4 Keys to Unlocking Your Creativity

During the eighteen plus hours of driving I did last week, I had the chance to listen to Anne of Green Gables. I have to admit, it was the DVD version. As I drove, my kids watched it on our little dropdown DVD lifesaver—I mean, player.

Even while listening to a really abridged movie version of Anne of Green Gables, I was still reminded of how much I like the book, particularly the main character Anne Shirley. She was the epitome of creativity. Everywhere she went and in everything she did, her creative mind was always at work, spinning new tales, dreaming big dreams, weaving clever excuses, and using fancy words.

Anne Shirley was an inspiration to my early writing career. As a young girl, I wanted to be creative like her. Fortunately, I grew up in an environment that gave me the freedom and nourishment to be creative.

Now as an adult listening to the story of Anne of Green Gables again, I couldn’t keep from trying to understand what made Anne creative. What is the key to helping any of us be creative?

I’m not sure that there is one particular key. More likely, creativity develops from a compilation of a variety of factors. But as I thought about what's helped me the most, here are four key factors:

1. Give our minds a break from the constant barrage of media noise.

In our modern world, there are numerous voices clamoring in our heads and demanding our attention—TV, movies, video games, internet, etc. The constant prattle around us doesn’t allow for the quiet time our minds need to cultivate creativity.

When I was growing up, my parents limited my TV viewing. In fact, for quite a few years we didn’t even have a television, which made me somewhat of an oddity among my friends.

But because I had plenty of media-free time, I had the quietness to contemplate, reflect, and dream. The limitations had a profound effect on my fostering my ability to play and think creatively. As a result,  I still restrict the amount of media noise in my home for myself and my children.

2. Build downtime into our schedules.

If we’re running around all the time from one activity to the next, then we sacrifice the downtime that’s necessary for facilitating creativity. In a culture that thrives on busyness, we may have to actually pencil  free time into our schedules.

Because I limit the number of outside activities that my kids can be involved in, they have plenty of free-play at home. If they ever tell me they’re bored, I say, “Good. Now’s your chance to be creative.” 

We can’t hope to fuel our creativity (or our children’s) if we’re always rushing from one event to the next without giving our bodies and brains a break.

3. See the creative possibilities that surround us.

As I analyzed Anne of Green Gables during my recent trip, I realized that Anne was always seeing the creative possibilities around her. She could peer beyond the ordinary, simple, and mundane to the romance, glamor, and life that transcended normalcy. Whether a lake, field, or tree, she could paint a picture with words that brought that particular object to life in a way that made it seem truly grand and beautiful.

How often do we take the time to examine the things around us and see beyond the ordinary to the possibilities that exist?

4. Practice using our imaginations on a regular basis.

I think Anne Shirley’s favorite phrase was, “I can imagine . . .” And indeed she was always imagining something. For example at the beginning when she was talking with Matthew Cuthbert about her ugly orphanage dress she said, “I went to work and imagined that I had on the most beautiful pale blue silk dress because when you are imagining you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”

Anne’s imagination was her constant companion. And it made me realize that the more we use our imaginations, the easier it gets to go deeper, be wilder, and freer in our stories. Like any other muscle, our brains need a regular workout to grow stronger and more creative. When we’re strengthening our imagination on a consistent basis, instead of using up our ideas, we’ll be constantly developing new fresh ones.

My Summary: Creativity is something we can cultivate if we carve out the space and time, if we work at seeing the world around us through new eyes, and if we make a regular habit of asking, “what if?”

What has influenced your creativity? And what are you doing to keep cultivating creativity in your life (and the lives of your children)? Are you shutting out the media noises and building in downtime? How well do you see the world through fresh eyes?

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  1. For as long as I can remember I have been a BIG daydreamer. My most creative times seem to be in the car when I really can't be doing anything else - especially if I'm driving and by myself. I turn a little music on and let my brain go. It's amazing, too, how the story in my head seems to match the tone of the music - sad, happy, scary, edgy... I love that! It's amazing what can spark an idea. I have several snippets of new stories to work on - not really sure where I'll go with them yet - it might be a single scene that seems to write itself when I'm walking or going to the grocery store or whenever... I just have to figure out which story they belong to and write it!

  2. My best times for creative/story thinking are doing the dishes, cleaning, folding laundry, and lying in bed at night. Sometimes I listen to the radio or an ebook during these times, but when I'm coming up with a new story, I don't distract myself with other things.

    And it's funny how we do things as moms that our moms used to do. My kids have limited TV time, though sometimes being creative is really hard during the winter months, when it's too cold or snowy to go outside. Am I crazy to think being outside fosters creativity?

