Creativity begins with you. Through a series of 20 practical and effective exercises, all using a unique visual approach, Michael Atavar challenges you to open your mind, shift your perspective and ignite your creativity. Whatever your passion, craft or aims, this book will expertly guide you from bright idea, through the tricky stages of development, to making your concepts a reality. We often treat creativity as if it was something separate from us – in fact it is, as this book demonstrates, incredibly simple: creativity is nothing other than the very core of 'you'.
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About the Author
Michael Atavar is an artist and consultant with a practice that mixes creativity, business, art and psychology. He currently works with individuals and businesses, helping to solve professional problems, using creativity as a key. His books include How To Be An Artist, and most recently Better Magic - How To Have Creative Ideas in 24 Steps. Michael has written three other books about creativity covering the areas of process, individual practice, generating ideas and group dynamics.
Read an Excerpt
01 BEGINNER'S MIND
Beginning is every day.
02 REDUCE THE FRAME Noticing is an active feeling.
03 IDEA MUTATES
Creativity = doing.
04 FAILS, SUCCESSES
Action involves experiment.
* * * My philosophy is that beginning is every day; beginning is life. We are always beginning. Therefore, you can consciously integrate a small amount of beginning into every action, every project.
Here is the first part of the book – it's about beginning.
Simply put: how can you start?
It's easy to become overwhelmed by the fear of beginning. You can get caught up in what you don't have – the perfect studio, the ideal computer, the right job. None of these are present, so you believe that you can't start.
This is usually a defence; perhaps unconsciously you don't really want to begin, so you find fault with the environment and push your anxiety onto that element.
Be careful. Starting is difficult. It demands rigour – it needs direction from you.
However, there are strategies that you can use to overcome this anxiety of starting.
In this way, you don't give the feeling of anxiety too much power; you make it a daily action, important, but not overwhelming.
Integrate continuous failure and continuous success into your creativity, so that these elements come to you like waves; they flow through you.
With these methods you can address the fears of beginning while remaining centred, dynamic.
Always, in this book, I will bring the idea back to you. What do you want, think, feel, believe? Therefore, when we look at beginning, we must also discuss what is stopping you from starting.
To help me address the anxiety of starting, I often return to the Zen Buddhist idea of 'beginner's mind' – everything is beginning. You begin every day, every moment. You begin when you breathe, when you inhale and exhale.
In 'beginner's mind' there is possibility, openness, curiosity: all qualities that are useful for an exploration of creativity.
When I remember this simple fact, I return to materiality, to the page. I realise it's just words on the paper – not finished thoughts or polished rhetoric, but simply beginning with what I have with me right now.
We all feel blocked; it's a normal condition of creativity. Everyone feels that they are dealing with difficulty – it's part of the to and fro of being creative.
If you are stuck with your creativity, try the following exercise, which translates Zen 'beginner's mind' into something physical.
Why does this exercise work?
It succeeds because it limits your output to something small and achievable – your breath. It doesn't overwhelm you with too much material; it is eminently do-able.
This is an important part of beginning – sometimes we don't succeed because we begin with an agenda that is too vast, too enormous. The scale of the project is too big.
Therefore, I suggest that you make something small, using the obvious facts of what is close to you:
> The view from a window
> Your shadow
> A mark on a wall
> The dimensions of a room
Use anything that's around.
You start by noticing.
In my philosophy, noticing and creativity are synonymous.
When you separate from your creativity, by making it about something other than your seeing, you give the responsibility to someone else. Your act of noticing takes the control and brings the potential for being creative back to yourself.
+ THE EXERCISE
Take a deep breath.
As you exhale, write on the page, not in a fixed way, but attempting to be uncontrolled, fluid. Note down words: adjectives, colours, feelings. Write until you reach the point when you need to take an in breath.
Then look back – what did you discover?
Don't worry if you can't make sense of what you have written (this is often our fear; that it has to be something straightaway).
The main thing is that you have begun.
