📦📦📦Think outside the box! Don’t box yourself inside the walls of your situation. But what if you thought ABOUT the box itself??
I found an empty cardboard box 📦 at work last night—I work part-time a grocery store so I see hundreds of boxes daily. Two things made this box different:
The box was not for me it was for my six-year old daughter. Her favorite class is art and she has made countless cardboard creations at home. My favorite and the one I think was the most creative was a “living room” out of an empty shoebox. She made a TV, remote, couch, and food area for her stuffed animals. Boxes have overtaken sticks and rocks as the new favorite toy in the Chicoine household.
This box was uniquely shaped. Still rectangular it contained an opening on the front and extra cardboard pieces (they were used as dividers to separate the different flavors of the cereal).
Don’t Over-analyze Creativity
Thinking about the “box” or situation before you can actually help to generate creative or outside the box ideas. Boxes generally carry (no pun intended) the connotation of conformity, uniformity, or sameness. People want to stand out. Be unique. Individuals. It is just part of human nature.
The times I most often struggle with creativity are when I box myself in. I believe I have to re-invent the wheel (or box). Desiring to develop a 100% brand new idea without reference to others is not only ambitious it is selfish. Ideas don’t occur in a vacuum. Every thought, idea, project, or endeavor was influenced by someone: your parents, children, spouse, friend, boss, society, books, music, or the information sea of the Internet.
Who Influenced You?
My daughter was that influence for me in picking up that box. As I passed by the cardboard box I asked my co-worker who was stocking items for Aisle 8, “Hey, it is alright if I take this box? My kid loves creates things from cardboard.” He replied, “Sure! It is good to know there is creative people. That is what we need more in school individuals going against the grain. Thinking for themselves.”
💭 How have you fostered creativity in your work and hobbies recently?
💭Have you thought about the “boxes” in your life? Why or why not? If you, what did you learn?
💭What type of cardboard creation do you think my daughter will create with that box today?
Empty boxes provide us opportunity to examine our situations from multiple perspectives: internally, externally, and even simply neutrally about life. Give yourself time this week to be reflect on your goals. You will be surprised how creativity will spring forth!
According to Henry David Thoreau, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I interpret the great American writer’s words to mean that writing without having living is a futile endeavor. Lately, I have been experiencing writer’s block. Promising ideas and topics spring into my mind; however, a few sentences in I encounter a cerebral roadblock. I stop and wonder: what do my better works have in common? This question weighed on my mind for several days. Finally, I had an insight, a spark of inspiration! My creativity stems from drawing on palpable life experiences and I write best when I do not force the pen to the paper. Here are three reasons why forcing ideas lead to bad writing:
Writing is Creative
Writing is a form of art. Like all other artwork, writing involves creativity. From my experiences, I find that I am most creative when I do not seek to be creative. Rather, I allow myself to be inspired. I found inspiration from other authors, the wonders of the world, and my life experiences. William Wordsworth once said, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Without breathing creativity into sterile words, writing is a lifeless process—there exists no meaning.
Creativity stems freely engaging with reality, yet also believing in the seeming impossible. “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You image what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will,” declared George Bernard Shaw. Forcing me to write when I am not inspired and when I lack the volition does not lead to a good essay.
Freedom over Coercion
To further the previous point, creativity only flows naturally with a will to write. In other words, authors tend to best write under freedom versus being coerced. Freedom presupposes a will. An author’s will to compose comes in ebbs and flows. Throughout this past month, I have lived in an arid climate—intellectually speaking. Previously, creativity freely flowed into my mind like an open spout. Currently, the creative spigot is dripping sporadic moments of creativity. Without having access to turn the metaphorical spout, I need to patiently wait for my natural ability to write to return. Waiting is a tough thing for me. According to the famous French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, “Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet”. I pray for the gift of patience from the Holy Spirit to withstand my aridity in authorship.
