How to overcome lacking creativity

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Yesterday, I was supposed to write a little doo-dad about Sweat Local Columbus, my wife and I’s (<– grammatically correct BTW) fitness journey, and a little more about ourselves for the blog, Columbus Families. The day before, my wife asked me to write it because, well, writing is kind of my thing. This was supposed to be a short piece (not exactly my forte, but not something I should struggled with) and something that would hit home with some of the readers.

So I wrote the piece.

I wrote the piece and it read like a high school essay.

“My name is Ryan Rauch and today I would like to tell you about why I think health is important. Health is important because it gives me the energy I need to accomplish my goals. I also like nutrition. Nutrition, according to wikopedia.com, is the….”

That wasn’t really what I wrote, but it may as well have been. I talked to Kelly on the way home and she told me it was boring and that she’d have to edit it and rewrite it.

It felt like she was spotting me at the gym.

“Here, babe, let me help you pick up that big heavy weight. You just got get a towel and a big drink of water…”

I couldn’t argue with her; I knew it was bad and I know I could do better.

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So I started working through my head as to why I couldn’t come up with anything better than some generic B-copy version of something that, of all things, I really do like and care about. I think it all starts with lacking creativity.

I think most writers probably deal with this on a regular basis. I think that overcoming a lack of creativity has to start with self critiquing oneself (call it soul searching if you want, but don’t allow yourself to excuse anything). It’s basically problem solving, right? The big difference is that I’m not really looking for a solution. Creativity isn’t like math, it’s like science: the solution can always be improved upon and can always be made better.

If I’m honest with myself as a writer, my strength isn’t writing straight forward content. I think the things I like most and I believe that people enjoy about my writing is my ability to write like I think, and to allow my personality to come through in my work. When I try to do something that doesn’t sound like me, it won’t read well to anyone that sees it.

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So here’s my plan.

Step one: write this blog. (Check)

Step two: rewrite the piece for Columbus Families, even if it’s already published (who cares if it doesn’t get published, I am going to write it the way I should have written it the first time)

Step three: celebrate because it’s Friday and I am pouring beer for my favorite brewery at Powell Fest tonight. (because if all else fails, I’ll find a little creativity at the bottom of a double IPA or two)

 

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10 Things Things Should Be

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Think about the thing you love in this world more than anything else. Maybe that’s your parents or your S.O., or maybe it’s your job. Maybe you love playing online video games, or maybe you get your rocks off by climbing rocks. Whatever your thing is, think about it for a second. Think about how you feel when you’re doing that thing or talking to that person. Don’t think about one specific time or conversation, but of that thing as a whole. Wouldn’t it be great if everything were like that thing in your life? Wouldn’t it be magical if you woke up, and everything you did felt like that thing you love?

Why isn’t that the case? Why do we wake up angry that it’s Monday, or stay up late watching TV because we don’t want to go to work the next day? Why do we avoid phone calls from friends because you know it’s going to be drama?

This blog is about figuring out things in your life that are worthwhile and meaningful, and figuring out how to make everything else in your life more like those things. Your things shouldn’t be cumbersome or something you avoid, they should be the things that bring you happiness and allow you to be the kind of you you were meant to be.

Here is a list of ten things things should be:

  1. Useful – Usefulness doesn’t mean something is a tool. Things can be useful by bringing out different sides of your personality, or helping you make something else better. Useful things make us productive, either directly or indirectly. If something isn’t useful in your life, why do you keep it around?  Is it comfortable?
  2. Inspiring – Inspiring doesn’t mean that you have to have an Epiphany any time you have a conversation. Inspiring means something has to make you think and to make you see something in a different light every now and then.
  3. Beautiful – Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes, and applies to things other than people too (believe it or not)! Beauty isn’t just a painting or a cover girl or a sunset. Beauty is having something personal that fills you with happiness. Beauty is something meaningful and speaks to you unlike anything else.
  4. Engaging – If something doesn’t hold your attention then why do you care about it? Everything doesn’t have to always have your full attention, but if something NEVER has your full attention, you can probably do without it.
  5. Memorable – The most important things we will have at the ends of our lives are memories, and the things we hold nearest to our hearts should be memories we have with the things that mean the most to us.
  6. Unique – Your things should be unique. Life isn’t an Ikea store where everything can be compartmentalized and organized and made to fit into tiny boxes in your brain. Your things, your BEST things, should be as unique as you are and mean something different to you than anyone else.
  7. Timeless – Things shouldn’t have expiration dates unless they can be eaten. Things should continue to be long after they’re gone. Think about the conversations you have had with people that stick in your mind; good, bad, or ugly they stick with you and are powerful. Make every conversation, and every THING in your life stick with you even if you are doing something else.
  8. Valuable – Don’t think of value as something that has a dollar sign attached to it. Value in the marketplace is different than value in our lives. What is it that your things allow you to do or allow you to be? Value means something will be equally or more important tomorrow than it is today.
  9. Consistent – Things should be consistent, reliable, and we should be able to count on things to be as they are when we need them the most. Consistency allows you to lean on something when times get hard, and know that you will get the most out of it when each and every time.
  10. Original – You don’t always have to do things other people do, and your relationships don’t have to be the way other people think they are supposed to be. Don’t ever be afraid to push the envelope, whether it’s challenging your husband or choosing which color paint to make your bedroom.

