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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Creative Cross Training

As a BFA alumna from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, I was not the least bit surprised when they expanded their academic programs (in the early nineties) to include baccalaureate and graduate degrees in creative writing and poetry. I had always felt that my four years spent in art school had a stronger influence on my growth and success as a writer and poet than any writing workshops or self-study I had pursued long after I wandered away from my career as a visual artist and high school art teacher to become a writer. And here’s why . . .

Throughout the eighties, The School of the Art Institute was firmly entrenched in the movement toward multi-disciplinary arts. It made perfect sense─art, dance and music programs across the country were being relentlessly cut from school curriculums/budgets. Why not train students with an eye toward multi-disciplinary arts—creative diversity? It made sense, and it explains why I spent nearly an entire decade becoming “creatively challenged” in a good way.

I threw clay vessels on a potter’s wheel in the morning, ran off to a vocal class in the afternoon, and jammed at night with the folk guitarists at Chicago’s famed Old Town School of Folk Music. And then there were my ballet classes, and my pursuits as a culinary bread sculptress, all in addition to my studio art work, and art education classes.

For me, “creative cross training” defines the core of my creative energy. And I know firsthand the power and fluidity “creative cross training” can instill in other writers. Champion athletes cross train; why not writers? Leonardo Da Vinci engaged in creative cross training—talk about a hunk of creative muscle.

It’s a fact—not a myth—creative cross training strengthens and deepens the very insights we need as writers (humans) to create. And frankly, without a bit of cross training, our writing can and will lack the fresh perspective it needs to keep our words from becoming stale.

In her Creative Writes Newsletter ( Kay Marie Porterfield writes . . . we writers often find ourselves sitting glassy-eyed and motionless in front of the computer monitor or a legal pad for hours on end. When the writing isn’t flowing we sometimes struggle to fit the words in place, using the same set of skills and obtaining the same joy that comes from working cross-word puzzles.

Painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, stand-up comedy, dancing, quilting, learning to play an instrument, scrapbooking etc. it doesn’t matter where we journey in the name of “creative cross training”; it’s all good in the name of taking what can sometimes become a monotonous brain drain and using it to stretch our imaginations.

Step away from the page—away from writing from time to time—to challenge yourself creatively. You’ll be rewarded with unexpected ideas and renewed energy. Embrace your creative nature/process by allowing it to expand from time to time into new areas. Take creative risks. Take a poetry class! Glass blowing! Roam the aisles of your local hobby store! Go dig out that adult-ed brochure from your community college that you tossed into the trash. You’ll be a better writer and more creatively well-rounded for having done so—and some would say, you’ll live longer for having done so. The way I look at it, the longer I live, the more time I’ll have to write.

But, no writing for me today; once I launch this blog, I’m going to sit down and create a collage from pics torn from a stack of old magazines cluttering the corner of my bedroom. I can’t remember the last time I made a collage—and that’s exactly why I’m going to make one today!

Janet Paszkowski


  1. That's exactly what I do! Make collages with magazine images and phrases.

    It really jumpstarts my creativity and makes me want to write. Sometimes it's just for fun too.

  2. Anonymous10:24 AM

    In my interview with one of the Flash Fiction contest winners, I asked her about her knitting, as a creative outlet because it seemed to me that so many creative people extend their creativity into many areas of their lives. It's nice to see this idea validated.


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