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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Creativity (An 8-Part Series): Part I - Imagination

By Kristy McCaffrey

 When I was in the final stages of completing my third book, I had a strong sense of cultivation, as if I were gardening. As I strove to refine the story and add more details that would, hopefully, enliven the tale more deeply, I could literally feel the soft, sweet, moist earth fall through my fingers as I scooped it up and packed it into the world I'd created. In moments like these, the creative life fully connects with ordinary reality. It's why painters paint, sculptors sculpt, and writers write. It's why we, as humans, create. We want to bring meaning to our lives, and art—in any form—presents an outlet for us to express this yearning.

We all create, whether you label yourself an artist or not. Decorating your home, landscaping your yard, crafting long letters to friends and family—all are forms of self-expression, a deeply-rooted desire present in all of us.

Artmaking is making the invisible, visible. ~ Marcel Duchamp

Studies have shown that activities such as writing, drawing and even knitting reduce stress and increase serotonin levels. A UCLA study found that when young people engaged in artistic pursuits from a young age, they outperformed their peers in categories ranging from academics to life skills.

Cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien states that in many traditional cultures, a healer will ask an ill person four questions: When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? When did you stop telling your story? When did you stop sitting in silence?

We need our creativity to survive. And we need to move through our creativity ourselves.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. ~ Oscar Wilde

In this series on Creativity, I'll be discussing the following, each in a separate post:

I.      Imagination
II.    Domestication vs. Wildness
III.   Shape-Shifting
IV.   Forbearance
V.    Maiden/Mother/Crone
VI.   The Virgin and the Sacred Prostitute
VII.  Synchronicity
VIII. Magic

Part I: Imagination
Imagination is when you step outside of time. I've often thought that imagination is less something we create and more something we tap into. As a fiction writer, I most definitely conjure ideas and make-believe people to fill the pages of my stories. Or do I?

I wrote my very first novel based on an idea that came to me when I was 15 years old. It was at that time I first became acquainted with my heroine. Years later, as I drove cross-country with my mother and sister—a leaving-the-nest move from Phoenix to Pittsburgh—we pulled off at a rest stop outside of Amarillo. It was a desolate place, with wide-open sky and the endless flat expanse of the Texas Panhandle. And that's when I felt her, standing in the tall grass, watching me. My heroine. And she was whispering to me.

I was about 22 years old at the time. I didn't write that book until I was 33, but in that moment it was as if the character breathed her spirit into mine. It's been said that stories chase the right person to tell it. So, perhaps imagination is less an activity of making something up and more a sense of remembering.

How might you trigger this remembering?

Playing. Children know it, and animals do as well. When children play, they follow their innate talents. It simply doesn’t occur for them not to. Playing is any activity that disengages the rational mind—for some it may be sports, or sewing, or playing a musical instrument. As adults, we often encapsulate play into vacations, but it should really be present each day. How can you add more play to your day? Think about it, and then let go and just have fun.

A Labrador retriever plays through its lifetime and dies a child. ~ Dr. Stuart Brown

Dreams. Whatever your personal beliefs about dreams, and why we have them, there is nothing better at shining a spotlight into your life than your dreams. The key is learning to work with the imagery. Renowned dream archaeologist Robert Moss suggests keeping a dream journal to begin understanding the messages relayed. Working with dreams isn’t a passive endeavor. Everything around us is alive with meaning; all you have to do is pay attention. For further guidance, read Moss's Active Dreaming—Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom (New World Library, 2011). If you’re still not certain that there’s something to be gained from this dreaming thing, check out his book The Secret History of Dreaming (New World Library, 2009) in which he elaborates on the dream lives of Joan of Arc, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill.

In dreams begin responsibilities. ~ William Butler Yeats

Solitude. Numerous studies tout the benefits of meditation, but even if you can’t quiet your mind enough for a deep practice, time alone can trigger a rush of ideas, from planning dinner parties to writing a book. Immersing yourself in the words of others can offer additional stimulus. Perhaps you’re inspired by perusing the latest fictional tale, or devouring Deepak Chopra, or quietly absorbing passages from the Bible. Or perhaps soothing music does the trick, or a hot bath and candles. A practice of daily solitude will fine-tune your access to imagination.

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. ~ Mary Oliver

Imagination is the act of creating new ideas. The key is learning to open the floodgates within the mind that can hold it back. Playing, dreams, and solitude are three ways to allow the remembering to enter your life.

Don’t miss Part II in the Creativity series: Domestication vs. Wildness

Until next month…

Connect with Kristy


  1. I can hardly wait for the next installment of this series, Kristy. Outstanding post. I love how you describe meeting your heroine. Someday we'll have to have a gab-fest about that.

