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I Am Not (That) Creative

Lauren and I read a lot of library books to my four-and-half-year-old daughter, Betsy.

Recently one night we read a new one called Alex’s Good Fortune, by Benson Shum. The plot goes like this: Alex invites her friend Ethan over to her house for Chinese New Year, and (spoiler alert) we learn about all of the things they do to celebrate the holiday, like doing a dragon dance, getting red envelopes and cooking Chinese New Year dishes.

The story ends with the protagonist, Alex, thanking Ethan for celebrating the holiday with her. It’s a sweet ending, though some of the reviews I read online called it “a bit predictable.”

Anyways, in the back of the book are two pages about the Chinese zodiac, which features 12 different kinds of animals, and your sign is determined by the year you were born.

I have always loved astrology, numerology, and those tests to find out what Star Wars character you are, since I am usually Yoda.

So, I was excited.

Betsy went first. Her sign is a monkey, and according to the book it says she is supposed to be: adventurous (No), active, (sometimes, not in the winter time she likes to stay indoors), and curious (Yes, Betsy is curious, which is why she asks “why”100 times a day.) Overall, pretty accurate, though as parents we need to work on her being a little more adventurous.

Now, it was Lauren’s turn and she scored off the charts. Her sign is a horse, which means she’s independent (very), impatient (extremely) and positive (definitely). She nailed it — three for three.

Finally, it was my turn. I am a dragon. I don’t mean to be a downer, but I don’t like dragons. A dragon is mystical creature, like a unicorn, and I don’t like fantasy. Ok, fine.

My first trait is supposed to be fearless, which is not true and made me depressed.

The second trait is supposed to be ambitious, which I think I am, but if I am honest with myself, I realize I am not, and this made me even more depressed.

The third trait is creative. Undisputed. “That is me!” I thought, until Betsy said: “Daddy’s not very creative when he colors.”

“What? Just because I want to color the Disney princesses the same colors that they are in the movies?”

“That is not creative Daddy! Creative is using different colors than the movie.”

Then she showed me examples from her coloring book a Jasmine with bright red hair, Ariel with purple skin and a Belle that was completely orange.

“That is creative, Daddy,” she said, proudly turning the pages.

Being a super creative person, like being funny, is important to me. But the truth is she’s right, I am not creative in coloring, and I’m not creative in a lot of other things I do, either.

I like to think of myself as this crazy improv guy, but deep down I am a rule follower, and sometimes in improv it’s helpful to follow the rules and sometimes it helps to go rouge. That is how we find our voice. It’s through the process of taking risks and occasionally bending rules.

Maybe I can apply this to my coloring.

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3 Ways Improv Can Make You More Creative

Whether you work in a creative field or not, we all have a human need to be creative on a regular basis, for our hearts and our souls. When we find ways to express our creativity, we are lighter, things don’t bother us as much, we are easier to be around, we are more fulfilled, and yes, even happier.

But it can be easy to get stuck in the motions of your life and avoid doing anything creative for long stretches of time. If that sounds like you, don’t despair. Don’t panic. It might take a little effort to get your creativity flowing again, but it’s well worth it for you and everyone around you.

If you’re looking for something to ignite your creative pilot light, one of the best things you can do is taking an improv class or workshop. Improv is an excellent way of opening up your synapses and letting your brain think in new ways.

Here are three ways that improv can help make you more creative:

  1. It Helps You Learn How To Make Something From Nothing
    The single hardest part of any creative project is getting started. Before we even try something new, we usually come up with 31 different flavors of fear that prevent us from beginning. The thoughts may range from, “I am too old,” or “I will fail and people will hate me” or “If it can’t be perfect, I don’t want to do it.” It doesn’t matter what flavors you choose — you end up with the same results, which is no results.So, how does improv help? Well, thanks for asking. Improv trains you to make something up from nothing. With no plan. With no expectations. It helps you embrace the unknown. In improv, sometimes what we create is brilliant and sometimes it’s just plain shit, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that just by trying improv, we get more confidence to try something new. When we sit down to write something, we worry less about what will come out on the page. When we go to paint something, we care less what comes out on the canvas. When we go to sing, the words will flow out of our mouth. Improv helps us to start trusting ourselves and stop judging ourselves so we can get past the starting line. Now on to judging ourselves less…
  2. It Helps You Stop Judging Your Own Thoughts
    Have you ever had a great, really creative idea about something that would make the world a better place, but you never told anyone about it? If so, you’re not alone. People are often afraid to share their ideas because they fear that others will judge their them. So they don’t share. The keep their mouths shut. And that stifles an awful lot of creativity. Our ideas are trapped inside our big, thick heads and have nowhere to go. We say to ourselves: “I am not going to say anything because I don’t want to be judged.”Well, the beautiful thing about improv is we are surrounded by people who are trained to listen and build off of our ideas. That is not only refreshing, but it also helps us to start trusting our instincts. Our inner critic gets quieter, which means we are no longer judging our own thoughts but instead are saying them out loud where people gladly build off of them. This builds our confidence and creative ideas just begin to come out of us like a fire hydrant that cannot be shut off.
  3. It Helps Us Take in Others’ Ideas
    To me, one of the biggest lessons that improv teaches us is that it’s important to take in other people’s ideas. The ego loves to lie to us and tell us, “If we were really creative, we wouldn’t need other people’s help.” We think the goal of creativity is to come up with something new all by ourselves. In fact, many people feel threatened and insecure when other people suggest ideas to make their project better. They refuse to listen. But improv gives you a secret weapon, and that is people. Of course, you don’t want to surround yourself by just anybody. You want to surround yourself with people you respect so you’ll be willing to take their ideas. You don’t have to take all of their ideas, and some may act as prompts get you to go deeper into your work. My muse often speaks through other people, and the more I am open to this, the better results I get.Improv rewires your brain to constantly take in other people’s ideas and truly collaborate. I can speak from experience and say when you are able to take in other people’s ideas, you will get the kind of results that are beyond your wildest dreams.

