How to grow creativity

All of us are creators at heart, all we need is to cultivate the spark

By Asha Iyer Kumar (Inner eye)

Published: Sat 22 Mar 2014, 9:32 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:39 PM

I have been a creative writing tutor for more than 12 years, and I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked if creative writing could really be taught and if literary expressions could be inspired with training. I have always tottered between a “yes’ and “no” for an answer to this question, often leaving the questioner more baffled than before about the fundamentals of creativity.

As a lay person, I have no intellectual authority to analyse the findings of researchers who study the cognitive behaviour of human beings in hair-splitting detail and formulate theories about any given sphere of human activity. Yet, as a person loitering in the creative realm with great abandon, I have made observations from my experience that might be more closely relevant to us than what the researchers may reveal in their complicated studies.

First and foremost, I don’t subscribe to the notion that ingenuity is the preserve of a few gifted souls. While genius might be a quality that marks the extraordinary from the rest, creative instincts are more common than they are imagined. By creative instincts, I don’t mean those pertaining to art and literature alone. Art and literature are considered to be niche areas only because they are assigned primacy by our distorted view of what constitutes talent, and also because they are more visible than other activities, that in my view are no less creative or original.

To us, a person who sings, paints, performs, or writes exceptionally well is more creatively inclined than the rest. To me, people who stir up amazing recipes, deck up a home with curios and colours, design cars and buildings, find quick fixes to leaking pipes, contrive simple, on-the-spot devices to ease tasks, draw up brilliant business proposals or make tough negotiations seem like a breeze are also specimens of creative excellence. We dismiss these qualities as mere skills one uses to find a vocation and sustain his or her livelihood. What we fail to see is the element of imaginativeness that goes into these seemingly commonplace activities.

I have observed creativity in the most unlikely places. A friend is a genius at growing balcony gardens and her FB posts with pictures of her produce amaze me. She comes up with such original ideas for conservation and farming at home that they make me want to grow tomatoes and okras on my window sill. Another friend’s mother took up art after her children got married and is now a prolific artist. And who can discount the flair of a housewife who merges the leftovers in the fridge to throw up a fancy dish at dinner time? It is sheer creativity at work.

Inspiration can surge at any time and in anyone. All it needs to flourish is mindfulness to the swell of unused ability. We all have creative leanings that we have long left unattended. It is that fountain of spirit that emerges when we turn inward, touch our core, kindle our senses and draw from the immense reserves that lie untapped. It is like dredging the earth to find natural resources: Delve deep and you will discover hidden treasures of a myriad kinds. We are all dreamers but we are just not alive to our dreams. We are all creators, but are just not aware of our creations.

It is this being alive to our creative selves that I teach to my pupils. What I seek to do is to push the windows of their minds open and make them realise their vast potential to create. I teach them to observe, absorb and synthesise the bleak and the big things around them, and come up with their own, distinct literary flavours. Giving them lessons in syntax and grammar is only a complementary exercise in this creative process.

Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

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