Real Life Experience vs. Fabricated Events
During the last few months, I learned that recalling past [and present] life experiences help me in sowing [and eventually reap the harvest] the seeds of writing. Concocting or fabricating an experience does not lead to a good piece of writing. A contrived event only breeds half-finished drafts and clutters my computer’s filing system.
Without leaning on real life experiences, my writing suffers immensely. Drawing on the wellspring on my life infuses hue, vibrancy, and emotion into writing. A large part of my childhood involved reading. Franz Kafka boldly stated, “Reading is more important than writing.” The German novelist is on point with his claim.
This month involved a ton of changes in my family’s schedules. As a result, I lack sufficient time to ponder my experiences. I also failed to read daily. To combat this aridity, I made time to read at least 30 minutes a day to end this week. Reinvigorated with fresh ideas, I finally am able to complete today’s post!
Because writing is a creative endeavor forcing ideas does not always lead to the best artwork. Creativity involves freedom and a willingness to write and draw upon past and present experiences. Useful tips to help renew my creativity wellspring include: retreating from the busyness of life to reflect in silence and read other great books.
***“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”***
Helen Keller wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” As a recent Linked user and creative individual, teamwork and content creation has been on the forefront of my mind. My recent post 3 Reasons Why Containing Creativity is Impossible, mentions a bit on the importance of working together with others on a creative project. I wrote, “Whenever I feel my creativity spirit drying up I look to the creative individuals to reignite my creativity.”
Creativity cannot happen in a vacuum. Creating something involves a community. Children are born from the union of mother and father. Houses are built with many individuals. Book projects involve the collaboration of the author, proofreaders, editors, publicists, and marketing teams. This post will focus on three distinct ways creativity and collaboration must be partners.
Humans are Social Creatures
According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Even further back in history, the Bible recognized the importance of communion. God created Eve to be a partner for Adam. Since the inception of humanity, people need others for help and support.
The dictionary defines creativity as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Every major advancement in human history occurred via the creative endeavor. Such endeavors rarely occur in isolation. A creative idea ultimately serves not only the originator, but the betterment of society as a whole.
Creativity Gets Multiplied Never Divided
Tennis legend Althea Gibson stated, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” Creativity never loses momentum. Collaborating on an idea or invention does not reduce creativity. Collaboration enhances creativity. More minds working together multiplies creativity.
Seeing collaboration occur professionally on LinkedIn or in the domestic setting of the family unit is exciting. Henry Ford spoke of working together in this way, “”Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” The interactions between entrepreneurs and family members displays the multiplication of creativity. For instance, my oldest son just got into Pokémon (the inner geek in me is so proud!) “Avila can be the ground Pokémon and we can be the Pokémon Masters!” declared my older two kids as they plotted their latest fictional safari. Seeing the joy glint from their eyes truly warms my heart. Sibling success— for the moment!
Marketplace of Ideas
The late innovator and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” In a sense, great ideas are found instead of created. When asked about his legendary fiction world of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien shrugged off the idea of him being this creative genius. He merely “discovered” a world waiting to be found.
Collaboration and creativity create a marketplace of ideas. The information boom developed since the inception of the internet as not only made information more accessible to more people, but also allows more people to interact. Sharing information on social media is not only good, but essential moving forward. According to Bertrand Russell, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” The age of ruthless competition is over. Collaboration connects humanity. Collaboration leads to more minds reflecting on the major issues we face as a human race. Creativity flows in that marketplace of ideas.
Start Collaborating Now!
Never be afraid to ask for help to jump-start your creativity. Creativity does not exist in a singular mind. Every creative endeavor requires the close partnership of collaboration. The social aspect of humanity, multiplication of imagination, and great opportunity to participate in the marketplace of ideas show the necessity for cooperation in the modern world and creating content.
I am blessed to live in this information and collaborative time in human history. I challenge you to reach out to someone this month and collaborate on a project: a blog post, an article, podcast, or video. Share your past collaborative endeavors in the comments. I would love you hear about the fruits and creativity born from your collaborations!
Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,
There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).
Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.
Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]
Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.
The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Stability of Truth [St. Peter]
Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of
Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.
Analogy of Tetherball
Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.
To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of
St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!
I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”
Mark Twain wrote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Recently, the “greatest American humorist” has showed up in a lot of my posts. His wit and eccentricity defy convention. Boundless creativity define Twain and other classic writers.
Is this it in Life?
Sitting in my cubicle at my bank job got me thinking quite seriously about creativity, self-reflection, and life in general. During a long span between inbound calls, I gazed across the floor and noticed something—more accurately the absence of something. Perhaps it is the drudgery work, but I realized, my job does not reward creativity. Compliance, uniformity, and procedural elements dominate the world of finance. “Is this what life is truly meant to be?” I pondered.
Instructed to work within the limits of law, policy, and procedure, I learned that I cannot be free to create—new ideas, content, strategies, or even share best practices. Although I enjoy order, working in a solely unimaginative environment stymies my creative side. Along with my desire to evangelize and educate others on the Catholic faith, my primary motivation for writing was to satiate my creative thirst. Creativity cannot be contained. It may be limited and temporarily tempered, but it can never be truly contained.
Uniqueness Defeats Conformity
Influenced by my faith and personal experience as a father to special needs children, I place high value toward individuality. My sons require an individualized education plan (IEP) to best succeed in school. Human beings are not meant to be uniform. We should celebrate our differences, strengths and limitations all together! Authentic diversity actually leads to true unity. This is best summed up in the Catholic Church.
St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of the importance of the uniqueness of the Body of Christ. United by Christ the diversity of the members is graced with the ability to work for the greater good.
Another reason that containing creativity is impossible is because creation by its nature is limitless. French philosopher Albert Camus purported, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” Creating art, language, music, and technology starts with the mentality of the limitless. The greatest act of creation, that formation of the Universe via the Big Bang, seems absurd. Creation out of nothing. Genesis 1 tells us God created the formed the universe ex nihilo!
The Supreme Creator God definitely cannot be contained or limited. That would be contrary to God’s nature. However, that is a grandiose example of creativity. Even on a lesser scale, creation cannot be bound. My 5 year old daughter uses her imaginative and sees beyond the ordinary in everything. A rock becomes a “piece of chocolate”. Cardboard boxes become animals. Sticks become “silverware”. Pages and pages of drawings populate our kitchen table, bookshelves, and dresser tops. Maya Angelou describes the limitless nature of creativity perfectly when she said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Along with the unique and boundless quality of creativity a third reason why imagination cannot be contained is due it is spread so easily. According to Albert Einstein, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” Opposites attract. Creativity attracts exponentially more! Great imaginative minds never exist on their own. J.R.R. Tolkien attracted C.S. Lewis and vice versa.
Together they transformed literature in the 20th century. John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated to bring the world amazing music. The Wright brothers worked together to innovate transportation by developing the first airplane.
Whenever I feel my creativity spirit drying up I look to the creative individuals to reignite my creativity. Reading Tolkien, Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and the doctors of the Church such as Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila brings forth creativity. Creativity elicits more creativity.
If you are a writer stuck in an imaginative idleness, please don’t despair. It is natural to experience periods of droughts, but creativity is never truly lost or fully contained. Seek out other creative individuals (both past and present) and learn from their works. Creativity lead to creativity. Embrace your uniqueness. Don’t try to be anyone else expect yourself. You have a 100% monopoly on being you—let this be your advantage!
Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.
Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,
A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.
Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.
Evidence from The Silmarillion
According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,
Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).
I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!
Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”
The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world. The height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass! I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.
British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!
Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.
Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).
2. Reflection: Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!
3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?
My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40). Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family!
Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
“All for one and one for all”—Alexander Dumas
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”—Anne Frank
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”— Mahatma Gandhi