lack thereof) has a huge impact on creativity for me. If you have a decent amount of time for creativity, you will get that relaxation that you mention. When you go through periods of life where life seems like nothing but work & chores, exercising creativity isn’t going to be that easy. That’s why, if you look at my local art league, you will see that most (like 99%) of the members are seniors–they are retired and finally have time to pursue their passion.

    But even being retired & having time is no guarantee of creativity if those avoidance behaviors take over. I know of someone who is retired & now has the time. They cook up story ideas in their head, but they never take the time to write down any of them.

    So for me, the bottom line is time. When I find time, the creativity is there, waiting to get going. But even then there is an exception–in periods of high stress, even when you have time, that relaxation of the mind is difficult to achieve & creativity comes at a slower (but not absent) pace.

    So my wish for everyone today is a chance to slow down a little and get at least a little creative time in & nurture that creativity.

    • Thoughtful comment, Brenda. An acquaintance recently published a memoir, and I jotted down a takeaway from it – ” The key to contentment is time.”

  2. Great post, Garry. The lack of courage is the huge one. And to make it worse, the fear that immobilizes or radically slows so many has either no consequences or only imagined consequences.

    Given a grounding in grammar and punctuation (and any who don’t have that grounding can obtain it), the only way to break free of that fear is to suck it up and learn to trust yourself and what you know, and your ability to put that knowledge to use.

    Your creative subconscious tells unique, original stories in your authentic voice. The more you trust yourself and defend your work, the more freely story ideas will come to you.

    • Thanks, Harvey. I always look forward to your comments. Yeah, trust in yourself. There’s some sort of circle involving self-trust where the more you trust your ability to create, the easier it becomes. I have a friend who recently got bit by the imposter syndrome bug right when they were polishing the final draft and they went dead in the water.

      • “There’s some sort of circle involving self-trust where the more you trust your ability to create, the easier it becomes.”

        Truth. But very few will ever try it. We’re all bombarded throughout our lives with how very difficult it is to do something as simple as telling a story. Ridiculous, but the myths are so pervasive that most obey them as if to do otherwise is illegal.

        There are no bad consequences for not obeying the myths of writing. I’ve had young writers tell me point blank that if they don’t rewrite at least X-variable number of times, it will kill their career. What career?

        Plus, writing in your original, authentic voice is how you make a career. As Judy Garland once advised, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

        Opinions of what is or isn’t “good” vary greatly and are always a matter of reader taste. For every person out there (even the writer him/herself) who doesn’t like a story or think it’s up to snuff, there will be ten more who like it.

        I often tell about the story “Old Suits.” I wrote it some years ago and almost didn’t publish it. I thought it was horrible, one of the worst stories I’d ever read.

        But in the end I trusted myself and forced myself to publish it. A few weeks later, out of the blue I received an email from a reader I’d never met (and still haven’t) raving about what a great story it was, what a difference it made in her life, etc.

        I never trusted my own opinion again.

        I’ve always found it odd that when writers think what they’ve written is “good,” they immediately add “But as a writer I”m the worst judge of my own work.”

        Yet untold numbers of writers will put a finished story or novel into a desk drawer, never to see the light of day because they think it’s “bad.” (Some who have done so will read this and think ‘No, I know it was bad.’

        But they miss the point, which is, the old saw about being the worst judge of their own writing cuts both ways. Too bad it escapes them when they need it the most.

        • Great comment, Harvey. I’ve long ago reduced my G-A-S factor of what people think of my work. An A-Lister friend once told me not to read my reviews as they serve no useful purpose. I, like you, trust my gut and I just go ahead and let the story out. Writing Into The Dark works. Thanks for the words.

  3. Good morning, Garry, and thanks for another insightful post!

    I listened to a podcast a few years ago — can’t remember which one — where they discussed creativity. They defined it similar to your description: “It’s the process of bringing something new and original into existence.”

    Their premise was that exercise was a factor in stimulating creativity. They separated a group of people into two subgroups and gave them some problem to work on like “How many ways can you think of to use a brick?” The two groups came up with some list of creative ways. They then took the experimental group and put them on treadmills for a few minutes, then asked the two groups another question (can’t remember it). The group that had exercised came up with many more variations than the control group.

    I’ve found in my limited experimental group of one (me) that exercising, especially the act of running outdoors, generates ideas.

    • And good morning to you, Kay. I read a piece not to long ago – I think it was on Farnam Street – about how many ways to use a brick. I don’t recall anything about test groups but some of the ideas were very creative, actually funny. And I’m with you about exercise’s effect. I walk about 4-5 miles per day and it’s my best use of time – creative and health time.

  4. “Fear is the biggest enemy of creativity.” Yup.

    Great post, Garry.

    I find that, when I think I don’t have any idea where the story should go next, if I just type one sentence, it often flows out. My fingers open the dam.

