In part one of “writing, reading & creativity”, I wrote about fear taking precedence over my desire to express creativity through writing. In this second part, I talk about how reading relates to my experience of creativity.
I don’t remember being taught to read. My mother says I taught myself to read. But she was responsible for teaching me letter sounds, so I’ll give her the credit, whether she takes it or not. Books have been my best friends for as long as I can remember. I loved escaping into other worlds created by an author’s use of words. Until I graduated high school, I often got in trouble for reading instead of doing my homework. I read whatever I wanted, whether novels or non-fiction, within certain boundaries established by parental authority.
I believe I was at my creative peak in junior high, and early high school years, and I wonder why I have been going downhill ever since. Is it because I didn’t place boundaries on my reading and writing, or other creative activities? Is it because I didn’t really use the Internet (and Facebook didn’t exist)? Is it because of the energy I poured into academia? Or is it because childhood is naturally the most creative period in any person’s life?
For the past decade or so, I have placed boundaries on my reading. I have said to myself, “Novels are not my thing anymore; they’re too easy to read, and most likely not educational.” Or, “if it’s not a classic, I won’t waste my time.” Or, “This would look good on my shelf [make me look smart], who cares if I actually read it?”
Also in the past decade, I have poignantly felt my creativity declining, partially because of limits I place on myself.
“I can’t do that; I’m not creative.”
“I can’t draw.”
“I don’t have patience for [insert creative activity here].”
I think the decline of creativity can be attributed, in part, to negative reinforcement, which is most of the time just blatant falsehood. Soon enough, those falsehoods are adopted as reality because I start to believe them. As a natural pessimist, it is quite easy to see negativity and speak it.
When I was a child and teenager, I didn’t use the Internet very much. This was back in the day of dial-up modems and AOL, when I wrote long emails instead of Facebook posts or Myspace comments or tweets. As the wealth of information spread and social media became more prevalent and I read more from the Internet than books, my attention span shortened. I could not concentrate amidst all the noise; I have never been a great multi-tasker. It became more difficult to sit and write for long periods, or even read for more than 30 minutes at a time (who am I kidding? It’s more like 15 minutes). My use of the Internet helped to destroy creativity, through the craving of information bytes rather than the printed word, and through the spend time in consuming those bytes.
All of this is not to mention homework. All of the time spent on reading and writing for classes left me with little energy to do any of those things recreationally, and trained me to see reading as a task, not as a pleasure.
It could just be that childhood and early adolescence is the most creative period, and childhood imagination is at its peak. I haven’t done any studying on that topic, but it is very fascinating to me. (Education/psychology friends: do you have any insights???)
I want to get back in that place of unlimited, childhood creativity again. I want to stretch my imagination. I realize I will mostly likely not reach that identical place, but I would like to release some of the boundaries I placed on myself. One of the main ways I will begin (have already begun, actually, since graduation), is to read less, and to read more, at the same time. It may sound contradictory, but it’s actually really simple.
It essentially breaks down this way:
Read more books. Read less Internet.
Currently, I’m on a novel kick. I’m reading every novel that looks interesting and well-written, giving it at least 20 pages before I decide whether to keep reading, or not. I also have a stack of books of my own, related to my field of study, that I intend to read sometime this year. But first, I will read more on subjects that I am not familiar with (basically, anything outside the realm of biblical studies and religion). The main point is not to place unnecessary limits on myself.
I also want to read less on the Internet, to devote more time to the printed word. I will pay less attention to social media and blogs, because, frankly, all the debates and arguments that sprout so easily from those word bytes can be very wearisome.
I don’t think that slowing down, simplifying, and savoring in themselves will restore imagination and creativity, but it is definitely an excellent starting point for me. If you’re willing to share, please do: to what do you attribute a loss of imagination? how do you cultivate (or re-cultivate) creativity and imagination?