Does this mean that our creative work has no ambition, no scale? Am I suggesting that in essence you do 'nothing'?
The big fear that holds us in such thrall is that creative work has to be immediately important. However, in my world of creativity, I want you to think about the opposite. Consider starting small, with minor items; not worrying too much about what things mean; just doing; making things rapidly without any immediate sense of value.
Sometimes it's our delivery-obsessed world that looks at creativity as a series of outcomes that must be achieved. Again, I take a different approach. I think about creativity as a process, a long line of work, that is continuous. Big, small, minor, important. It doesn't matter.
Every so often, we can capture something of this line, make an output, a bundle of what's been happening, to offer to others (a show, a product, an event, a document).
But the line continues onward.
An example of this in action is my own notepad that I carry around with me all the time. It's not full of finished observations, fine-tuned ideas that sit well on the page.
Phone numbers 
Dotted lines 
A sticking plaster 
Circled words 
It is a series of small, unrelated actions that record my seeing of the world. Each one is distinct, discrete.
Over time, perhaps these events will form something bigger. But for the moment, they are just pieces.
In my notepad I am beginning each time I write on the page; I am actively practising a version of Zen's 'beginner's mind'.
A useful feature of beginning is that you can start anywhere: portable you. Since you have beginner's mind, you can see things with fresh eyes – parts that more accomplished viewers might not notice.
You can look at:
> A car
> A flyover
> A window
> A cloud
See an object for what it is, simple in its own direct quality, separate from its habit formulas (what it becomes with overfamiliarity).
Remember, you are making as you are breathing, not worrying about what it is or what others think. You are just making 'notes'.
One way to capitalise on this skill that you have just discovered is to record your observations in a notepad. These pages then become the repository of your new, emerging expertise.
Inside the pages, you can grow.
+ THE EXERCISE
Go out straightaway and buy a cheap notepad and pen. Don't worry about the quality; in fact, the cheaper the better since you will not worry about making mistakes, crossing out, messiness or unformed ideas.
Carry it with you all the time and write down what you see.
Use the breathing exercise from the previous section to make flurries of words, small sentences. These don't need to be 'about anything'; they can merely be reflections, feelings and observations.
Write them all down.
It's amazing how little you need to have an idea.
I often work in business contexts teaching people new ways of having ideas, techniques that can provoke their creativity. When I meet groups for the first time,
I often ask them to do very small check-ins:
> Choose a colour
> Name an experience
> Write a key word
Sometimes participants are sceptical of this approach. I tell them, 'This is how artists work', but they don't believe me. Yet when the individuals begin to piece these small elements together, when they put a colour next to a chosen word, they suddenly see an arc, a narrative that they hadn't noticed before.
Everything makes sense.
+ THE EXERCISE
I'd like to give you a way of working with notepads, to get you started. This method is cheap and simple. Instead of only filling A4 pages, reduce the size to A6. The canvas is therefore smaller, enabling fewer words to be used. Simply fill a page each day, one A6 sheet, 50 words maximum. Not only is this easier, it will give you a sense of achievement, with small steps delivered every day.
Also, extend the idea of 'reducing the frame' in other ways. Write 'small things' in your small A6 notepad. Insignificant observations, minor events.
Keep the idea of 'you' central to these writings; view events with your own eyes.
One further consideration to take into account is that if you don't begin, your idea will never change. It will stick in your head and not develop.
The fact that it changes is positive.
As soon as we start, something alters.
The cast-iron conviction that we begin with softens. The mood shifts and we take on the possibility of new information:
> Other people
You turn towards what is real, actual.
Without this, the idea never develops further than a line on paper.
Therefore, we have to begin both to grow the idea, and to develop ourselves. If we stay in one place, alone with our concept, we will have no challenge and so no possibility for personal growth.
This is important.
Think about a making a daily commitment of beginning. 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 words every day. The regularity is important. Try and pick a time of day when you do your writing and keep to it:
> Before breakfast
> On the train
> Waiting in a queue
> After hours
The consistency will galvanise you.
