How I “Lost” my Creativity

There’s a lot about the transition from high school to college to the workforce that we don’t ever talk about. In my last blog post, I wrote about some career-focused issues. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how our educational structure affects something more integral to human nature: creativity.

Now that I’m a year into my career, I’ve more or less developed a routine. Strangely enough, it’s basically the same routine I had in high school: go to work for 8-9 hours, come home, eat and read or watch Netflix.

The major difference that kind of frightens me is this: I haven’t written a poem in two years.

In high school, I wrote pages and pages of poems. And I would doodle. I would draw on anything that would hold a Sharpie. Now, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem or drew something I liked.
That mushroom was one of my favorite doodle motifs in high school.

The mushroom and those shadow people were two of my favorite doodle motifs in high school.

So what happened? Did college beat the creativity out of me? Or, more frightening: am I just less creative than I was at 16?

These questions worried me for awhile, but I think I finally figured it out: I lost my unstructured creative time. In high school, I often finished my work quickly and had lots of spare class time. And if you’re bored in a quiet classroom, there’s not a lot to do but put pen to paper. My boredom and those restraints beget creativity.

We now know how important unstructured time is to creativity, for kids and adults alike. Fast Company has about a million articles on this topic. And for someone like me, who thinks more analytically than creatively, creative ideas don’t just hit me during the course of a normal day. I have to practice coming up with ideas, which is exactly what my bored time in class allowed me to do.

When I had that bored class time, I was a more creative individual overall. I would get excited about a poem I was working on in class and bring it home. I would start a doodle in my notebook, then recreate it in GIMP (that’s before I could afford Photoshop). Poems would become songs, and I would spend hours working out the chords and playing with harmonies.

Now, I don’t have that bored time during my workday. Instead, I have to carve out my own creative time, and make it a habit.

If you too need to reclaim your creative space, here are some things I plan to try that you may find helpful:

  1. Spend one morning a week at a coffee shop with no laptop.
  2. Limit my weekday Netflix viewing to one hour.
  3. Use some of my lunch time to listen to music and write.
  4. Start journaling again — maybe in the evening before bed.
  5. Walk to pick up my mail instead of driving.

Happy daydreaming!

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2 thoughts on “How I “Lost” my Creativity

  1. Is more free time vital to being more creative, though? Like, if I have a week of vacation, my creative senses become more dull and it isn’t until I’m back in a 9-5 routine that the creative juices start flowing again because I spent so much time away from something I’m passionate about (painting, writing music especially). Is it reasonable to say that unstructured free time tends to be just as if not more important in improving technical skill, whereas your ability to be creative is usually a kind of reflection and accumulation of life experiences that is brought to life via passion and talent? If I have an uneventful week or month with more free time, for example, I tend to have less to express than one where I encountered many challenges and had more noteworthy experiences. /2 cents

    • First of all, thank you for reading! I think what we’re talking about is the difference between *having* creative ideas and actually *producing* creative work. I totally agree that creative ideas often come from our life experiences. But producing creative work often takes time for reflection, to take that idea and grow it into something beautiful, like an essay, poem, song, or painting. We can have all the creative ideas we want while we’re running around living life, but if we never give ourselves “free time” to nurture that idea, then that’s all it will ever be: an idea. However, it sounds like your routines include time to be creative, which is awesome — and overall a consistently better way to encourage creativity 🙂

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