I get a lot of questions about creativity, inspiration, and where I get my ideas. I thought I’d jot a few things down about how the creative mind works, and what you can do to make it work for you, rather than against you.
Think of your creativity as a runner in training. It doesn’t start out running marathons. It starts by getting off the couch, and taking a walk around the block. Slowly, it builds strength and stamina, aided by regular workouts, the right food, and careful training. Eventually, muscle memory takes over, and running long distances gets easier.
So. Let’s start by learning how to give your creativity some of the things it needs to whip it into marathon running shape:
Your creativity thrives when you’re tired.
Too tired to focus? That’s not a bad thing when it comes to creative work. This is why, when I was in grad school, I took a life drawing class at 8AM every morning, and dragged my tired butt to it, even when I was up ’til the wee hours the night before. Being too tired to obsess about every little thing made my early morning work looser, and I progressed faster. If you’re in a creative slump, try sketching or journaling right after you roll out of bed, or right before you go to bed.
Your creativity doesn’t like music.
While silence is good for solving analytical problems, a little ambient noise is good for creative tasks. That means you should try turning your music or TV down, or swapping it for a white noise machine, to stimulate your creative brain. I have no TV or radio in my work room, which is sandwiched between the outdoor fan for my a/c, and the indoor power unit. I also run a ceiling fan in there, year ’round. These provide a steady hum that keeps the room from being silent.
Your creativity likes low light.
Are you working with bright lights turned on? Try shutting them off, and working near a window that doesn’t get direct sun. Studies show a lower level of natural light can make you feel free from constraints, and may trigger a more explorative processing style.
Your creativity thrives on restriction.
How many times have you been stuck because you have too many choices? Too many projects to start, and too many art supplies to choose from? Try setting some restrictions on what you can work on this week. Those restrictions could be “I’m only going to work on pages in this journal” or “I’m only going to use acrylics” or “I’m only going to make artist trading cards”. One of the most productive restrictions I use is with color: I can only use these three paint colors. Instantly, a ton of choices are eliminated, and I can focus my creative energy on those few that are left.
Your messy desk may stimulate your creativity.
Do you spend a lot of time cleaning and organizing your work space? Stop it! Scientists have done studies showing that people are more creative in a messy environment. A little chaos is good for your creativity, which is why my work room always looks like someone tossed a grenade into it. There’s enough clear space for me to work and film, and I can generally find whatever I need quickly, but I spend maybe two minutes a week putting things away, and making that space clear. Less cleaning, and more creating!
Your creativity needs a vacation.
Creativity is stimulated by new experiences, so one of the best things you can do for it is take a break. That could be a trip to another country, or an hour in an art museum, or 15 minutes walking up and down the aisles of your favorite store. I regularly have “thou shalt not work” days, where I close the work room door, and go out into the world to do something other than making things. I always come back refreshed, and ready to work.