BYU English faculty member emphasizes importance of creativity

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Shelli Spotts is an adjunct professor in the BYU English department. Spotts says creativity is important for everyone to learn, not just writers. (Photo courtesy of Shelli Spotts)

Shelli Spotts, adjunct faculty member in the BYU English Department, says creativity is important for everyone to learn, not just writers, artists, actresses and singers.

“If you have a great creative process and you know how to engage your own creativity, you can create anything, as long as you know what it looks like,” Spotts said. “But that’s all about learning how to find models for yourself.”

Spotts said that people can be creative as long as they understand the circumstances, abilities and tools that go into creating something. 

Spotts said she wants her writing students to find what their own voice sounds like, because everyone has a unique voice to contribute. She said people can be passionate about interests and advocate for change, but if individuals do not know how to articulate those things in their own voice, they will always be mimicking someone else. 

“I love working with students,” Spotts said. “I love being able to see their writing and see what they have to say about the world.” 

Channing Spotts, Shelli Spotts’ oldest daughter, said her mother always encourages her and others to start where they are and with their passions. 

“She just fosters an environment and place where … no matter what you’re passionate about, you can make something of it, which I think is really important because it just gives people the autonomy to go for what they want and not what they think they should,” Channing Spotts said.

Shelli Spotts stands with her husband and children in front of their home. Pictured from left to right are Shelli, Channing, Ryder, Sutton, Evie and Shelli’s husband Ron. Spotts fosters an environment where people are encouraged to make something of their passions. (Photo courtesy of Shelli Spotts)

Spotts said looking for the places and times of day where one feels they can be more creative is important in figuring out personal creativity. She said it is important to sleep and eat well because creativity is a higher need, and basic needs must be met before higher needs. 

Spotts said thought patterns are also an aspect of creativity to pay attention to. She said aspiring creators should learn to write things down when they have an impression or think of something interesting.

She also encouraged individuals to learn to seek ideas, follow up on interesting rabbit holes and bring those things together.

Spotts has always been a writer. She said she has published poetry, nonfiction and fiction and is currently working on an essay collection and two different novels. 

“I love telling stories,” Shelli Spotts said. “I think we … as human beings are conditioned to connect through story, and so it’s a really powerful way to connect to other people.”

Spotts said the world around us right now is connected by stories. She said social media is distracting because it tells stories that keep us engaged, and thus storytelling is a super powerful tool.

Shelli Spotts published “conversation on a city bus” in Jan. 2022 through a group she works with called Big Ocean Women. Spotts is an advocate for finding one’s voice through writing. (Created in Canva by Emily Morford)

Spotts said that her path to her current job was unconventional because she attended school throughout the time that her children grew up, graduating from her master’s program when her eldest daughter graduated from high school.

Women have this idea that they have to be perfect at everything they do, Spotts said, and women do not have to do all the things and they have space in their lives to do the things they are passionate about. She added that doing those things feeds their individual souls and spirits.

“One of the essay collections that I’m working on right now is actually a collection that’s looking at women’s creativity and the spaces that are available and the spaces that we’re making for it,” Spotts said. “I feel like sometimes we have to go in and create our own space for the ways we want to create — the ways we want to make a contribution in a way that maybe isn’t the same as how a man is creative.” 

Spotts said women should find a mentor who has done some of the things they are seeking to do, and who knows what it is like having to try and balance those things.

“Understand that there are seasons in your life to do all sorts of things,” Spotts said. “But … at some point, you have to make a decision about the things that are really important.”

Spotts said she has many interests, including playing the violin, music, theater, sewing and quilting. She said she has had the opportunity to do all of those things during her life, but has had to prioritize them based on what is most important at the time. 

Shelli Spotts poses with her family. Spotts has had to balance her interests throughout her life, sometimes to the exclusion of other things. (Photo courtesy of Shelli Spotts)

Kath Richards, one of Spotts’ former students, said she is the kind of person who is proud and unashamed about everything she loves.

“Being able to see her just love so loudly helped me feel like I didn’t have to have anything be a guilty pleasure,” Richards said. “Everything could just be something that I love, and that can be okay.”

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