  3. Sherri, music does that for me too! I listen to it as I write (to block out my kids' noise! and for inspiration).

    Naomi, I think it is harder in the winter, especially for those of us who live in states with long winters! But as hard as it is, I still really limit my kids' entertainment time. And as they've gotten older, I can see that I'm reaping the benefits. They can usually find some creative play to do, which helps free me up to write. So helping my kids be creative has essentially helped me! :-)

  4. Well, my kids are watching tv right now. lol But I do try to limit it to one show a day, or an hour. I notice the less movies they watch, the more they play on their own better.
    As for, it doesn't seem to take much for me to fall into a daydream. However, I always loved Anne so much, her vibrancy and passion, because I was very reserved (and moody).

  5. Jody, your post really reminded me of how deep the character of Anne Shirley is. How wonderful it would be to write a character so inspiring and vibrant that people still discuss her creative imagination decades later!

    Okay . . . off to figure out how I can make my characters deeper and more memorable. :-)

  6. My mother always said I had the wildest imagination as a child, and she said one day I was like Anne Shirley. When I asked "who?", I was bought the film to watch on video cassette. I loved her immediately and I saved up all my money to go out and buy the books, the films, everything I could find to with the Green Gables universe.

    Now I'm a writer, I thank my over-active imagination muscle. And I still love Anne Shirley now. In fact, one of my characters is a writer, and she dreams just like Anne Shirley. She can always see past the ugly and the violent to see peace and beauty. she's not Anne, but Anne inspired her :)

  7. That Anne with an "e." Montgomery painted her well.

    I've just been contemplating vulnerability. Brene Brown's been doing some fascinating work and it turns out that "whole-hearted" people, people who live with vulnerability, are more connected. Connection, in real life and in books, is so compelling. And I think it's the connectedness of Anne Shirley -- her ability to put herself "out there" -- that makes her so winsome as a character and allows us to see her creativity.


  8. Very positive and useful stuff here Jody!
    I love music. I really, really love music. And yet, somehow, I love silence just that little bit more.
    Jane Gray

  9. Creativity comes to me through just about anything, including the heart wrenching. For instance, yesterday I drove by an accident. Later I discovered via radio that it was a young boy who had been hit by car. As sad as that is, and I did immediately lift prayers for whoever was huddled on the ground, my mind started spinning a plot. What injuries could a character who faced this have. What effect would that have on his/her family. The driver? How on earth would he/she manage now, with all the guilt and what-if's that must haunt him?

    Sadly, even tragedy doesn't give the imagination/creativity a rest.

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  11. Okay, Anne of Green Gables, one of my ultimate favorites. And I agree with the imagnination, we have to allow space for it to grow. We can be so bombarded by outside "noise" that it can interrupt that creative process. I imagine best when close to nature or listening to music. It just puts me in the right frame of mine.
    My 4 year old daughter picked up 5 little stones from the stables the other day. They were "dinosaur teeth" and she could identify what each one ate and how big it was by looking at its "teeth" I was happy to see her imagination was alive and well:)
    Great post!

  12. Jody, have you read LM Montgomery's other books? I'm partial to Emily Starr. One summer a friend send me home with two grocery bags full of LMM books, the ones I hadn't known existed before then. I spent those months happily reading on the couch.

    And her journals are even better. Though her life was difficult, LMM's journals are a treasure. I'm planning a re-read soon.

  13. Oh, I just love Anne of Greene Gables! And I totally agree with you, I think we can cultivate creativity in our daily lives. I have a sister who used to always say she didn't have a creative bone in her body. Well, one day she took up beading and started designing jewelry! Everyone can be creative if they make the most of their imagination and opportunities for creativity.

  14. I adore Anne. I re-read all the books when I was going through a difficult divorce several years ago and realized that I'd lost the part of me that was like her because I'd stopped day-dreaming. Interestingly, I ended up marrying someone who totally reminds me of Gilbert Blythe and we're very happy!

    My creative time is often in the car - my daughter and I tell tag-team stories as we drive and we sing a lot (it keeps the baby happy). But I also tell myself stories as I sleep as an insomnia-busting technique. It backfires sometimes, so I keep a notebook by the bed for really good ideas!

  15. So fascinating today to hear of how many of you were influenced by Anne of Green Gables too!

    Caroline, I haven't read any others by Montgomery, but now you've inspired me to check into them (especially her journals!) Thank you! :-)

  16. Love Anne of Green Gables! I also love Jo March, and always dreamed of having an attic to dream and write in.
    With a one-year-old in the house, media noise has gone way down, so that has helped with my creativity.
    As for seeing the world with fresh eyes, I try to have a notepad with me and when I see something like a waterfall, I try to write out a description of it. Sometimes it takes awhile to get out the ordinary description before the creative description comes out, but it's worth the time.
    Thanks for the post!!