    1. Jacquie,
      I'm glad you liked it. I was able to share all my arm-chair reading finally lol. And I certainly look forward to a future gab-fest with you. Cheers!

  2. I love all these quotes you included in your blog. Oscar Wilde is always my favorite.
    Writers wouldn't exist without imagination--Einstein said so, therefore it has to be true. I have his quote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge" poster on my study wall.

    I do keep a dream journal. I think it's fascinating to find out what dreams mean. It helps me understand my true feelings.

    Well, I certainly can't wait to read your article (Part 2) on wildness vs domestication.

    1. Sarah,
      I'm glad you enjoyed the article. One interesting thing about dream journaling is that we often dream of the future. You won't notice this unless you're tracking your nightly treks. I've gone back through dreams from several years ago and have been surprised by the imagery that was there, completely foreshadowing a future event in my life.

  3. Creativity is a fascinating topic. You touched on so much here I don't know where to begin. First of all the story you tell about stopping at a rest stop and sensing your heroine is amazing. I think that would be a good book! I sort of believe adults in our society sometimes have to give themselves permission to explore their creativity. I definitely feel at times like when I write I'm tapping into and channeling something outside of myself. I don't keep a dream journal but now wonder if I should! I have woken up from vivid dreams on occasion which I turned into books. The mind is a complicated and beautiful thing!

    1. Patti,
      I think dreams can be mundane, but they can also be so much more. You're not the first author to turn a dream into a story. What a treasure-trove our dreams can be!! A dream journal would no doubt illuminate even more for you. I haven't always kept up with journaling, but when I have it's been enlightening.

  4. Wonderful insight, Kristy. A lot to think about and am looking forward to the rest of you posts.

  5. Kristy,

    I have read this article several times since you posted it this morning, and I'm still unable to put my thoughts into a succinct comment. I could write a blog article responding to yours. lolol You've hit upon familiar territory with me, and everything you wrote resonated with me. I wonder if we haven't read many of the same books, or at least, books on the same topic.

    I wish we could talk in person, as Jacquie has already commented. I am looking forward to reading this series.

    1. Kaye,
      Great minds think alike lol. One of these days, we'll get together again. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!!

  6. Kristy...what a fantastic post, and I, too, am looking forward to the following ones in your creativity series. I think there are so many things that we lose sight of as we "put one foot in front of the other" through daily living. Creativity is so much easier as a child, IMO--more time, less inhibitions, and more freedom to just imagine and "do"--I used to write stories all the time when I was younger, and of course, do all the things that young kids do with crafts and projects, etc. I do believe that having that kind of childhood and being able to create at a young age stayed with me for my entire life.

    I think we all need reminders of PRIOR creative moments we've had to inspire us to future projects. And dreams are so fascinating--I'm glad you talked about those and I'm sure there is much more to come. I'm to the point now where I don't remember my dreams like I used to. And if I didn't write them down IMMEDIATELY I wouldn't be able to remember them 5 minutes later. As a kid I could remember my dreams vividly but now...not so much.

    Kristy, I really am looking forward to your insights on creativity. You have given me a lot of food for thought here!

    1. Cheryl,
      So glad it helps. I've been having trouble these past few years remembering my dreams as well. Perhaps as we get older it becomes more challenging. And it's easy to forget how much fun we had as kids just doing what came naturally. It's important to keep that in our lives, even as adults. Not always easy, but certainly worthwhile.

  7. I love your article Christy, and look forward to the rest. I dearly love my family and friends, but there is something about putting imagination on paper that is so satisfying and makes me happy. I realize I miss creating when I've been away from it and then come back to something I've written. As a child on the farm, I had no one to play with so depended on my imagination to entertain me. When I started school and learned to read, an entire new world opened up for me with fairytales. I acted them out, especially Cinderella, as I dusted the furniture, swept and washed the floors every Saturday, and whenever I passed a mirror, my reflection was a princess. We must remember that inner child and never stop acting out our fantasies. And if it happens that others enjoy them too, then it's truly magical.

    1. Elizabeth,
      Your childhood sounds magical!! I love it. As adults, we tend to leave that little girl behind, but I think it's important that we reconnect with her, especially as artists ourselves. It will give our work a richness that can resonate with others. But we must be somewhat vulnerable too. And as adults we deal with criticism, negativity and failure. The hardest thing can be to let that go and enjoy the process of creation again. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Hello Kristy, I'm late to the party. Your post really inspired me. Its so true. I believe we are driven to create, to express ourselves. I never dreamed I would become an author but looking back, i was very shy and often I would write out feelings I could not express outloud. Looking back my English teacher Miss Padley saw something in my writing in literature class and would dig out of the waste basket poems and such I had tossed so I wouldn't have to speak in front of the class. Also my doctor recently suggested I use meditation as part of my wellness plan.