I have used the word 'mutates' in the title of this section because I enjoy the idea that creative ideas emerge out of mutation – life jumping from one form to another, like the leaps in DNA.
This is often the way that I work with creativity: random words and connections sparking future possibilities. Creativity rarely comes out of organisation, but breeds freely in the petri dish of chaos, fission and error.
+ THE EXERCISE
Try this out in your notebook. Cluster a series of words together (any selection of seemingly random nouns and adjectives).
Choose four to work with in a more concentrated way.
Force a connection with these words.
Push them into a narrative, a feeling, a mosaic, a dialogue.
For example, if the words are:
How can you corral these words into a relationship? A yellow motorbike appears on the catwalk in London?
If so, what might it be delivering?
A new product, a way of communicating, an idea, a different language?
The motorbike revs up these thoughts.
THE EXERCISE Look out for odd mixtures of words, wherever you might find them easily: > Train notice boards > Till receipts > Newspaper headlines > Road signs See if you can find any unusual alignments.
Use them as titles, ways of working, clickable lines of DNA code.
The accidental takes you beyond cliché, beyond the obvious. As you travel on the train home from work, pull in several found elements from your immediate environment; a word, numbers, a headline, colours. Collate them in your mind – what are they all saying?
All projects begin by trying to activate a thought or an idea into form and substance. The difficulty of that act, of moving them forward into the real, is part of the process. In fact, it's really the whole story.
If we don't begin, it's because we often fear the difficulty. We all fear difficulty (it's natural).
That doesn't mean that we can't deal with it by reducing it to smaller parts – bits and pieces that are more manageable.
Beginning means staying with difficulty. It means that we don't push the difficulty away, we don't put it off until tomorrow.
We stay with it now – with all the terror that it induces.
Of course, as soon as we do this, the difficulty evaporates. It's as if it was never there. When we put pen to paper, it stops. Yet we can keep ourselves in this place of not beginning, a place of fear, for years.
Imagine what that costs us, the investment in not doing.
+ THE EXERCISE
Instead of not beginning, stay with the feeling for 10 seconds.
Breathe deeply; feel the blockage.
Does anything come through: an image, a colour, a sensation?
Stay with the feeling as long as you can, then write it down, describing it in as much detail as possible.
Here, in this hinterland of self, you will find the answers to your challenges.
In our contemporary world we want answers now; we want to begin right away, with success coming fast on its heels.
However, I note that 'beginning' sometimes lasts a long time. In fact, it can take several years. If you want to develop a vocabulary, build a style, invest in a process, create an attitude – sometimes these forms can take some considerable time to grow.
In my own history, my twenties were a period of experiment (fails, successes), with very little obvious output. However, during this time I was learning a lot: how to work with minimal input from others, how to develop DIY projects – I was forced to generate my own ideas from the pieces I found around me.
A good example of this individual approach is my own use of frames.
When I was starting out, I used cardboard coffee-cup holders from a wellknown fast-food outlet as frames to hold my cut-up images. At this time, the chain willingly gave out these items free with a small purchase. So I amassed a large amount of these objects.
The down-to-earth qualities of these coffee carriers, coupled with my esoteric images, had a certain charm: a Threepenny Opera kind of mischief.
It was only later that I found a form that held all these ideas inside.
So be compassionate, considerate towards yourself. As long as you are working with process (see Part Two), you will be alright.
Remember, the true artist makes their whole life the experiment.
+ THE EXERCISE
Here is a way of making beginning less arduous and more rewarding.
Divide your project into 100 small parts: a character, a description, a feeling, a scene.
Each time, record only that element. Don't worry about the bigger picture.
Stick these smaller parts on your wall, in your A6 notepad format, until all your space has been filled. Once you have assembled these portions, you can work on structure. In the first instance, however, simply develop mood. Step into the work, the visual image, rather than staying outside it.