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8 Things to Help You Be More Creative

As improvisers, we are considered “creative types.” Some of us may be quirky or even moody, but regardless of our personality, we are all after the same thing: to get in the creative flow.

When we get into the flow, it’s like being a surfer riding a big wave, and it’s exciting. Ideas just come to us out of nowhere, and writing a sketch, working on a screenplay or coming up with ideas for funny videos seem to take almost no effort.

But it’s not always easy to get into the creative flow. It’s a skill, which means we need to work at it.

I originally came up with a list of ideas to inspire creativity a few years ago, and here is an updated list of things that help me get my creative juices flowing.

  1. Bounce Ideas Off Your Friends
    Coming from an improv background, I have always found that getting together with a friend for coffee and or talking to a friend over the phone and sharing an idea I’ve been working on or something I’ve just written and then asking for their feedback leads to inspiration. The hardest part for me is asking for their time. It does help to buy them the coffee and thank them for their time.
  2. Helping Others
    When I am working on a project, it can get very focused on it, which can sometimes dry up my creativity. Every now and then, my brain needs a distraction. One of the best ways I’ve found to get out of my head is to help someone else. Not only is it easy to give some a ride or help them with a problem over the phone, but I almost always feel better about myself afterwards and I’m better able to return to my work with a clear head. But don’t take this too far. Make sure you have good boundaries with your time so you don’t end up with resentment, because resentments are the enemy of creativity.
  1. Give yourself breathing room
    Creativity is fragile. If you push too hard you’ll break it. I am currently reworking parts of my one-person show, “World’s Greatest Dad,” and it so freaking hard not to spend every waking hour thinking about it in my head. FYI: That is called obsessive thinking. But thinking about it over and over doesn’t usually give me new ideas. Instead, when I give myself some time off and come back to it, I usually have a different take on it.
  1. Go to nature
    Mother Nature can sometimes be the perfect muse. Trees give us oxygen and are much better for brains than staring at our laptops for hours trying to come up with the right dialogue or the perfect ending to our story. So, go find some trees or a park and breathe in the oxygen. When you get back to your laptop, you’ll probably find the perfect ending waiting for you on your computer screen. You can thank Mather Nature later.
  1. Talk to yourself
    There are two things that I really enjoy while driving a car: one is picking my nose, and the other is talking to myself. Picking my nose has nothing to with my creativity, but talking to myself does. In fact, I talk to myself on a daily basis. I cannot think of a better place to work on characters, or an acceptance speech for winning an Emmy or being interviewed by Howard Stern than when I’m alone in the car.
  1. Go on a walk
    My brain seems to just flow when I am out there walking in the fresh air. It is even better when I can find the time to walk in nature. I have also found that taking a walk is another great place to talk to myself (see the pattern?). Although being outside helps me the most, I’ve found doing anything physical – dancing, working out at the gym, etc. — can get my brain going. Sometimes in class when I see a student stuck on stage and they can’t get the words out during an improv scene, I will ask them to move their body, and when they do the dialogue comes out like water out of a fire hose.
  1. Take a shower or a bath
    I can’t explain this one, but it’s been amazing how many great ideas have come to me by taking a hot shower or sitting in the warm water of the bath tub. They just do. I don’t need to over explain this one, it’s pretty simple.
  1. Meditate
    Each morning, I meditate for 15 to 20 minutes, and I can’t tell you how important this is to my creative process. It not only clears my mind before I start the day, but it also reminds me to listen. Creativity is as much about expressing your own ideas as it is about listening to your muse, or other people, or the silence, and meditating makes me more open to doing all three.