I recently picked up Jane Dunnewold’s new book, Creative Strength Training, because I was looking to develop my creative skills for artistic endeavors. Right from the outset the author’s experience as a teacher and guide was evident. She explores how the creative process intersects with memory, experience, human psychology and spirituality. Jane provides excellent advice on how to take time and use it to effectively strengthen your creative ability.
Now don’t tell me you’re not a creative person. If there’s one aspect of creativity that I think all the experts agree on, it’s that everyone has it. It’s not innate to an exclusive group lucky enough to have been born with the right genes. It’s in all of us and it works like a muscle. Our exposure to creativity and resourcefulness during our childhood certainly has a lot to do with how our ability develops. However, with practice we can cultivate our creative competence, making it stronger, more flexible and more adaptive.
Writing exercises are cross-training for creativity.
Creative Strength Training provides tools and exercises to get the creative mind on track and out of trouble. Here are a few of my favorite tips from the book:
The importance of writing as a creative tool is undeniable. It allows the mind to explore while recording your thoughts on the page. I have recently picked up the habit of writing first thing in the morning. It can be about anything – dreams, memories, stream of consciousness, plans, ideas or just general thoughts about life. The point is to get into a state of creative flow.
Dunnewold’s exercises are structured for discovery and exploration. For example, explore one your earliest memories and see what arises. In one exercise from the book the author asks you to recall your earliest memory of fabric. Who knows where this memory lane leads? Mine was about pajamas that changed colors when the fabric was exposed to body heat. Maybe you want to chose metal, wood, or another material related to what you do. Why do you remember it? Why was it special to you? Write and explore.
Other writing exercises take into consideration what you’re good at, what you need to work on, and the words you are using to describe what you do. These words are important. They are not only defining how you see yourself, but how others see you. You can start with an inventory: write down your skills, those you enjoy using, and those you would like to develop further. Write about what matters to you and about your experiences as a creative person. The more you write, you will advance your beliefs and conversational skills around your own creativity. You will be amazed at how your thoughts and conversations are impacting your own creative limitations. (I’ve summarized a few of the author’s different exercises here, in the book they are structured and detailed.)
We all have individuals who are important to us: teachers, parents, friends, colleagues —special people who we don’t want to disappoint. We also have critics: someone who’s told us we’re not good enough or a boss who ignores our ideas or feedback. Some of these voices and opinions (our “committee”) have a very real place in our self-talk. If we’re not conscious of them, they will restrict our creative vision. The author provides suggestions and examples to get rid of your limiting committee, including writing.
“No one is able to demand forgiveness. Forgiveness can only be offered. And so, writing your story is an opportunity to rebelliously forgive. Free up your energy and spend it making meaningful and ecstatic art, whatever that looks like to you.”
Creation unfolds like calm breakers.
None of us have enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do. This is just part of modern life. So outside of our very real, imminent responsibilities we have to choose to make time for creativity (just like we choose to make time to train our body at the gym). Here’s where the author invites you to get in touch with your inner rebel —the one who skips out on less important responsibilities to make time for creative exploration.
In my opinion, free time (or time to freely practice) is one of the key elements to successful artistic or innovation pipelines. You cannot think creatively and come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things while you’re running from one meeting to the next activity and so on and so forth. While workshops or group brainstorming can be useful in some instances, more often people need space for personal growth without stress or fear of reprimand. They need time to meditate, explore, take walks, observe nature, write, etc. There are plenty of studies that show only a very small percentage of creative ideas happen in a brainstorm or at work.
Jane Dunnewold wrote this book for her students—artists—but there is wisdom in her words that is helpful for every kind of creator or innovator. The book is especially helpful to anyone who wants to take a fresh approach to their work. I found the examples and personal stories inspiring and easy to connect with. I’m ready to enable my inner rebel and skip the housework to get into my studio.
By Amelia Johannsen
Jane Dunnewold teaches and lectures internationally and has authored numerous books. While her most recent book, Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Personal Stories for Encouraging Artistic Genius was written to help artists find deeper joy in creating, her strategies apply to anyone seeking a more creative and boldly authentic life. Jane lectures and leads workshops that honor the human desire to create. Learn more at janedunnewold.com
Amelia Johannsen is a digital communications professional working on a variety of projects internationally. She is passionate about functional design and collaborative innovation used to create a more compassionate and sustainable world. As a freelance writer, she contributes to projects such as InnovationMangement.se, The Green Exchange and Handmade Barcelona, while her free time is best spent traveling and in the pottery studio. Feel free to connect on Linkedin and Twitter.