Ten Steps to Creativity

“Ten Steps to Creativity,” New Era, Aug. 1990, 47

Ten Steps to Creativity

Question: Basically, what are the ten steps to creativity?

Answer: Beats me.

Question: But you’re the one who suggested a possible title for this interview.

Answer: Yeah, I know. It sounded interesting. I mean, I myself would like to know what the ten a steps to creativity are.

Question: Well, you must have had some sort of an outline in mind of what you wanted to cover in this interview.

Answer: You mean like a big Roman numeral I and then underneath that an A, B, C, D?

Question: Yes, some sort of a plan.

Answer: No, not really.

Question: Well, do you have any suggestions for some of our readers who might want to discover their creativity?

Answer: Sure. Don’t use an outline with a big Roman numeral I and then underneath that an A, B, C, D.

Question: What else?

Answer: When you first start, don’t be too critical of what you create. If you’re writing, don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or doing a lot of research before you write anything. Don’t try to make it perfect the first time. Don’t try to have everything planned out to the finest detail. Just begin and trust that things will work out.

Question: Are you suggesting that grammar or research aren’t important?

Answer: Of course they’re important, but not in the beginning. What I’m trying to do is take away all the excuses people use to explain why they can’t be creative.

Question: Like what?

Answer: Like “I can’t write a story because sometimes I use bad grammar, or because I don’t have the education or training to do it, or because I haven’t spent ten years doing research so I’ll get everything exactly right.” Sometimes people say they could never be an artist because they can’t draw a straight line. What’s that got to do with anything? How many artists draw straight lines anyway?

Question: So what you’re saying is don’t worry about things like that and just begin.

Answer: Sure. There are books out these days that say we all have an artist or musician or writer within us already and all we have to do is give permission for that creative part to come out of the shadows and enrich our lives. I believe that’s true.

Question: What prevents the creative part of us from becoming more active in our lives?

Answer: Being too critical in the beginning shuts us down. It’s like we’re saying to ourselves, “Go ahead, create something, but it had better be good.” And when it’s not, we say to ourselves, “What made me think I could create something anyway? I must not have any talent.”

Question: You’re saying just go ahead and write the story or compose that piece of music or paint that picture without worrying about whether it’s going to be good or not.

Answer: That’s right. You don’t need to have taken an art course to paint a picture. You don’t need to have a degree in English from a university to write a story or novel. All you need to do is to understand that you’ll probably not get it right the first time but you’ll keep trying until you do.

Question: But surely there must be a place for evaluating how well you’ve done.

Answer: Sure, but it’s after the first try has been completed, not while it’s being created. If every time you write a sentence, you say to yourself, “That’s stupid! Can’t you do any better than that?”—before long you’ll get discouraged and quit. You can’t be creative and overly critical at the same time. At least I can’t. In the beginning, I take anything I can come up with.

Question: But there must come a time when you become more critical of what you’ve written.

Answer: Yes, but it’s after I have this big stack of papers. Then is the time to begin to act like an editor. After the second draft I might stop and think about what the theme of the story is.

Question: Are you saying that when you begin you don’t know what the theme of your story is?

Answer: Hey, most of the time I don’t know anything. I just start writing anything that comes to mind. Little snatches of dialogue mostly.

Question: Do you begin at the beginning of the story?

Answer: I never know where the beginning of the story is. Just begin anywhere with anything and see where it leads you. It’s just paper. You can always throw it away if it doesn’t turn out.

Question: Okay, let’s suppose you’ve come up with the first draft of a story. What happens next?

Answer: I rewrite every story four or five times until it begins to take shape. The fun part of writing is when I realize I have a story that’s worth telling. After that, it’s just going over it again and again trying to make every word count. Now’s the time to worry about grammar and punctuation and possibly do some library research.

Question: What makes a good short story?

Answer: It begins with a problem and ends with the problem solved. During the story the main character must change in some way. We have to care about the main character. That’s all there is to it. It takes a lot of revising to finally get it right, but it’s fun to create your own private world.

