“Creative.” Is that a loaded word for you?
You know you’re creative.
But your own efforts meet with roadblocks.
What you feel is not exactly sobbing-on-the-kitchen-floor angst, but frustration, confusion, and inertia. Doubt.
You sense that there are things successful creative people do that you don’t.
You want to know how to pin down your flashes of insight and get to play with them. How to stay when you want to run away. How to tap into more of that “flow” state you had as a kid.
You want to cross the finish line, having created something extraordinary.
You wonder, “What is it that creative people do differently?”
Well, it turns out that success, in every field, does leave clues and you’ll find a few of the best below.
1. Make it matter
Creative people honor their creative practice.
They put in the time. They give it priority. They resist excuses.
They play a long game. Showing up becomes a habit for a lifetime of productive work.
Whether that means they come to work at sunrise or sunset, they try to do something every day.
They sit down whether or not inspiration sits next to them.
As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
2. Play “What if…?”
Creative types have fun. They daydream. They play.
They give themselves permission to mess around, break boundaries, and see what happens.
They enjoy entertaining all possibilities. Imagining new worlds.
They experiment to find what works for them in service of their creative process. It may be odd but they know they need a way to stay tuned in to their senses, their intuition, their dreams.
Picture actor Mark Ruffalo:
“I have two hammocks, one Mayan and one Guatemalan, both family size because I like to lie in them perpendicular. When I’m working on a character, I lie in them and daydream. They’re the best tools for working that I have.”
3. Get it down
Creative people may have a favorite time for their best work but they know ideas come randomly. So they’re ready to engage when inspiration strikes.
The sketchbook, notepad, journal, note-taker app is right there by the bed. Or the waterproof AquaNotes to catch those shower thoughts.
They know that the key is to not leave the idea in their head too long. Because their brain may bump it before they’re ready to re-engage.
They keep sketches and jottings together in one place to retrieve when they’re ready to revisit.
Studies have shown what creative thinkers always knew. Their peak productive and focussed times may not be when their most creative ideas come.
It’s more likely to be that liminal relaxed state, falling in or out of sleep. That’s the time to be prepared.
4. Steal then make it better
Creative thinkers see everything as food for inspiration. Including the art of others.
Apprentices and art students copy the art of the masters. Writers copy good writing word for word to learn the style.
Austin Kleon wrote the book on this — “Steal Like an Artist.” He explains that you copy so you can see as your heroes see, to imbibe their thinking.
The idea is not to plagiarize. The idea is to learn the principles. It’s to copy what the best do and then make it better, as your own.
Said French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard, “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”
5. Be OK with incomplete
Creative people can sit with uncertainty, even with a mess.
They can be patient. They resist the temptation to rush or force.
They may be unsure where the work is going, or whether it’s any good, but they don’t abandon it too early.
They don’t sabotage ideas as they’re generating them.
They know that editing and refining are essential but they have their own time and place. Later.
They’re happy to stop and return with a fresh perspective. To leave the work incomplete and stop fussing.
6. Seesaw your brain
Creative people engage their whole brain.
They go from idea to creative completion, passing through many stages and using a range of skills.
The creative process starts with a simple idea. But the idea comes to life in physical form.
The hands, eyes, and ears all come into play as the work goes through a hundred iterations.
Clay is moulded. Sentences are crafted. Piano chords are tested.
The idea is executed. Execution takes expertise.
Scott Barry Kaufman is a humanistic psychologist and an expert in creativity. He debunks the simplistic left-right brain theory of creativity.
He explains that, depending on the stage of the creative task, whole brain networks kick in. One controls language, one is visual, and some are large scale neural networks.
Look to Leonardo da Vinci. His work shows both imagination and logic, art and science. He questioned, innovated, and invented. He used everything his genius brain offered.
7. This plus that…
Creative people see connections.
They seeing something in a new way. In a different relationship.
They entertain paradox — two opposite ideas that seem to work together.
A new combination of colors. How a character dictates a storyline. Where a modern story mirrors an old myth.
Innovators in business and education now use Mind Mapping to boost productivity. It helps people to see the parts and the whole and explore new connections.
Steve Jobs said it well, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”
8. Let it be for a while
Creative thinkers know the value of downtime.
They allow ideas to “incubate”— they sit or sleep on it, and wait.
They disengage, rest, and return.
Creative people take time out from other people as well as their art. They value alone time (think “reclusive artist”) and being quiet.
Director David Lynch, credits meditating with staying tuned to his creative source.
For many, the best way to refresh before returning to creative focus is by walking. Join Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Wordsworth and Darwin. They each valued long walks in nature to generate ideas.
The Scottish author and naturalist, John Muir, said it well. “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”
What does the science say?
Exercise in general, walking in particular, and being in nature boost creativity.
9. Stay open
Creative thinkers stay curious. Unquenchably so.
They’re open to improving and upgrading their skillset.
They’re open to challenging their point of view.
They trust in inspiration. That the next idea will flow.
They love new experiences.
They keep their senses fresh and open.
They explore and observe. Both the outer world and their inner life.
Kaufman pinpoints such openness as the most relevant thing for creativity:
“I think the key is to keep your wonder and excitement for the world, being open to everything in the environment as well as your own internal stream of consciousness.”
Start thinking like an extraordinary creative!
It’s clear that creative thinkers do things differently. They approach the same challenges that you face in novel ways.
Rather than giving you grief, you can see that “creative” can also be full of flow and fun. You have to approach it right.
You’ve learned some powerful strategies to do this well — fresh ways to do, think, and be creative.
You can snag those brilliant insights before they vanish.
You don’t have to tear your hair out in frustration when stumped.
You can turn self-sabotage on its head and create something you love.
You can go for a walk.
Now it’s time to practice.
Find that half an hour every day to let the muse know you’re serious about this.
It may be a long game but you’ll begin to see how you’ve got this!