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How to access your creativity with Improvisation

Meet your Muses: The Muses were Greek gods and goddesses and the Classical idea was that people were not in themselves creative. But you could – in the right circumstances – be inspired by the God or Goddess visiting you. You would be the instrument of that Muse’s creativity.

This idea is still around today, and you hear it when artists speak of waiting for inspiration to strike.

In the Romantic age, a new myth arose of the lone genius in the attic struggling away with their manuscript or their painting. Here creativity was self-expression, with the key question, “What have I got to say?”. It’s creativity as individual and internal.

This remains a powerful concept of creativity. We talk as if creativity is inside us; we have to get it out there. What’s more, it can be suppressed and some of us have more of it than others. At an extreme, you either have it or you don’t. It makes sense, in this view, for many or most to say, “I’m not creative”. The Artist is special…


So it may surprise you to hear that the improvisational view is that creativity is not inside us. It’s an interactional phenomenon that we can have happen for us. When you improvise (and at other times too), you can find yourself being surprisingly creative with others. There’s always hope, and you’ll be more or less creative at different times and in different contexts.

Given that, we can re-cast Muses as the conditions that help us to be creative.

If you think about what has helped you express your creativity over the years, you’ll recognise your own Muses.

They might include:

Trust – feeling that you will be accepted and comfortable in the group

Safety – feeling that you will not be criticised or penalised for your creative input

Reward – if there’s something in it for me, I’ll risk offering a creative contribution

A deadline – time limits can spark creativity

Setting time aside – a week in a remote cottage, 10 minutes during a busy day

How might you employ muses to your advantage? Well, knowing your Muses can stop you beating yourself up for being uncreative. For example, if you know it takes a Deadline to spur you to action, you can become more comfortable with the germinating phase during the period when you haven’t written anything yet.

Alan Ayckbourn would reputedly write a play in a week. But he would only do it once a year. So, during the year building up to that week of writing, he was germinating, nurturing ideas, getting himself ready. He might write it down quickly, but it’s equally fair to say he took a year to write a play.

Likewise, with a tight deadline, a journalist can write 1000 words in a day, and a designer can create an elaborate website. The time limit provides a constructively intense focus.

Setting time aside also means removing distractions. If you are easily distracted, you can either remove the possibility of distractions – by switching off all phones and computers, for example. Or by improving your resolve at ignoring them.

Some people prefer more elaborate methods, such as the Pomodoro Technique.

Improvisation for Creativity

Written by Paul

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