Common Misconceptions About Creativity

Creativity is such an ethereal property that mere mortals can’t possess it.

I think almost everyone is creative, or has the potential to be. It takes a certain sense of bravery, of not caring what other people think, to come up with a new idea.

If you try something that doesn’t work, you’ve failed.

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

The lesson? Don’t give up. Perseverance is a necessary quality for a creative. So, get back to work.

You have to be in the mood to create. The muse must be present to inspire you.

Sorry. The muse is a myth. However, if you need one, by all means, conjure one up. (It’s called imagination, people.)

The problem with relying on a creative mood is that they’re generally rare. If that weren’t true, people wouldn’t be wasting so much time with meaningless diddling on their phones.

And the muse is a fickle twitch. She moves on way too quickly.

So you’re going to have to work when you’re uninspired, or you’d never work. You can manufacture your own inspiration by examining things others have created, particularly items not part of your own sphere of expertise. Stuck on your novel? Go read a biography. Watch a musical. Visit the folk art museum. Then sit down and do something, even if it’s a sketch of something that could never be built. Exercise those creative muscles, and a viable creation will eventually result.

There are no new ideas. Everything has already been done.

I own a book called 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias. It’s similar to The 36 Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti. The premise is that there are only so many stories (some other counts are as low as 4 or as high as 1,462), and you can only write a variant of something that’s been written before.

That may be true to a certain extent. How often have you read something and thought, This is just like the XYZ book. When authors submit manuscripts to agents or publishers, they are asked what books currently on the market are like theirs.

So, yeah. It’s nearly impossible to come up with an idea that is completely original. You know that scene in The Hunger Games when Katniss lays flowers all around Rue’s corpse? I wrote a scene like that in The Unicornologist—in the late 90s, ten years before The Hunger Games book came out. My book isn’t published yet—how many people will think I copied that scene? Yep, all of them. So I’ve either got to rewrite that scene, or be criticized for being derivative.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of books and songs and sculptures and plays that are similar, but uniquely different. The creators torqued an original twist on a familiar theme and expanded it into something delightful. That is creativity. Hey, the advertising industry tries to make us believe that a laundry detergent is new and improved. That’s right—laundry soap.

Now it’s your turn.

What misconceptions have you heard about the nature of creativity? What convinced you they were false? Share in the comments below.

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7 Reasons Why It’s Important to have a Sense of Humor

Today is April Fool’s Day, which is only a joyous occasion if you have a sense of humor. I suppose it’s possible to get through life without a sense of humor, but why would you want to?

  1. Humor diffuses uncomfortable situations. The Bible tells us “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1 NIV) .” My husband, Greg, takes that principle one step further. I love the guy, but he has no filter—he just blurts out whatever’s on his mind. Whenever he sees me react with pain or fury to something he just said, he’ll turn it around by saying something bizarre, like “I mean, squirrels’ bread sinks.” (He might have originally said “Your breath stinks.”)
  2. Everyone likes to laugh. Funny people are fun to be around. At a party, people surround the funniest person in the room. Someone once told Greg, “I like to come to church so I can see what your t-shirt says.” I hope that’s not her only reason for coming to church, but that day his shirt read, “I plan on living forever. So far, so good.”
  3. Humor can help you make friends. This is a corollary of point #2. When people laugh, they connect.
  4. Humor can lead to marriage. This is a corollary of point #3. When I returned to my home town after a year and a half at an out-of-state university, my friend Patty invited me to join a single young adults club at a local church. She had a male friend she wanted me to meet, but I only had eyes for Greg. When we were dating, by the end of the evening my facial muscles ached from laughing so hard. Within a month we were talking about marriage. We celebrated our 47th anniversary this year. We’re still laughing together.
  5. Humor makes you memorable. When you’re at a meeting with a lot of strangers, the one you’ll remember is probably the one who made you laugh.
  6. Humor helps get you out of a funk. Sometimes it’s hard to find a silver lining when you’re enduring a depressing situation. You just have to hang on until it resolves. But you can escape for an hour by indulging in funny business.
  7. Humor heals. Laughter is the best medicine, because it stimulates the immune system and lowers cortisol levels. Check out what the How Stuff Works people say.

I wanted to end this article with a funny video. I watched lots of contenders, but every video had at least one joke that I found offensive. So, instead, I’m posting an adorable video. It might not make you laugh out loud, but I guarantee it will make you smile.

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Be Kind to Old Ears

Today’s article is for all the people whose work involves talking on the telephone.

If any of your customers and clients are senior citizens, please speak slowly and distinctly. Especially if you are leaving a voicemail.

Obvious, isn’t it? Yet so many times I get phone calls that sound like this:

My old ears can’t process that.

I get lots of messages from doctors’ offices, my own and my husband’s. We’re on the medical merry-go-round—we have lots of doctors and specialists. When people leave their names and the names of the doctors they’re calling on behalf of and the call-back numbers, they talk so fast and so softly and so unclearly that I often have to listen to the message multiple times. Even my iPhone transcription can’t handle it. It gives me lots of blank spaces and gibberish. It’s frustrating.

