Creativity and the Curse of Being Original

You’re all ready to go: new notebook open, pencil in hand, brushes at the ready, or cursor blinking. What’s stopping you from starting?

Or – the thing is made: it’s sitting there ready to upload, or post, or email – but why the hesitation to share? What’s stopping you?

I bet there’s a creeping little voice at the back of you head…

‘It’s nothing new’, it says, ‘it’s all been seen or said before’. ‘It isn’t original’.

Creativity means making something new, right? – But does it have to mean being original?

It’s really hard to be original; it probably has all been said and done before. People have been making things since the dawn of time – there’s very little you can make now that would be completely original. You’re following the likes of Picasso, Frida Kahlo, JK Rowling, Tracey Emin, bloody Shakespeare! – and every other Tom, Dick, or Harriet that has ever decided to have a go and put pen to paper.

There is nothing new. Not a sausage. Every moment of human experience has been commented on, deconstructed, satirised or explored in minute detail.

There’s even a book (by Christopher Booker) claiming that every story ever told falls into one of just seven plots. If you’re interested in how we tell stories, it’s worth a read (spoiler: it’s not quite that simple).

Every artist stands on the shoulders of those before them, in fact it’s pretty impossible to understand what we make without connecting it to something else – you can’t create in a void, otherwise how do you define what has been created? We do it with books, film and TV all the time – everything is “the new Fleabag”, “the next Harry Potter”, or this year’s “Normal People”.

With the weight of everyone else’s artistic endeavours piling up behind you, I totally understand why it sometimes feels so hard to share – in fact, no one would blame you if you decided to just never start.

But the important thing (I think, anyway) is that creative originality is personal: whatever you make just needs to be new to you.

Whatever you decide to write, draw or create – you make it from your unique perspective: it has your thumb prints all over it. Because although we all share plenty of experiences, no one has looked at things from quite the same place that you have, and it’s that understanding that colours and shades whatever you create.

I know I’ve said it here before, but I think our understanding of ‘being creative’ needs a rebrand. We tend to either think it’s about being a super talented  professional artist of some sort – or we think it’s about doing “something arty”.

Over the last few years that has been an explosion of creative kits for adults – from cool cross stitch to pom pom making and terrazzo coaster kits – if you want to try something new, you can get pretty much anything sent straight to your letterbox.

I think these kits are brilliant – but here’s my slightly controversial take: I don’t think they help you to be creative.

They help you try something new, perhaps even develop a skill, but they don’t actually make you more creative. What they ask you to do is follow a set of instructions. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s really fun, it can be great for mindfulness and for helping you to take a break from staring at computer screens. But essentially, all the creative decisions have been made for you; you just need to follow the steps that are laid out. You will hopefully end up with a lovely thing to keep that you can be proud of, but it won’t, truthfully, have sparked your own creativity.

Instead, we need to start thinking of being creative as experimenting. Let’s stop worrying about whether it’s original – and instead just experiment with making something new to you.

That might mean you take inspiration from other artists, writers, films – even a Bumblebee creative prompt! It definitely means you need to start without a set of instructions, and with a blank piece of paper.

It might mean that it’s a disaster, or you have to start again, or that you hate it – it might not result in a lovely thing you proudly put on your mantelpiece, but I bet even just by trying you’ll learn more about yourself, or even about the world you live in.

If Shakespeare was ok borrowing all of his plots, I think it’s ok if you steal a bit of inspiration too. And (another controversial point coming up!) not everything Shakespeare wrote was brilliant – even he failed sometimes. Because experimenting and failing is all part and parcel of creativity.

You’ll notice with Bumblebee creative prompts that even when I need to give you an actual recipe for a cooking idea, I always encourage you to play around with it – whether you experiment with different flavours, or how it’s decorated – making those decisions yourself is where your creativity comes in.

Bumblebee prompts won’t ever be step by step guides, so they might feel like harder work than a craft kit. I send you inspiration, not a ‘how to’. What you make may be inspired by the prompt (which are in turn inspired by the books!), but it will be totally, wholly, yours. An original.

With love and creativity, Imogen at Bumblebee HQ

If you’re interested  in more – here’s Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: and here’s a brilliant list of creative craft kits

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Imogen Bond

Bumblebee’s chief book chooser, creative activity thinker-upper and all round busy bee 🐝
Imogen started out as a theatre director, mainly making productions for young audiences, as well as teaching creative workshops to all ages from primary schools to post grads!

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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