I think most people would agree to these 10 things things should be. You might have a few other ideas about what things should be, and feel free to apply it to this next idea.

Think about the things in your life. Think about the friendships, relationships, stuff you’ve accumulated over the years and keep at your home. Think about your hobbies, your job, and your weekend plans. Think about your TV shows, your books, the emails you haven’t sent and your Amazon shopping cart. How would you rate the things in your life? Of the ten most recent things you’ve thought about, how many of those fit into all of the “things” in the list above? How many of those things fit into half of the things on that list?

Think about your job or your marriage; are those things engaging and valuable? Are they consistent and inspiring? If they aren’t then what keeps you invested in those things? Does a paycheck allow you to make for a better life or does it hold you in a position you hate being in? Does coming home to someone you feel contempt toward justify some kind of need to share rent together?

The last thought I will leave you with is this: pretend you’re having a conversation with your eight-year-old self. Pretend you know everything about yourself at that age, but he knows nothing of what you’ve become or where you’re at in your adult life. Pretend he asked you if you’re happy with yourself. What would you say if he asked about your job or your friends or what you liked to do when you had free time. Would you lie to him or would you inspire him? Just because you didn’t become an astronaut doesn’t mean you’d disappoint yourself, but if you have to lie about the most important things in your life, do something to change that.

 

Writing prompt #03: What does this image spark in you?

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This week’s writing prompt from Death to Stock is about seeing an image and writing about whatever it is that the image makes you feel. I saw a story about two kids discovering the car and having an adventure. 

We found it there just as it must have been thirty years ago under the big Oak tree and about 45 minutes walk south from our back door. Even though we knew the owner hasn’t been around in decades, we still searched for tracks as though some mystery was about to unfold in front of us. I think Katie first decided to classify it as evidence.

“Don’t touch anything!” she yelled. “We have to dust it for prints.”

Katie ran around to the back of the car to where my backpack was sitting in the grass. She pulled out a napkin from our lunchbox and put the lunchbox back in the pack. She began rubbing the napkin in the dirt.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

She stood up and began patting the door handle with the napkin like it was fingerprint powder.

“I’m seeing if we can find any fingerprints,” she said. “Go around to the other door and open it using your sweatshirt. Make sure you don’t touch it. See if there are any clues inside.”

“Clues for what?” I asked.

She didn’t answer. She was moving toward the back of the car and dusting the whole thing; door handles, windows, the rims, everything was evidence on the car. I opened the passenger door, careful not to touch it with my fingers. I got in and noticed an old glass bottle on the floorboard, and some dried leaves on the seats and dash. I noticed the flowers hanging from the mirror and there was a broken picture frame in the back seat. I reported my findings to Katie.

Katie open the door on the driver’s side and sat in the driver’s seat. She had dropped the evidence napkin and seemed content disrupting whatever evidence might be on the steering wheel. I got in, picked up the bottle from the floorboard and shut the door behind me.

I looked at Katie through the glass bottle and she was holding on to the steering wheel. She was staring through the front windshield and seemed frozen in the moment.

“I wonder why they left it here,” she said. “I wonder how long it will be before someone else finds it again.”

I put the glass back on the floorboard where I found it and looked through the windshield at the sun peaking above the treeline.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m glad we did.”

Thinking Systems

Lately I have been reading a book all about how people think. I won’t go into too much detail about it because, frankly, I don’t understand a majority of what I am reading. Basically, it talks about how people have two “thinking systems.” The first system is very much a reactionary, instinctual, you know it as soon as you see it type of process. When you’re waiting at a stop light and it turns green, your brain does very little processing before it tells you to push the gas pedal. The second system is your critical thinking system. It does things like multiplying numbers bigger than 3 and estimating how long it would take you to drive to Orlando for a family vacation.

