If you engage in any kind of creative pursuit I’m sure you’ve gone through times where the ideas weren’t flowing and inspiration was nowhere to be found. This happens to all of us. How do you find ways to stay inspired and get the creative juices flowing again?
About a month ago I came across a list of 29 ways to stay creative. You can view the list in the video below, which I found via Fast Company. The list can also be found here, if you prefer to read instead of watch.
I have mixed feelings about lists like these. It’s not that they contain bad advice, though they usually include some ideas more to fill out a list than to be helpful. It’s more that like most list posts they offer some shallow thoughts.
Even though most creative people will likely tell you a number of items on the list help them, you can do everything on the list above and not be even the slightest bit more creative or feel any more inspiration than you did before reading it.
9 Ways to Increase Creativity
I thought I’d offer a list of my own, though instead of suggesting a few specific things to do like sing in the shower, I wanted to speak a little more in the general and abstract. My hope is to get you to see why these things are important and I figure if you’re creative you can come up with some of the specific to dos on your own.
Diversify your experience — The wider your experience, the more connections you’ll make (PDF) between seemingly disparate ideas generating more and new ideas. Read more across a variety of subjects. Interact with people who are different from each other.
Take on new hobbies. If you’re a designer, practice writing. If you paint, take up a musical instrument. Pay attention to politics, nature, history, and math. Open yourself up to more and different experiences.
Collect every idea — You need to collect your thoughts when they occur no matter how silly they seem. Carry a notebook, a voice recorder, a smart phone, something to record your thoughts. 2 things will happen
- The idea gets our of your head and makes room for the next idea
- It gives you a pool ideas to draw from
Always be recording and collecting your thoughts and ideas and dedicate time to brainstorm on occasion.
Review your ideas — When you to look over the pool of ideas you collected above you’ll discover a few things.
- Some of the ideas are really good.
- Some of the ideas are really bad
- Some of the ideas lead to new connections and ideas
If you don’t review the things you’ve collected they’re lost unless you happen to think of them again. Review your collection to find the gems and laugh at the ideas that make you question your sanity.
Perhaps even more important, learn to see the connections in your ideas. Look for patterns in your thinking. The patterns can often lead you in unexplored direction and they reveal where your mind is. They might also clue you in on something you need to deal with before creativity comes.
Sometimes several ideas that aren’t workable by themselves reveal a new better idea in combination. Often I’ve started and stopped posts because I didn’t see an overall point in why I was writing it. Sometimes that missing point was in another post started and stopped or the point revealed itself by combining two or more posts into one.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Break routines — Routines may not be insanity, but they lead you to the same old way of doing things. Routines exist to make you more productive, not more creative. They narrow your focus. You need to shake things up here and there.
Think of it in terms of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) Not that your routine is garbage, but rather what you put into something is what will come out the other side. If it’s always the same going in, don’t expect something new to come out the other end.
Your creative voice is everything you’ve experienced filtered through you. Breaking routines leads to new experiences and modifies your filter. You can get back to your routine in time, but here and there break out of the usual.
See the world with a new perspective — We all have our biases and our biases color our experience. Part of the reason for diversification and breaking routines is to help you gain a new perspective. Learn to see past your own bias and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Imagine how another might see the same scene given their different experiences.
If you find this difficult ask people different from you for their perspective on some subject. Don’t try to convince them of your viewpoint. Just listen and ask questions and try to understand why they hold the views they hold.
Add some constraints — Part of what makes creativity so difficult is there are no rules. That’s freeing, but also frightening. It can be paralyzing since you can go in any direction you want with no clear idea where each will lead or which is the best path to take.
Add some constraints to reign in all the different directions you can go. Set some rules. Limit some of your creative palettes in order to experiment with others.
Spend more time with other creatives — Have you ever noticed that many great literary writers, artists, and musicians seem to have known each other and at times worked together? It’s not coincidence. Even an artist like Vincent Van Gogh who mainly worked in isolation throughout his career benefited from the work of others. Hi greatest works came after a year living and working in Paris among the Impressionists.
If all your work is done in isolation you have to reinvent the wheel many times over. Instead work on improving your spoke and let someone else show you how to improve the next spoke.
Time spent with other creatives will also teach you that all of you get stuck at times and you’ll gain inspiration from all the creative work in front of you. You’ll be able to observe how the creative process works for others and how ideas move to finished product.
We’re lucky too in that we don’t necessarily need to be physically present with other creatives to learn and work with them. The internet bridges the physical divide and let’s you do much of this from the comfort of your own home.
Learn the theory of your craft — Find a few masters and learn from them. Read books. Study the why. Learn the reasons behind why one technique succeeds and why another fails.
Learn from the experience of those that came before and allow yourself to be shaped by their thoughts. This helps you carry on a tradition and saves your place as a link in a long chain of creative thought.
Practice your craft and then practice some more — Theory only gets you so far. Get out there and do something. Then share your experiences so others can learn from you.
Many will tell you they wait for inspiration to strike before doing. This is just an excuse for not risking failure. Inspiration doesn’t just come to he who is patient. You invite inspiration by creating the environment under which it will appear. That happens by doing and practicing your craft,
Everything above will help shape you and your creativity, but if you want to be a better and more creative writer you need to write. If you want to be a better and more creative designer you need to design. If you want to be…well you get the point.
Ultimately it’s the doing that will make you better and more creative. Most everything else on this list simply prepares you to be better at the doing.
That’s my list. It may not be complete and it may not be a specific set of bullet points for you to follow, but truthfully you shouldn’t need those bulleted specifics if you understand the points here.
In fact in order to understand why the specific things on most lists can be beneficial you need the why behind them. And if you understand the why you should be able to figure which specifics will work best for you. The specifics will be different for each of us anyway.
What kind of things do you do to enhance your creativity and keep inspiration flowing? Can you see where they fit with something mentioned here?
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