When my husband gets a business call, he often hands the phone to me and says, “See if you can figure out what they’re talking about.” We often have to tell a caller, “I can’t hear you. Could you please talk into the mouthpiece?”

Apparently, people today have never been instructed in the art of talking on the telephone. I blame the proliferation of cell phones. Back in the olden days, there was one phone for the entire family. Children often carried on their conversations in the presence of their parents. This provided opportunities for coaching. “Say, ‘Hi! This is Johnny. May I talk to Peter, please?’ ” Phone etiquette doesn’t come naturally—it’s learned. But someone has to do the teaching.

And don’t get me started on recorded calls. Our home phone has an answering message that instructs telemarketers to hang up. That message causes a 30 second delay before the phone actually rings through. You have no idea how many recorded confirmation calls I get from doctors’ offices that last maybe 32 seconds, but all I get to hear is “Please show up 15 minutes before your scheduled time.” Click. I have no idea who the call is for or which office called.

Please, if you have a business, make communication a priority. Be sure your clients and customers can understand your employees. Older people have enough challenges. Doing business with you shouldn’t be one of them.

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Scripture Break #29

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Scripture Break #28

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That’s For Nothing

When my husband, Greg, was a little boy, his father used to give him a kiss and say, “That’s for nothing. Now do something.”

I used to think that was kind of pointless. Why kiss (reward) someone, and then tell him to do something, ostensibly something worthy of a kiss?

I supposed it was to show Greg that his father’s love was unconditional—he loved Greg because he existed, not because Greg earned his love.

The second part didn’t have to be a qualifier; it could have meant that he had every confidence Greg was capable of doing great things.

It wasn’t until recent years that I had a deeper insight into that simple ritual. It’s a lot like what our Father in heaven does with us. He loves us and invites us into His kingdom, not because of what we’ve done to deserve it (nothing), but because of His righteous desire to bless us and transform us into the image of His Son. And what does He ask from us in return? To love Him completely, and to love each other with great care (Matthew 22:37-39). This love is expressed in our actions (do something), showing mercy, working for justice, and walking with God daily (Micah 6:8).

My Bible study group is studying Martin Luther’s treatise on The Freedom of the Christian. I’ve been struggling with it. How am I free from sin? What does it mean to no longer be under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14)?

We’re back to Matthew 22 again, verses 36-40. When you love God completely and your neighbor with great care, you are fulfilling the law; it has no power to condemn you. My sin is forgiven; I no longer concentrate on the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots. I am free to live according to a new operating system: love.

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Rebirth of Hope

It is Wednesday afternoon. I am writing this after watching Joe Biden’s inauguration. My eyes teared up through his speech, and Amanda Gordon’s poem, and Reverend Sylvester Beaman’s benediction. I feel relieved and hopeful after the nightmare of the last four years and the attack on the Capitol earlier this month. I thank God for this day. I am thankful that Biden is our new president, and I especially welcome his message of healing and unity. As I listened, my heart raised two prayers: Yes, God, make it so! and Show me what I must change in myself to help make the United States the country You want it to be.

To be a united country, and especially a united democracy, does not mean that we all share the same beliefs. How could it? Our beliefs are formed by our faiths, our races and heritages, our upbringings, our educations, our economic statuses, our occupations, and our experiences. We are all different, and each of us brings something unique to the table. So, how do we come together? How can we arrive at consensus?

We need to respectfully listen to one another. Ask people what they mean by what they say. Ask them why they feel as they do. Listen to their stories. Not so that we can change their feelings to match ours, but so that we can understand. And not that we necessarily have to accept their values as our own, but to see what we can learn, to fill in the gaps of our own knowledge.

I believe there are absolute truths, absolute rights and wrongs. But when we hold to our views rigidly and make decisions based on absolutes, our choices may have unanticipated consequences. That’s why we need to consider what people different from ourselves have to say. We need to see the whole picture.

We are going to disagree with each other. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to rebuild our country. If we understand each other, we can find ways to support each other. It’s going to take work and change on the part of every individual (yes, I just said you have to change—but I admit I do, too) to heal the division and inequity in our country, and it won’t be fixed in four years. But we can make progress before we hand the work off to the next generations.

Please, God, bless America. Bless our new president. Guide us as we work toward a more perfect union. Amen.

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A Prayer for Times Like This

Lord, make us instruments of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. ~St. Francis of Assissi

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Scripture Break for Epiphany

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

When I was a little girl, I watched a cartoon show called Mr. Magoo, about a little old curmudgeon who was near-sighted and hard of hearing, which caused him to get into all sorts of trouble, of which he was blissfully unaware.

In 1962, they produced a Christmas special featuring Mr. Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge in a musical version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It was televised annually for several decades, long enough for me to memorize the songs (but don’t ask me to sing them today).

A few years ago, I realized that although other Christmas specials I’d enjoyed as a child were still being shown every December, I hadn’t seen Mr. Magoo’s in ages. Just for fun, I googled it last month and found it on Vimeo. I’m posting the link so you and your children can enjoy it as well.

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