Friday, 3 January 2014

Creativity and Play - Heather Dyer

I've been teaching a class called Developing Creativity. It's a lifelong learning class, so there's a really interesting mix of ages and the class includes an abstract painter, two businesswomen, two poets, a watercolour artist and a forensic scientist.

Having only ever taught creative writing before, I was keen to introduce exercises that each of them could apply to their own projects. So, at the end of the second session I asked them all what they wanted from the course.
I was quite taken aback when, as one, they shouted: "FUN!!"

I rolled my eyes and I thought: "pearls before swine!"

But then I got to thinking that maybe they were right, and that it was they who had a thing or two to teach me about creativity, and not the other way around.

Because creativity and play have a lot in common.

In order to be creative, we need to develop the same attitudes and state of mind that we do when we play. Firstly, we must be completely absorbed but not too attached to the end product. We must remain fluid and able to respond spontaneously in the moment. We must let the game take us where it will - outside any preconceived notions or linear thought processes. We mustn't be too anxious when we play, or too self conscious (perhaps that's why adults play so little). Play requires that we forget ourselves, let go, and see what happens. Exactly the qualities required for creativity.

A long time ago I asked an older, wiser writer friend if she knew a cure for writer's block. She said she met with her fellow writer friends once a month just to do writing exercises. I told her I didn't have time for that and that I needed to focus on getting this book done. She replied that she found the exercises helpful because they helped her to 'take it all less seriously'.

There was a pause, during which we looked at one another and I knew that there was a lesson in there for me, somewhere. But I didn't take it. Now my students are teaching me the same lesson. Perhaps it's time I listened.

Heather Dyer - children's author and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow


Penny Dolan said...

Thank you. I'm very interested to hear how this course is going - for the students, and for you. (And readers here?) It is SO easy to forget the playfulness of writing/making. A good message for the start of the year.

Emma Barnes said...

Hear, hear. I have been thinking about telling children during school workshops that the "learning objective" (that phrase beloved of curriculum writers) is to play with words and ideas. I think that's how good stories happen.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Glad you've learned this lesson, Heather! :) I do the occasional course at the Council of Adult Education for precisely this reason - fun. And to learn something new, of course. I have been known to close my eyes and put my finger on a course to make my choice.

I did a one-day course on crime writing and the teacher asked us all what we hoped to get out of it. My response was,"Fun... And having an idea where to start." I wasn't expecting to learn how to write a crime novel in one day. And the teacher replied, "I think I can guarantee that." He might have been concerned if I had expected more than I did. And I did have fun and get an idea here to start.

David Thorpe said...

Of course - if you're having fun you don't realise you're learning - like kids! I like to try exercises from Keith Johnstone's Impro book to get them to loosen up those spontaneity muscles.