As a former high school English teacher, you must have dealt with kids who didn’t believe they were creative. Has that helped you to help adults harness their creativity?
Esther Kurtz: Absolutely. Seeing the struggles that my students had when it comes to creativity made it clear that a lot of people struggle to embrace that creative side. So often, it’s about helping people realize that ‘Yes, you do have ideas. Yes, you can trust yourself. No, that's not a dumb idea.’
Why do you think so many people shy away from being creative?
Esther Kurtz: I often feel like creatives — or the impression we have of them — give creativity a bad rap. We talk about creatives as these flaky, airy types, people who can’t hold down normal jobs and aren’t the most stable or dependable. But creativity is a huge skillset that we can access in so many different parts of our lives. Sure, we can do creativity in the classic ways like the arts and writing, but creativity shows up in so many different aspects of our lives.
Is there a difference between being “a creative” and being “creative”?
Esther Kurtz: Absolutely. Being a creative is more of a lifestyle, while being creative is a skillset that anyone can tap into anytime. I always like to separate those two things.
Can someone become more creative?
Esther Kurtz: Being creative is like working a muscle: The more you use it, the [stronger it gets]. I think a lot of people think that with something like writing, either you're a good writer or you're a bad writer. They assume it's a talent-based thing. And yes, writing does come more naturally to some people, just like some people are naturally better at math. But at the same time, there's still very much a skill base that you can build upon to get better at writing.
You’ve said that creativity is a cycle: Can you explain that?
Esther Kurtz: I see creativity as a cycle, which means it has a process, and that makes it accessible to anyone who can learn this process. Creativity doesn’t just happen. It starts with inspiration, but creativity comes from taking that inspiration and then doing something with it. Sometimes, you’ll need to walk away and let your subconscious kick in to help you make connections in your mind. Then, you get inspired again as you figure out that next solution. This is true whether you’re writing a novel or redesigning your living room.
Why should someone care about cultivating creativity?
Esther Kurtz: The more creative you are, the happier and more satisfied you’ll be. It's not about money. It's not about status and wealth. When you find the kind of creativity that works for you, that comes from within you, it brings you a joy that you cannot access anywhere else. For example, my husband is an accountant. He’s a numbers guy. One night at work, they had a painting night where they all created these canvases. He came home with this really, really rudimentary painting. And then, an amazing thing happened: He could not throw it away. It felt so profound to him that he had created this thing. You can't really articulate that pride you feel when you have done something that expresses an aspect of yourself.
Creativity can also help even in jobs that don’t seem creative, right?
Esther Kurtz: Exactly. People think of creativity as the arts. But creativity is a skillset that you can apply to every aspect of your life. A plumber may not consider their job as particularly creative, but if they’re good at their job, it actually is really, shockingly creative. They're always going to run into new issues, new problems, pieces that are unavailable, and they need to come up with creative solutions.
How do you carve out time to let yourself find that creative outlet?
Esther Kurtz: It’s not easy, and you have to make it a priority. I have four kids, so I get that it’s hard to carve out time for a hobby. But it's a matter of priorities. I believe that creativity is part of self care. When you are creative, you’re taking care of yourself, you're honoring a part of yourself, and it spills over to other aspects of your life. Sometimes you'll only have 10 minutes to devote to it, and that’s fine. When you have a moment, seize the opportunity.
Is there an easy exercise someone can do to access their creative side?
Esther Kurtz: Absolutely. An easy short exercise is to look around the room or wherever you are, and identify three objects. Then, pick an emotion. Now watch how your mind immediately creates connections and a story with it. We do it automatically. Now, switch up the emotion and you'll come up with a different story. Your mind immediately creates new connections. Even if you don't think you're creative, your mind is already telling stories, your mind is already creating something. Tuning into that is a great way to start getting your creativity flowing no matter where you are or how much time you have.
What about taking a pottery class or a dance class or something like that?
Esther Kurtz: That can work, but it doesn’t always actually make you more creative. For me as a writer, the more I experience the world, the more I can know and write about it, so classes like that can be great. But at the same time, classes like those are very, very surface level. If you actually want to be creative, find your niche and dig down on it — that might start with a class, but it needs to go beyond it. Going to a pottery studio or a dance studio can be a great change of pace, and I think that can help refresh your mind. But if you really want to be creative in an area, dig deeper.