Creative Characteristics

Happy Friday!

Layla Palmer | Dont Quit Your Daydream Tshirt Shirt | The Lettered Cottage Blog

Kevin and I are getting our t-shirt sale page in order today so that we can link to it first thing on Monday morning. We’re house/kid-sitting for some friends starting later today, and it’s supposed to be beautiful outside this weekend, so we’re going to try our best to wrap up all of our computer work before the clock strikes 2 this afternoon! :-)

In the meantime, I thought I’d re-share an article I found on Facebook this week. It’s called 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently, and it really resonated with me. Not because I think of myself as “highly creative”, but because reading through it triggered fun ideas about nurturing and cultivating creativity (within myself, and with my Sweet P!)- and since you and I probably have a thing-or-three in common, I thought it might do the same for you!


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Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people.

Here are 18 things they do differently.

1) They daydream.


Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time. Mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation”- and, of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere. Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state. Daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

2) They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster. They see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

3) They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

4) They take time for solitude.


“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming. We need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander. “You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

5) They turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak, and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. “A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

6) They seek out new experiences.


Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind- and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output. “Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman.

7) They “fail up.”


Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally. “Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

8) They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious. They generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know “why?” and “how?”.

9) They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch, and they may generate some of their best ideas from it. “[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important. They’re keen observers of human nature.”

10) They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives. “There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” Steve Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent- these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

11) They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life. “Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

12) They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated- meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

13) They get out of their own heads.

 Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work. “Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind. I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

14) They lose track of time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance. You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you- as any good creative project does. “Creative people have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”

15) They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty. A study recently published in The Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts showed that musicians -including music teachers and soloists- exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

16) They connect the dots.


If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s vision. In other words, they have the ability to see possibilities where other don’t. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect. In the words of Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

17) They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane. “Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

18) They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind, because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that mindfulness can boost your brain power in a number of ways, as certain meditation techniques really can promote creative thinking. Mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity- all of which can lead to better creative thought.

(To read the full article, written by Carolyn Gregoire, click here.)

Here’s to a happy and creative weekend! :-)

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  1. says

    Enjoy the weekend weather!! We’re still freezing our keister’s off here in Michigan 😉

    Thank you so much for sharing the article, too. So many good reminders reading through it.

  2. says

    Great article! Taking time for solitude really resonated with me. In order to fully explore ideas or experiment with creativity, I need time alone. With five kids, I’ve learned to savor that time and try to carve it out no matter what!

  3. says

    Love this article! I certainly don’t think of myself as highly creative, but definitely a creative none the less. I find this extremely fascinating. I wish there was an article like this I could have given to my parents back in my college days! I was generally an average student, but in college I struggled big time at a four year college. I did excellent in some courses & horrific in others. I was even tested for a learning disability & took time management classes…bless my parents for trying to help me figure it out. All along I tried to explain yo them that I was better suited for a school more dedicated to creative learning. I don’t think the ever really got it. But I did & have always wished I could have explained it to them. This subject is kind of near & dear to me. So Mamas & Dads please remember to listen to your children & never, ever stifle their creativity! You never know that whimsical creativity just may be your child’s gift. I’ve always promised myself if I’m ever blessed to have a child I will make creativity a priority.
    Thanks for sharing this article Layla! As always – you pulled at my heart strings!

  4. Leah says

    Love this! I’m craving #14 right about now…lots of ideas but nothing actually in progress yet!
    Leah: )

  5. Razy says

    Hi Layla – Just wanted to let you know that I love your blog. Your insight, uplifting words, and your beautiful writing style is a pleasure to all of my senses. When I see another one of your posts in my inbox, I can’t wait to steal away a few minutes of “me” time to enjoy your thoughts. Also, thanks for sharing your pastor’s message on Nicodemus a few posts ago! Keep the great posts coming.

  6. Betsy willett says

    Thank you so much for posting this, it describes my daughter perfectly! She is a young and struggleing theatrical costume designer in NYC and loves being with people who think like her. I don’t have an ounce of creativity in myself, but I certainly recognized she had something special when she was about 3. It can be very difficult for creative teens to be accepted by their peers simply because they “march to a different drummer”, but as adults they are very happy and driven in their world of creativity, maybe more so than adults who lack that characteristic!

    • says

      Hi Betsy,
      You are an amazing mom. You understand your daughter so well and helped her nurture her uniqueness and creativity, instead of forcing her to “fit in.” May your daughter be blessed with many great opportunities that satisfy her creativity :)

  7. Ter'e says

    You have such a beautiful glow lately……..really caught my eye and made me smile.
    Great article. Yes, how true. I am the creative one and my hubby is the engineer. It shows. lol,
    Have a great weekend.

    • julianna says

      This is a fascinating topic. However, it’s a huge copyright violation for you to post the entire article here. I would hate to see you get in trouble for this.

      • Layla says

        Hi Julianna :-)
        I didn’t actually post the entire article (or all the photos)- I just posted part of it, and made sure to link to the full article so folks would know where to find it. :-)

  8. says

    I love, love, LOVE this post! I am a creative one myself and I can really resonate with many of those descriptions. As a busy mom with two little boys, it can be challenging to have some alone time and time for daydreaming. But after reading this, I realized I really need to carve out the time to nurture my creativity. Thanks, Layla! ox

  9. Elizabeth says

    What a wonderful article to share with your readers! Many thanks for reposting this article on creativity. I think it indeed shares some great insights for generally learning how to find fulfillment in life rather than settling for something that fits others’ needs but which does not further someone on his/her unique journey. It is always a pleasure to read your blog, and I adore hearing your adoption updates!