[Side Note: I drove to Orlando for a family vacation. It takes about 15 hours with a dog and you should get an audio book. Definitely get an audio book. I digress…]

Thinking about thinking got me thinking about how men and women apply these two systems in their everyday lives. The name of the book is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. When I saw the title, my immediate gut reaction (System 1) told me that my wife is a fast thinker and I am a slow thinker. I thought the book was going to confirm what I already knew in that some people have the ability to process information much quicker than others to come to a logical conclusion about.

For example, I rarely fight with my wife because she has a remarkable ability to think logically in the heat of the moment. She can remember countless examples of very specific instances when I said something a certain way or refused to do something when it needed to be done. She can recite entire conversations we had months before where I had contradicted whatever my current position happened to be. I, on the other hand, have a hard time remembering much more than, “I do remember saying something about that…” or “I’m pretty sure that what I meant when I said that was…” What it comes down to for me is that I know better than to try to call my wife out on anything beyond catching her red-handed in the act, which she is way to careful to ever let happen.

Now, if we were to schedule a fight for 8:00 pm, and I was presented a list of her arguments well in advance, I think I would have a pretty good shot at winning my case as to why I shouldn’t have had to take the dog out this morning despite the fact that it was my day to do so.

“Well, babe, having taken the dog out the two nights prior should have bought me some chore-equity. Not to mention the fact that I have this email from you dated 1/23/2013 stating that you owe me for buying you flowers.”

What the book is actually about is how we put these two systems to work. Remember, System 1 is your reaction and “know it without thinking about it system” and your System 2 is your critical thinking system. We all have both systems, but some of us are about to lean heavier on one system or another at any given time.

My wife has the strong System 1. It’s not that she can win an argument against me, but she can make important decisions on gut reactions. And I admire this about her because my System 1 doesn’t work the same way. I have a relatively strong System 1, but not in the same way she does. My system 1 recognizes meaningless facts like where Istanbul is located on a map or that a flush beats a straight in a game of poker. I don’t have to think about it I just know right away that Istanbul is to the right of the Mediterranean Sea and I don’t like my 9-10-J-Q-K when 4 diamonds are on the board and someone bets big into me.

Here’s a good example of when the same question draws out differing systems:

Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?

Me: well let’s see. We haven’t had Chinese in a few weeks, but I had pasta last night and I would probably get something with noodles if I went Chinese. OK so rule that out. Sushi would be good but I don’t get paid for another week and we would probably run up a big bill.  Same goes for seafood. So lets factor out expensive places. Mexican could be good. It’s cheap. OK so Mexican, or… I guess we could split something at a seafood place…

Her: I want sushi.

I really appreciate this aspect of how she thinks. I will go months without buying new running shoes despite the fact that I ran a marathon and a half-marathon last year and my feet hurt after every time I run. I will convince myself why I don’t NEED new shoes and how I could better spend my money. By listening to her sometimes, I get things I want and, more importantly, things that I need.

Now, it’s not like System 2 isn’t equally as important in our lives as is System 1. For instance, I control the finances. I can sit at a spreadsheet and map out our next 3 month’s expenses and I can know that we will be financially tight these next two months, but come June we will have some extra spending money and can go on a weekend get away if we wanted to. My wife has a very hard time with this. It’s not that she cannot think critically or couldn’t sit down and figure our finances out. She could if she wanted to.

System 2 is much easier to train than is System 1. System 1 is much lazier than is System 2, but we can always practice patience. Now, just because I say that is it lazier, doesn’t mean that it is somehow less important than a System 2. It only relies on gut reactions, instincts, feelings and anything that doesn’t require you to furrow your brow. We cannot practice how we react to questions or situations where we rely on our instincts.

So what does it all mean? Nothing. And everything. We are are capable of making gut decisions and also thinking critically about what needs to be done. I think that my wife and I work so well together because we each allow each other’s strengths to shine and lean on each other when we need to. I don’t know that men or women tend to think one way or another. I think most people would presume men think one way and women another. I think what it comes down to is that everybody has their own affinity for how they think and how they can best navigate through daily decisions.

Ultimately, understanding how our minds work is the most important thing.  And equally as important, for those of us in relationships, is the ability to recognize how your partner’s mind works. I know my System 1 isn’t as strong as my wife’s so I know it’s better not to try to take a stand during an argument unless I am really sure of what I want to say.

Now, if you want to have a rational discussion about why we should go out for Mexican tonight…