  17. Thank you for this post. I had given up on myself that I could be creative and hopeless that I could put my writing and ideas in a novel. My imagination, dormant for many years, needs to be nurtured and exercised. Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. Oh, Jody, I knew I liked you--but now I have yet another reason to like you! I love, love, love all things L.M. Montgomery. (Caroline, her other books are great, aren't they? In some of her short stories you can see her trying out names and plots that show up later in her novels.)
    Back to the topic of the day: creativity.
    Reading fed my imagination. Lots and lots of trips to the public library and coming home with stacks of books to read.
    I wanted all my kiddos to be readers because books open the world to them. Sometimes when they say, "Can we watch TV," my answer is, "No. Read a book."
    And I find the older they get, the less I have to tell them this, especially if I keep their favorite books near at hand.
    And now my youngest even writes her own stories ... just like I did when I was her age.

  19. I Love Anne of Green Gables. I believe I have read all of Lucy Maude Montgomery's books. The collection I have is old, but still treasured. I think we as writers all have a great imagination and are "Kindred Spirits" as Anne would say! Great post. Thank for sharing.

  20. This is a great post. I can always tell a difference when I'm aware of how much media is coming in. Even the television on while I'm washing dishes or clothes - that constant noise keeps me from thinking creatively. Thanks for this reminder!

  21. A great post. "What if" is the question that seperates those who are mainly logical and those who are mainly creative.

    Also...I'm a HUGE fan of Anne. I still pull out the Anne of Green Gable and Anne of Avonlea books and read them. There's a little of her in all of us!

    FYI: I FINALLY received THE PREACHER'S BRIDE today. I've been so behind on my reading and was thrilled to have your debut novel in my hands. I can't wait to get started!

    God Bless

    ~Britt Mitchell

  22. I love Anne of Green Gables! I recently blogged bout Kate Middleton possibly trendsetting this book again. As a child, this Anne captured my heart and continued to do so as I grew with the series. The romantic tension between Anne and Gilbert fascinated me in Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island.

    I've always felt as though Anne and I are kindred spirits (since age three until 7th grade, I used to tell people my name was something other than "Holly" because I despised my boring, plain name).

    You are absolutely right about Anne being full of creativity! In fact, she inspired me to write, as well. The first manuscript I ever started sounded very reminiscent to L.M. Montgomery's writing. After delving into the craft, I discovered 19th century writing just doesn't cut it anymore. Oops.. .

    I'm thrilled you blogged about this, and I'm so glad your kids are enjoying Anne Shirley, as well. When I have a family of my own, I hope to instill an appreciation for my favorite childhood reads. Though the times in which these characters are written may very well fade, the characters themselves do fade so easily.

  23. Thank you so much for buying my book, Britt! I hope you'll enjoy it!

    And Holly, I loved the romantic tension between Anne and Gilbert too. There are definitely some great fiction techniques we can learn from Montgomery. But as you said, there are other aspects that are dated. Nevertheless, it's very easy to see why the series has become a classic! :-)

  24. Just this morning, I walked by an open manhole and thought "A tunnel to the Morlocks!" (from The Time Machine). I don't do that sort of thing very often, though, so thanks for the reminder.

    I reread the first Anne book last year. I'd forgotten how much I loved it...the sentences had been engraved in my brain, and as I read, I remembered each one with a thrill of recognition. There's something else to add to your list, Jody -- reread what you loved as a child and remember why you loved it.

    Media silence...I struggle with this one. I've come to lean on Twitter for writing motivation, and always have Firefox open. But like you, I took in very little media growing up (besides books!!) and my writing had room to flourish. Need to look seriously at making more space in my head.

  25. Siri, That's so true! When I reread books that I loved as a child, now I'm better able to see how they inspired me! I wish you all the best as you work on having a bit more media silence! :-)

  26. I hope I can cultivate the same outdoor nature I grew up with walking in woods, climbing trees, etc. Already my son is so creative and wants his dad to make everything with cardboard. So nice to hear him making up adventures.

  27. I really enjoyed this post! And I love the fact that you allow your children to get bored to get creative - it's funny how that seems so counter-culture in our society. :)

  28. Hi Alisha! You're right! Letting our kids get bored is so counter-culture, isn't it? Especially with all of the activities that kids can get involved in! And while the activities aren't bad, sometimes our kids miss out on the growth that happens when we allow them that downtime at home.

  29. Jody, thanks for this post. I love Anne of Green Gables too, though I didn't discover her until I read my daughters' books. My byword for our girls growing up when they complained of being bored was, 'You aren't bored, you are jus in between activities.' And then it was time to figure out what the next activity was supposed to be.

  30. Oops. . . "just"

  31. Such simple advice but excellent. Often these types of articles are in depth. Which can be counter productive as those of us struggling with creativity are probably already overwhelmed. Your advice will be helpful to me as I'm in a bit of a rut at the moment with not only writing but creativity in general.
    Just found your blog! Discovered it from one of Iain Broome's bookmarks from his Draft Mode newsletter. Wow, your website is amazing!


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