All creativity is about failure. There's nothing about this experiment that is not concerned with failure. Of course, these fails are small, unnoticed by the general public – they only see the showy outputs of a book release or an exhibition. The day-to-day difficulty is only witnessed by you.
Most of creativity is concerned with the small failures or successes that come every day. Not terrible collapses but simple everyday advancements. I feel that these results are like waves. Sometimes they are enormous, towering, and sometimes they lull you into sleep.
500 words at a time 
Some words scribbled out 
A drawing a day 
Steps forward 
Beginning is every day – you are beginning with every page, each project.
That doesn't always mean fear; beginning can also be curiosity, enterprise, play or anticipation.
Beginning is also a quality inside you, malleable, plastic – use what's around you, on the street, to activate this feeling. In this way, you won't feel alone. Beginning is objects, is everything, is the world.
You don't need a lot of material to have an idea – it's more your manipulation of small processes that will lead to revelation.
Emblematic of this approach is the A6 page, a reduced format that encourages you to write, to create.
Step into this page, as if through a new window.
Noticing is an active key; once you see what's around you, once you become aware, you can consciously step forward into the creative.
Creativity = doing.
Action is the only way to move into something new. If you don't physicalise an idea, it will never change. You will remain in the conceptual, only staying with graph paper ideas.
A commitment to doing will provoke a change in your creative process. If you record the incidental, the passing flux with real enthusiasm, you will place yourself right in the vortex of creativity.
Action necessarily involves experiment. That can provoke failure, but don't worry – failure and success are normal components of creative life. There is no creativity without appropriate failure.
The normal process of every 24 hours contains the explicit language of being creative – success, boredom, wrong turns, mistakes, minor triumphs.
Creativity often feels like a cul-de-sac.
Excerpted from "Being Creative"
Copyright © 2018 Michael Atavar.
Excerpted by permission of The Quarto Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK, 10,
01 Beginner's Mind, 18,
02 Reduce the Frame, 22,
03 Idea Mutates, 28,
04 Fails, Successes, 32,
-> Toolkit 01 — 04, 36,
+ Further Learning, 38,
02 USING PROCESS,
05 Small Word Process, 44,
06 Internal Camera, 48,
07 Subvert Habit, 54,
08 Crumbs, Ideas, 58,
-> Toolkit 05 — 08, 62,
+ Further Learning, 64,
03 KEEPING GOING,
09 Persistence, 70,
10 Record Every Day, 74,
11 Inside Journeys, 80,
12 Small, Future, 84,
-> Toolkit 09 — 12, 88,
+ Further Learning, 90,
04 BEING RESOURCEFUL,
13 Prepared Piano, 96,
14 Integrate the Body, 100,
15 First Thoughts, 106,
16 It's You, Here, 110,
-> Toolkit 13 — 16, 114,
+ Further Learning, 116,
05 CHALLENGES & DIFFICULTY,
17 The Finish, 122,
18 DIY, 126,
19 End with Confusion, 132,
20 Say 'Goodbye', 136,
-> Toolkit 17 — 20, 140,
+ Further Learning, 142,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review! I have to tell you I am a sucker for workbook type books. I love books that give me "assignments" and exercises. They truly make me feel like I am learning something and in this case "Being Creative." Very Colorful, Fun. Definitely worth reading if you are like me and do not have a creative bone in your body.
Atavar has produced a unique book that enables readers to believe in their own creative possibilities. The author presents his lessons on bringing forth one's ability to see alongside exercises that do not require extensive planning or materials. The beauty of this combination is its feeling of being a natural process along with his guided encouragement that we already possess the tools we need. As a teacher of art and design I find Atavar's approaches to be refreshingly different and easy to utilize.
This would be a good text for beginning creative writing classes or for people who are not naturally creative. Many exercises to get you out of your comfort level are featured, as well as exercises to help you look at things from a vastly different perspective. Seasoned writers and other creatives might, however, find these exercises a bit too time-consuming.