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Monday, October 27, 2014

Igniting Or Extinguishing The Creative Spark?

I am on the brink. If this is my "make it or break it year" then the month of November, National Novel Writing Month, must be my "make it or break it month." So, today, five days away from NaNoWriMo — I am on the brink.

Perched on the edge of the brink, has led me to extreme introspection. Beyond the obvious "can I do this?" I have also asked myself: "why have I never done this before?" If, at various points in my much younger life — high school, college, young adulthood (i.e. before kids) — I have failed to ignite the creative spark within me, how will I suddenly be able do it now?

A few weeks ago I attended WAMFest (Words And Music Festival) at Fairleigh Dickson University with numerous young college students on the brink of either igniting or extinguishing their own creative sparks. The presenters I saw (Neil Burger, Neil Gaiman, and Salman Rushdie) had all begun reaching for and ultimately achieving their creative goals at a fairly young age. I wondered, what about them gave them the courage to ignite their creative sparks early on and why didn't I? 

Ultimately, I think, I just wasn't ready before — I was too immature. But now, being only slightly more mature, I am ready. Now is my time. This is my year. I am on the brink.

But, what about my daughter who, at ten years old, also sits on the brink — on the edge of childhood and adolescence? Will she have the courage to ignite her creative spark? And, what will I do to ignite it or extinguish it?

I fear that we, normal well-meaning parents, do more to extinguish the creative spark in our children than ignite it. Maybe we are afraid that by signing up our daughter for all the acting classes she's been requesting, we are setting her up for a life of disappointment or failure. Our son may show artistic talent but instead of signing him up for art classes, we sign him up for soccer because it's good exercise. Maybe out of a misguided sense of protection, we'd rather snuff the creative spark in our children then send them out into the big bad world and have someone else do it. Maybe we'd rather our son pursue a career he has no passion for than be a 35 year old living in our basement waiting for the muse. Maybe we'd rather our daughter have a career than wait on tables in some NYC dive while she waits for that big break. Are we doing our children a horrible disservice by never allowing them to burn bright and achieve their creative dreams? Or are we just being realistic?

If I had majored in Creative Writing in college and spent my young adulthood penning trite novels and short stories — where would I be today? Would I still be sitting here on the brink? Would I already be there or would I have long given up trying?

There is no way to really know. I just trust that everything I've done up until now has brought me here and since I am happy where I am, all the what-ifs are meaningless.

However, there are no what-ifs for my children. Yet. I hope that I can help them achieve their own goals whatever they may be and not extinguish them.

How about you? What do you do to ignite or extinguish your own or your children's creative sparks?

Igniting the creative spark
Ignite the light and let it shine?


  1. The most important word you use in this is "spark". Its important that if you have the spark to embrace it yourself. Sparks not only ignite yourself, but can ignite the people around you.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with soccer or no acting classes as long as we as parents continue to nurture our children creativity and open minds in other ways.

    Lastly I think the most important thing we can help our children achieve is balance of success and creativity. You prepare them for both so there doesn't have to be a struggle. Lizzie is a fantastic example of this. She embraces her spark while still holding down a career.

  2. I agree we should encourage our children to explore what makes them happy through arts education such as music, painting, writing, drama and dance. But we should also take it a step further to show them that these skills can be used for more than hobbies and entertainment. A love of drawing can lead to a career in architecture or medical engineering. Dramatic skills can be useful in a courtroom setting or in politics. A love of writing can be great preparation for a career in journalism. Creativity should never be squashed. Einstein and Jefferson played the violin, but they are known for their other accomplishments. Scientists and researchers need to feel confident in expressing and exploring their ideas through the arts because it takes creativity combined with the knowledge of science and math to imagine and design a Mars Rover or an Eiffel Tower or a hybrid car or a solution to global warming and energy shortages or a cure for cancer. Although it doesn't feel like it, your dabbles with writing are leading to an extraordinary novel. And that novel will spark the reader into seeing the world in a different way, which might help him solve a solution at work or perfect a crazy invention. You've already sparked at least two of your blog readers to think about an important topic. Creativity adds joy to life. And we all need more joy.

  3. Funny post-blog story.

    The children mentioned are more hypothetical forms of my own children. However, yesterday while my daughter was doing her homework she cried out: "Why do I even have to go to school? Actresses don't need school! We just need to know how to read our lines!"

    Nice try, but no dice!