The ties between the creative process and the creative process (if ya know what we mean) and what we can learn from these experiences of releasing into the unknown, is at the core of what this whole #thisishowiwasborn series is about. Many experts in creativity note that “staying loose” is the way to embrace the uncertainty inherent in the creative process, which is what we try to instill in our clients all the time.
So, when we found out that our friend Carolyn Gregoire's book on creativity had just been released (with rave reviews from The New York Times) we were pretty stoked to sit down with her and learn some of the conclusions on creativity that she came to in her research.
Her book, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind with co-author Scott Barry Kaufman, points to the idea that we don't have to "do" anything to be creative. It's not about being a painter or a fiction writer. We are all inherently creators because as humans, we are capable of being so many different things at the same time. And this is what they found to be the common factor in creative people; that they allowed themselves to be multiple things and personalities at the same time. Their minds were expansive and messy and creation wasn't about creating something new, so much as connecting the dots of things that already existed.
Here's Carolyn on her own expansion and coming into, and starting to trust, her own abilities as a creator.
HOW WERE YOU BORN?
I was born on my due date. It was a 7-8 hour birth; It started in the afternoon and I was born right before 9 pm. My mom had an epidural.
I was born in the same birthing room as my brother a year and a half earlier and since it was the only room left in the hospital, she was pretty grateful to get it. She said she had a lot of trouble pushing - that her pushing was not "adequate". When my brother was born they had to use a vacuum, so my mom really wanted to avoid that this time. They ended up threatening her with the vacuum so she pushed as hard as she could and boom I was born!
She didn’t know I was going to be a girl, and says that was the best part of it. The hardest part was that my brother didn’t take it well. He sobbed for a week!
DID YOU HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT BIRTH BEFORE THE CONVERSATION, AND DID THEY CHANGE AFTER?
I know I want to be a mother but I definitely have had some fear around childbirth. However, knowing that my mom -who has a very low pain threshold- managed to do it twice, makes me think I can probably handle it too! Hearing the story made me feel more confident. I know I won’t die and it won’t be horrible and I will be able to push.
WELL, YOU JUST "BIRTHED" A BOOK SO MAYBE THAT WAS GOOD PRACTICE?
A lot of people compare the process of writing a book to giving birth. I suppose you can say that about any creative project, but specifically with a book there’s this seed of an idea and then a period of creation, which in my case happened to be 9 months!
C: And then a period of waiting and editing before the publisher approves it, which takes a while (it ended up being about a year and a half total). Writing my book definitely felt like a birth, getting this thing out into the world that had been inside of me for so long. And even the postpartum of it - I just finished the PR and now I have this strange now what feeling that’s probably similar to what you feel when you have a baby. Creating this book was a really cool experience; bringing something that didn’t exist into the world, and then letting it take a life of its own.
HOW WAS THE LABOR?
It was a challenging. I never thought I would write a book and never considered myself a creative person. I am a science writer and I studied philosophy. Writing this book challenged me to look at my own views about creativity. We (myself included before the book), tend to think of creativity as something that only some people have:people who are artists are creative and other people are not. This is a big myth that we tried to unravel in this book. Creativity is a lot broader than that.
BB: How cool that you came into yourself as a "creator" during this process on so many different levels!
WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHEN YOU WERE ABLE TO LET GO OF THAT "I’M NOT A CREATIVE PERSON" DISCOURSE? SHALL WE CALL IT, YOUR FINAL PUSH?
I didn’t see myself as a creative writer. I've always told myself that my strength isn't colorful storytelling. But as I was looking at different types of creativity, I came across scientific creativity and I was able to let go of that and realize that my strength is to take complex ideas, engage with them and make them intelligible for people. And that is creative. It's just not what I thought creativity was supposed to look like.
The whole book is based on the premise that we contain multitudes. Creative people have a broad sense of themselves. They are introverts and extroverts, can be very mindful but also very absentminded and dreamy, be serious but also have a strong sense of play. There are all these things that in many people are very segregated, but what we found after looking at the lives of all these creative people as well as a lot of research, is that they seem to have all of these opposites contained within themselves.
WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU COME ACROSS?
There was this famous study done in the 60’s at Berkeley where they invited all these creative people (including Truman Capote and a bunch of amazing archetypes, scientist and eminent creative minds) to live in a frat house on campus. They had them do all these personality tests and analyzed them for days. They found that they scored in the top 10% of the general public of tests for mental illness and that they also scored in the 10% of tests for mental health.
So that’s what we were trying to make sense of: How can anyone be more mentally ill and at the same time more mentally healthy than the average person? The idea is that they are drawing on things that we as a culture define as mental illness, like magical thinking, imaginativeness and unusual perceptions. But also on things that define mental health: these people are resilient and they work very hard. They are bringing all these things together.
We then looked at how that’s reflective of brain function. What neuroscientists have found is that when you look at the brains of creative people, there are connections between opposing brain networks. Usually people have a more dominant network or more dominant prefrontal cortex or executive attention network at different times (they use one or the other) - meaning you’re either day-dreaming or paying attention to what you’re are doing and the networks don’t really interact. But creative people use both at the same time. They are engaged to what they are doing outwardly but also interacting with and internally processing things.
It's this idea of synthesis between things that are usually not synthesized. It ties to the definition of creativity (not so much as giving birth to new ideas) but as making new connections between things that already exist. This is seen in the level of their personality, and their brain, and also in the creative process which is not linear, they are jumping around between many different things.
ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE TRYING TO BE MORE CREATIVE?
The book doesn’t tell people how to be more creative, what it shows is that the human personality is creative in nature because we have the capacity to do so many different things. We’re creatures that contain all these paradoxes and are not boxed into being one way or the other. It's all about embracing this, connecting those dots of the different parts of ourselves, which allows us to naturally open up to our own creativity.
BB: Like creating new constellations in the sky - all these stars (dots) all over the place that you can draw connections between.
C: It’s all about integration, trying to break out of habitual ways of thinking by creating opportunities for an unusual synthesis process to happen, by breaking away from the ways that you usually think. And being aware of when you’re falling into a trap or box of how you usually think, how you do things, how you see yourself.
ANY #BRILLIANTBITS TO SHARE?
In the moment just before a flash of creative insight, the brain's visual cortex briefly shuts down, suggesting the mind is "going dark" and shutting out the outside world. And when the insight pops into awareness, the visual cortex reactivates - like a literal lightbulb turning on in your brain!
BB: Fascinating. We literally always have to go into the darkness to see the light!