Friday, September 8, 2017

What Happens to Creativity as We Age? By Jacqueline Seewald

Alison Gopnik and Tom Griffiths are professors of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley who wrote an interesting opinion piece for The New York Times. In the article they discuss how “young children’s creativity seems to outstrip that of even the most imaginative adults.” The authors explain their experiments to better understand this.

So why does creativity tend to decline as we age? The authors observe as we grow older, we know more. This is both good and bad. Bad because it may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. In other words, we may become too set in our ways to change.
The authors observe that there is “a tension between two kinds of thinking: what computer scientists call exploration and exploitation.” When we face a new problem, adults tend to exploit acquired knowledge. Exploration — trying something new — may lead to something different, a less obvious solution, a new piece of knowledge. But it can also mean wasting time considering absurd possibilities, something both preschoolers and teenagers do on occasion.
Not long ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of spending time with two of our grandchildren, taking them to one of the swimming pools in our complex. Leah, who is nine, energetically swam around like a fish. I told her that I would nickname her Ariel for the Disney mermaid since she too has long red hair. Leah was also protective of her younger brother and worked tirelessly with him on throwing a basketball in the hoop in the pool until he succeeded. Her energy and high spirits are all the more remarkable because she suffers from serious allergy problems yet manages to take them in stride. I myself felt energized by spending time with her.
It occurs to me that we adults can learn as much from children as they can from us. Time spent with children encourages our creativity. A child’s outlook on the world is filled with possibilities. Perhaps we adults should cultivate that in ourselves, the marriage of experience, knowledge and childlike wonder.
For writers, I think it means we should never throw out our past writing, even those pieces of works that failed to gain recognition. Possibly we can reread and improve upon them or try a new venue. Why not develop a short story into a play or poem? Why not take characters from a novel and develop a short story or play for them?
My soon to be published novella THE BURNING is based on an award-winning play I wrote some years ago. I took a play and adapted it into a novella--but more about that at another time.
Do children ever inspire you to write original work? Can you cultivate your inner child to think in a unique way? Your thoughts and opinions valued here.


Susan Oleksiw said...

Interesting post, Jacquie. It's certainly a truism that scientists make their greatest breakthroughs or discoveries in the early years of their career. But for writers, the opposite seems to be true. As we age, we learn how to translate our wisdom and experience into stories. The freedom children show in meeting the world is definitely something we can learn from.

Loretta said...

Imagination. I think it's about allowing the imagination to soar. And of course, as adults we're constantly having our feet planted on Tera Firma. I think I still hold a lot of imagination inside...not sure what that says about me lol...but I've found with writing, depending on the genre, it lets that imagination soar again. Because, afterall, you wield the pen...and you can make it "be" whatever you want. Especially if you're Indie.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

I think everything depends on the mindset of the writer. Some show great talent early in their career. Others have talent throughout their lives and mature as time goes on. Some are late bloomers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Loretta,

I agree--imagination can soar at any age.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Very interesting, Jacquie!
You're right, observing the children in our life can definitely ignite that creative spark!
Thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God's blessings

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for dropping by. And we can all use some good luck and God's blessings!

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post, Jacquie. If you've seen the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun," you'll probably recall this line: "Never lose your child-like wonder." Something to remember.

jrlindermuth said...

I agree children can be inspiring. But I don't believe creatively necessarily declines with age. There are many examples of writers and artists who became even more creative as they aged--thanks much to experience.

Susan Coryell said...

Oh yes! My 7 grand kids inspire me every time we spend moments together. A favorite bed-time story activity: Give Granny three things--anything--a tiger, a baseball bat, a trip to Hawaii. Granny (that would be me) then tells a story weaving the three asked-for items into the plot, scene and characters. As they age, I sometimes ask the kids to do the storytelling based on three of my choices. All of my grands are creative creatures and one knows at the age of ten that she will be a writer--she already IS a writer! Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Patricia,

I did see the film and I love that line!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I so agree with you. I think of John Dryden who was England's first poet laureate. As he aged, his writing became stronger. That is true for many fine writers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

Sounds like you have a great relationship with your grandkids! You are spurring their creativity as much as they are encouraging yours.

Maris said...

I did some research into creativity several years ago. One thing I learned is the different in the creativity of children and adults is we, adults, start throwing up barriers as children grow. No, you can't do that. No, that's not how it's done. Think of math classes where a teacher wants the class to learn one method of solving the problem, and marks down the child that solves the problem using another method. We teach not to be creative.

I don't know how to get around some of those barriers, but I could certainly see how they change how we approach tasks.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I notice as I get older that I don't run out of ideas, but I do have lots of trouble holding thoughts in my wandering mind. I can be typing along on a chapter, knowing exactly what I planned to say, and all of a sudden laundry jumps into my brain and I'm off mentally loading the washer and dryer. It's so bizarre to feel that ability to focus slipping away.

Yesterday I talked to an 86 year old author who said she was working on her last novel, that it wasn't going well because her writing didn't seem to be as good as it used to be. I immediately calculated the difference between her age and mine to see how many years I might have left to write. Dang it! It's not enough.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Point well-taken. As a former English teacher who taught creative writing, I tried to encourage my students to be creative. But as a professional writer, I observe that publishers want set formulas much of the time--and I'm not just talking about mystery, romance and thrillers. Even literary fiction has its unspoken rules and guidelines which discourages true creativity.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I don't personally expect to be the Grandma Moses of writers. But living long enough to see a good portion of our work published is a great satisfaction. Let's all hope we can get there.

koi seo said...

whatever you want. Especially if you're Indie.


Jacqueline Seewald said...


Hard to gain recognition when you don't have the big publishers backing us, but that doesn't mean the writing is less worthy.