Charles Dickens at his writing desk

Where has your creativity gone? (And how to get it back)

Charles Dickens would write prodigiously from 9am to 2pm and then go for a walk. JK Rowling wrote mountains of notes about her planned seven book series about a young wizard, completing the novels on scraps of paper in longhand. PG Wodehouse could write 10,000 words a day. 

They were the masters, of course, but the majority of Brits believe they have a creative flair – which just falls by the wayside. Some 63% have let their talent die, according to a new study.

And the reason? The ubiquitous internet. Social media, other people’s writing, catching up on TV and films, playing games – 85% admitting it is simply easier to switch on phones and computers, rather than pick up a pen and paper. 

Researchers took a look into the nation’s creative talents, aspirations and regrets – and revealed one in five British adults, over the age of 30, have abandoned a flair they have for something creative. 

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Busy lives emerged as one of the main excuses for not pursuing creative talents (26%).

Family commitments were also hailed as a reason for a lack of creative drive in 20% of adults, researchers for the study, commissioned by pen maker Bic, discovered. 

The high spot in people’s creative lives were their school years. A quarter of British adults said as a youngster they had a flair for writing stories and 17% said they excelled at drama and dancing. A fifth said they used to be able to play a musical instrument to a very high standard or possessed a great singing voice.

The survey revealed that for the typical Brit, our creativity hit its peak at age 17 – and it prompted nearly a third of youngsters to try their hands at career that cultivated their talent.

Bic’s Joanna Hollins said: “It’s a shame that so many adults who harboured talents as youngsters haven’t pursued them in to adulthood.

“Whilst it’s easy to understand how the daily grind and our busy lives take over, if you genuinely have a gift for writing songs or stories, drawing or playing an instrument, it should be encouraged.”

5 ways to grab back your creativity

  1. Control your distractions. Critic Cyril Connolly once famously said that “the pram in the hall is the enemy of promise”. Now it’s the phone in the pocket. Find your ways to wean yourself off the device. Start with an hour a day and see what you can achieve. In that time, write a letter, draw a picture.
  2. Practice dreaming. Creativity doesn’t require a genius IQ or a textbook or a moment of epiphany. Sometimes one thing leads to another and then another, starting from some strange imagined point that fires your enthusiasm. If you can dream it, you can do it, as Walt Disney said.
  3. Bounce ideas around. If you’re feeling stale or stuck. If you have an idea that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. If you want to take up painting but need lots and lots of encouragement – that’s when like-minded other people come in, feeding your enthusiasm and carrying you through the barren times. 
  4. Be concise. At some point, the giant sprawl of ideas in your head needs to become something practical. Those scraps of paper full of plot points need to be coherent. That “I should” needs to become an “I wi‑ll”. When the free thinking is done, pitch the idea if only to yourself. That way you will have a grasp on what it is you want to do. 
  5. Make it happen. Creative flair dies in a vacuum. It needs attention and it needs time. In 1911 Mary Heaton Vorse gave this piece of advice to a young writer, rarely bettered. “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” 
  6. You either want it, or you don’t. If you do, make time. It’s simply not going to happen if you wait for “the right time” or a “break in your schedule” or “at the weekend” or “when the kids go to school”. You have to elbow creativity into your schedule because it won’t get there by chance.
Writer and activist Naomi Klein (Image: Getty)

Between failure and collapse is the best time to act

Events are happening so fast and a US presidency unravelling so quickly that Naomi Klein’s new polemic – much like last night’s news – is in danger of appearing outdated before it has a chance to sink in.

Pity, because No Is Not Enough is more than an extended rant against President Donald Trump and the apotheosis of corporate America’s power-grab.

While the author and activist is excessively preoccupied with the consequences for American of a misogynistic, racist and climate change denier in the White House, she also believes a good crisis should not go to waste.

Her previous book – 2007’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism – exposed how politicians and corporations exploited, and even seeded, calamities.

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

The purpose was to claim more powers for the state (civil liberties eroded because of terrorism) or claim more money for shareholders (the free-for-all security bonanza in Iraq).

In her new book, she adapts this credo of the elite to shape a template for people power. The world’s troubles – terror, climate, poverty – do require a radical response, but not from them but from us .

The Leap initiative

Klein does more than argue the point. She helped make it real with the Leap initiative in Canada . This saw activist groups, communities, native peoples and the disenfranchised come together to draw up broad principles that would underpin a fair and sustainable society.

The movement deliberately avoided becoming a political party, preferring to inform all levels of Canadian society through grass-roots community action and debate. Among its policy demands were a universal basic income, respect for individual rights, a progressive carbon tax, “town hall” democracy and affordable public transport.

Read more: Don’t be fooled – these tech monopolies are predatory

Ironically, the fact that President Trump exceeded even his own toxic norm with his Charlottesville diatribe does Klein’s campaign no favours. If he is discredited, dismissed and forgotten, there’s a chance that a weary US will move on and rally round a “business as usual” alternative.

Klein argues that in these apocalyptic times “business as usual” is the last thing anyone needs and, in all likelihood, the last thing anyone will have.

Back to the drawing board

Studying how we got to this point of fragmentation, I went back to first principles to see how evolution would have us organise ourselves.

Edward O Wilson’s The Social Conquest Of Earth marvellously illustrates the mercurial power of adaptation. Our supremacy is an oxymoronic combination of improbable luck and inevitability.

Evolution, that great pragmatist, appears to possess an insatiable drive to shape something like us – even though the chances of doing so are infinitesimally small.

And just when we get there, we gain the power and will to destroy everything.

Evolution has much work to do.