Saturday, October 10, 2020

CREATE: Guest post by Cathy Pickens

Cathy Pickens: 


How can a writer of crime fact and fiction presume to talk about creativity, much less write a book about it? 

CREATE! started as my attempt to figure out what we mean by “creative” and how I could be more so. 

Creativity is a word loaded with magic. Combining my crime writing life with years of research and teaching law in a graduate school of business, I realized creativity isn’t a random gift. It’s a process. And we can all master it. We can all take what we have and what we enjoy and … create! 

Say “creativity” aloud in a group and you’ll get strong reactions. Some lean in, excited to explore. Others lean back and wave their hands frantically to ward off anything that might expose or embarrass them. But the simple truth is, we’re all creative. We just don’t all know it. Or we haven’t developed it. 

Even among those who know they are creative, doubts creep in. Am I creative enough? Often enough? 

But most of us—especially now—want to engage in something creative, make something, learn something, distract ourselves, find meaning, have fun. 

The CREATE process is five steps: 

Capture (using a creative notebook), 

Ramble (exploring new experiences, stepping into the unknown, starting as a beginner), 

Engage (narrowing your focus and gathering the necessary skills and materials for a project), 

Act (setting to work on a particular project, the “just do it” phase), 

Tweak (seeking feedback, critique, or expert advice, after you craft and polish as best you can), and 

Expand (moving to another, bigger project or carrying what you’ve learned into another part of your life). 

What surprised me, watching workshop attendees over the years, has been the unexpected benefits. They wrote poetry for the first time, stood and presented their work in front of people even though they were scared, submitted a painting to a juried exhibit, wrote a novel. One man sewed a dress for his little daughter—she was delighted that it twirled when she spun around. 

One woman used her notebook to jot down family stories; she doesn’t know what she’ll do with them, but it’s given her a reason to really listen to her mother and her aunts and her own children. 

At a residential rehab facility, most of the women in the CREATE sessions had never written poetry. Neither had the inmates in the Mecklenburg County Jail. They were all reluctant to try and all were terrified of standing up and reading something they’d written. But what they created took my breath away. 

The Dove’s Nest ladies (as they call themselves) write about dark times and redemption, fried catfish and fireflies and dancing in the bed of a pickup truck to Waylon Jennings on the radio. One inner-city young man wrote “Rookie Year,” a chapbook of poetry about his first year in prison. The analysis of his poems by students at an alternative school in the Appalachian Mountains amazed their teachers. Creativity reminds us who we are, where we came from. 

Creativity builds bridges between people and between what we once were and what we hope to be. 

We’re all creative, each in our own way. Accept it, even if you don’t quite believe it. What better time to find out what that means for each of us than now? Creativity is born in chaos – and, as artist Paul Cézanne observed, we live in a rainbow of chaos. Why not enjoy it?


The first in Cathy Pickens’ Southern Fried mystery series won St. Martin’s Best New Traditional Mystery Award. She’s now exploring historic true crime cases for History Press, with stories of the serial killer who broke the rules, the man who created Bigfoot, and some famous female serial poisoners, in Charlotte True Crime Stories and True Crime Stories of Eastern North Carolina (coming Sept. 28, 2020). CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process (ICSC Press) captures her popular creativity workshops in book form.

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