Question: What would you like to say to the youth of the Church about their creativity?

Answer: I want them to know that they have within them great creative gifts from Father in Heaven that they can discover if they’ll just try.

Question: What about those who don’t believe they have any talents?

Answer: I’d say, “You’re wrong.”

Question: What makes you so certain about that?

Answer: We’re all children of Heavenly Father, who is the Supreme Creator, so his children are that way too.

Question: Every one of them?

Answer: Why not? We all have talents. They’re not all the same, but we all have them. To tell you the truth, I don’t like the way we sometimes use the word talent.

Question: Why’s that?

Answer: We use it so that talent is what people say you have after you’ve had some success, so the rest of us look at someone who’s succeeded and we say to ourselves, “Oh, that’s just because that person is talented.” The problem is that that kind of attitude might stop us from discovering our own talents.

Question: Where does talent come from?

Answer: I believe it comes from our premortal existence. We’re born with talents and Heavenly Father expects us to find out what talents we’ve been given. People who haven’t discovered their talents may believe they don’t have any. But the truth is you’re talented whether you know it yet or not.

Question: When’s the best time for someone to be told they’re talented?

Answer: You don’t need it after you’ve had some success; you need it in the beginning. That’s where parents can do the most good—to tell their kids night and day that they’re talented and gifted, because in reality everyone is.

Question: But not everyone wants to paint a picture or write a story or compose a song.

Answer: Those aren’t the only talents people can have. Being able to make people feel good about themselves is a talent. Knowing how to fix something is a talent. Being able to get people together to work toward a common goal is a talent. Everybody’s been given something. All we have to do is find out what our talents are.

Question: What about your talent of writing stories? Do you ever feel guilty because youwrite stories that never really happened?

Answer: No. Fiction doesn’t mean “not true.” It means “this is a created story.” Storytelling has always been used to convey and preserve values. The Savior himself told parables to teach the gospel and enrich our lives. Besides that, I think everyone likes to hear a story. When I look back on talks I’ve heard in church, the ones I remember the most are the ones with stories.

Question: It’s getting more difficult all the time to find movies and books that are appropriate to read. Any suggestions?

Answer: Read the books that are considered classics—you know, the ones that school librarians recommend. The same with movies—there are some wonderful older movies, some in black and white, which can be enjoyed without feeling embarrassed. And then you can always write your own. I believe that as the world becomes more and more morally bankrupt, members of the Church will step in and create wonderful things that will enrich the entire world. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “There may be many Goethes [the author of Faust] among us even today, waiting to be discovered. Inspired Saints will write great books and novels and biographies and plays” (Ensign, July 1977, p. 4).

Question: What about the term inspired? Do you ever feel inspired when you write something?

Answer: I think what President Kimball meant by inspired is that because of the gospel of Jesus Christ we understand why we’re here on earth. I don’t think he meant that Heavenly Father will tell us what words to write or what colors to use in a painting or what key to write a song in. Heavenly Father wants to help us find the creativity within us. It wouldn’t encourage us to do that if he were to say, “Get a piece of paper and write this down.”

Question: Any last thoughts?

Answer: It’s always a thrill for me to have a story published in the New Era because I know it goes to the most wonderful group of youth who’ve ever lived. I really believe this generation of youth has a great mission.

Question: One question. What are we going to do about the title, “Ten Steps to Creativity”?

Answer: Ten steps to creativity. Hmm, let’s see if I can come up with ten.

  1. Don’t wait—just begin.

  2. Don’t be too critical of what you create in the beginning.

  3. Believe in yourself.

  4. Do a lot of revising.

  5. After you’ve done about as much as you can, find a teacher who’s willing to work with you.

  6. Read self-help books or take courses that will help you get better at what you’re doing.

  7. Don’t compromise your beliefs. Let the gospel shine through in what you create.

Question: That’s only seven.

Answer: So it is. Well, how about if we change the title to “Seven Steps to Creativity.” As you can see, we revise to the very end.