    And, BTW, I sure like the idea of Infinite Intelligence (II) more than the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 🙂

  5. I’ve found that when “I got nothing” if I sit down at the computer and start typing, even a grocery list, ideas will come. (I do pray first for ideas…in fact I think I’ve prayed more since I’ve had contracts and deadlines than ever before…)

    • Hi Patricia. I write a lot at a nearby library, and I’ve developed a little quirk when staring at the blank page. I get up and walk a circle around the room, come back, sit down, and out it comes. Best wishes for creatively meeting those deadlines 🙂

  6. Great post, Garry.

    I believe some are born gifted with more creativity. The rest of us need to read your post.

    I find that practicing creative endeavors outside of writing stimulates my creativity. It also forces me to put aside the natural avoidance of failure, discomfort with uncertainty, and lack of confidence you listed above, and which become more prevalent as we age.

    And, I agree with Kay. Exercise is important in maintaining a healthy creative brain.

    Now, how do we find time for all of that?

    • “We” age? Maybe you, but not me, Steve 😉 Finding time is a good question. I’ve learned to say no to a lot of stuff. That helps stretch the clock.

  7. Fantastic post on a key topic, Garry. This is another keeper.

    All of your points are helpful in understanding how creativity works. I’m glad you highlighted behaviors that limit our creativity—all eight of those can really dampen being creative.

    Relaxation helps me, as does exercising: walking, Zumba, Yoga, even weight lifting, because ideas will bubble up while I’m working out. Having a sense of play is important, as is just running with an idea. I’m a big fan of brainstorming, to come up with ideas, to prep for outlining, and when I’m stuck. Looking at the idea from different angles, and getting some altitude on it—the 30K foot view, to see the big picture, even if it’s a short story.

    Creativity, for me, is also joyful work. I have another writer friend who dreams story wholesale, he wakes up with them nearly full-formed in his mind. He’s a talented writer of flash fiction, which is tailored made for that sort of thing, and it works for him..

    My muse doesn’t work like that, she expects me to start playing around, on paper, in my hand, while doing a chore, while reading, and then she’ll respond, but it’s up to me to put in some skull sweat. It’s also up to me to listen and act when she responds, not reject out of hand because I think it won’t work, I can’t do it, I’m afraid, etc.

    Thanks for another insightful post! Keep on having great days, my friend.

  8. What an excellent post, Garry! Good analysis of what stops creativity and how to overcome the blocks.

    How interesting that passion comes from “the Latin root “pati“ that means “to suffer“.

    I believe natural aptitude is born but can ignored, squashed, or encouraged. Some people are better than others at math, or athletics, or organization. Others are better at creative endeavors.

    I’m not athletic but exercise is key for me. if I’m trying to solve a problem or find a new plot direction, I go for a walk. 100% of the time I come back with the answer.

    • Good morning, Debbie. See, there was some creativity in those magic beans I pulled off the shelf. (KZers – inside joke between Debbie & me.) I fully agree on the walk business which I’m just about to do. Enjoy your day!

  9. I like your altitude suggestion, Dale. It really does help to get up and above whatever issue you’re tackling. Sort of an omniscient point of view even if you’re writing first person. I’m with you about detaching with some sort of physical activity. Having said that, I’m off for a walk after just Googling “Zumba”.

  10. Excellent post, Garry. Passion and drive top my list. I’m rarely at a loss for creativity. Even when I try to shut off my brain at night, the wheel keeps churning out new ideas. Music helps me block out “outside noise” so I can be transported to my story world. If I get stuck, I walk around the yard. And boom — I’m unstuck. Or, in bad weather, I have a thinking chair. The only time I sit in it is when I need to think through a plot thread or whatever. That chair has never failed me.

    • I hope that chair is not electric, Sue. Yeah, passion. A mutual friend with a pretty decent backlist told me he’s never met anyone who is as passionate and committed to their craft than you. Knowing you for as long as I have, I totally agree. Your should jar your passion and sell it on Amazon as a side product.

      BTW, you might have recognized this post. When I realized it was my KZ turn today, I told Debbie that I’d have to pull some magic beans from the shelf and get creative. So I poked around in my Dyingwords archives and plagiarized this from myself. In rereading it, I couldn’t see any improvements – this stuff never gets old – so I cut & pasted it here. Shhh… Don’t tell anyone.

  11. Many writers on Twitter post photographs and ask for a story to go with them. An example: Yesterday, Wendi M. Lindenmuth posted a picture of a sturdy wooden bench in an outdoor setting. My take:

    ‘This is 1 of 2 benches I made for “Dr. Ames’ Slim Camp.” Both were stored off-site. New campers’ photos were taken on the 6′ bench. On the last day, “grads” sat on this 7′ bench for photos, which were distorted to make the 7′ bench look like 6′, and the girls 16% slimmer.’

    The role of the “Unconscious” in creation, as mentioned previously:

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