Where does creativity come from?
Our brains, right?
Okay, not funny.
But it’s telling, right? People spend lifetimes wanting and waiting for inspiration to hit them. They think if they want it hard enough, a muse will wander by and whisper beautiful things into their ear.
Bad news, this won’t happen.
Creativity begins and ends with you.
But even if we intellectually know this, why does it FEEL like we have to wait for inspiration? Why are so many people waiting on that muse!?
Well, the answer is simple. Our perception of creativity is skewed. Being creative is hard work, but we hate to think of it that way. Why? Well, by calling creativity HARD, we’re forced to frame it as a skill set. It becomes something we can learn, something we can cultivate.
But most people don’t like that. They prefer to think of creativity as a gift, a talent. We tell each other that creativity is magical fairy dust, and only a few of the blessed are luckily enough to have it sprinkled over their heads.
If you got it, you got it. If you don’t, better luck next life.
If you follow this blog, you know that I think talent is bullshit, so you can assume I don’t espouse the above belief.
I believe that inherent in all of us is the capacity for creativity. I believe this because I think creativity is a skill. A skill we must cultivate to improve.
But even if all that is true. It’s still really damn hard to get started!
And why wouldn’t it be? If you’ve never run a day in your life and someone invites you to a marathon, how do you think you’re going to do?
The same goes for writing.
If you haven’t spent the time building up the muscle, you’re going to struggle in the beginning. It’ll feel like there’s a giant mental barrier standing in your way.
But lucky for us, this can be solved by simply activating our creative thought process.
The bad news is that activating your creativity is a skill set in and of itself, and it takes work.
There are countless ways to go about getting those creative synapse firing.
Here are my top 5.
1) Master the Form
If there’s one thing that people that actually suck as creating art like to do, it’s critize forms. They spit on generic novel plot points or adding a bridge after your second chorus. These people are douche bags.
Unless you’re having afternoon tea with Albert Camus or are at the tail end of a magnificent creative career, forms are your friends.
All art is choices. You make decisions out of nothing. That’s it.
Let’s say you’re writing a song. What decisions do you have to make? Well, you have to think about genre, mood, the key the song’s going to be in, the instrumentation, the tempo, rhyming scheme, etc.
That’s a lot of choices before you even start!
We can bypass this problem by LIMITING our choices before we even get started.
Using pre-existing forms lets us do this.
But don’t take my word for it.
Creators across time have been leveraging forms to fine-tune their craft.
Poetry is a great example. Ever heard of a sonnet? Maybe a haiku or a villanelle? These are rigid forms that writers exploit so they can focus and fine-tune their word choices.
Remember Shakespeare? Yeah, that mother fucker wrote a shit ton of sonnets, and each one in iambic pentameter.
Why? Because forms are awesome.
Are you better than Shakespeare?
No, you are not.
And guess what, no matter what you want to make, there’s a standard form to exploit. Most novels have common plot structures and points. Pop songs follow a typical verse-chorus model and use predictable chord movements. The list goes on and on.
If you can’t figure out how to get started, pick one of these forms and start filling in the blanks. See where it gets you!
2) Imitate What You Like
Alright, this might be a continuation of point 1, so don’t get too upset.
In this one, you find a song, book, or poem you like, and you make your own version of it. Now, to be clear, I don’t mean to say that you should plagiarize copy-written material. What I mean is use something you already like as a guide to kick start your own project.
This a trick I do ALL THE TIME when I write songs.
I’ll find a song or album I like or have been listening to, and I’ll try to compose a song in the same vein.
This is another example of limiting choices. If I have a song I like that I want to imitate, I already know the mood, the tempo, the type of instruments I’d like to use. This frees me up. I can explore more openly within the remaining choices.
This is very common among authors. How many novels can you think of that are no more than a retelling of age-old stories? Ulysses, East of Eden, Cold Mountain.
Or maybe musicals? How about West Side Story?
Grab ahold of your favorite story or song and see if it can get the juices flowing in you.
3) Morning Pages
Journalling a great practice to take on. Piles of people use it as a form of meditation, to clear their minds of free-radical thoughts and emotions.
But journaling can also be a sure-fire way to tap into your creative subconsious.
There are a million ways to journal, but today I’ll be talking about morning pages.
Julia Cameron developed this technique in her book The Artists Ways.
The simplicity of the concept elides its power. Every morning you write 750 words (3 pages ) of thoughts and emotions as they come to you. That’s it. No narrative, no thinking, just jotting down words and thoughts as they pop in your brain.
It takes all of 10 minutes.
There’s even a great tool online that you can use: https://750words.com/.
So how does this help your creative thought process? I have no idea!
But I can tell you from my own practice it works.
I’m not sure if it helps clear your brain from clutter, or it helps you tap into your subconscious. Either way, the practices ignites that special something that gets the wheels turning.
Journaling might not feel like real, creative work. But the more you do it, you’ll notice interesting ideas emerging. It’ll surprise you!
You’ll see snippet come to life, and threads of ideas build that you can take back to your bench and work on.
4) Object Writing
Let’s talk about another form of free writing called object writing.
If morning pages seemed a little woo-woo for you, object writing will be a good option.
Object writing is a technique developed by Pat Pattison. Pattison is a lyricist professor at the Berkeley School of Music in Boston. So, he developed the technique primarily for songwriters. But I think any creative can benefit from the practice.
Object writing sounds just like it is: you write about an object.
The purpose of the exercise is to ground your writing in sense perceptions.
The exercise is simple. Set a clock for 10 minutes. Pick an object. It can be a cat, a porch, a car. Anything that’s real.
Now, spend 10 minutes free writing a description of this cat, as well as all the related experiences that come to you around cats. So for example, you could write about an experience watching cats play on the porch at your grandma’s house when you were a kid. The trick is that you ground your description in each of the 7 senses:
- Body (How your body is feeling, like being excited or muscles aching)
- Kinesthetic (motion, so feeling dizzy or floating)
Object writing enriches your writing by forcing you to think about how you experience the world from a sensory perspective. It helps develop richly developed threads and scenes that can springboard your next creative endeavor.
You’ll be amazed at what this practice can awaken. Everyone has the experience of a smell bringing up memories. Imagine that times 10. That’s the power of object writing.
Like morning pages, the more you explore and work, the better it will go. When you routinely jump into the abyss of your creative mind the deeper you’ll go and the faster you’ll get there.
5) The Forced Method (Scheduling)
This is my favorite! Probably because it’s the most productive way to get you off your butt and doing something. In fact, it can work in tandem with any of the methods I’ve already outlined.
Ironically, the forced method is also the least enjoyable method.
Because you force yourself to work!
The forced method is simple. You just force yourself to be creative every day. You pick the hobby you want to jump into, you set a goal or a schedule, and you get to it.
For a writer, this could be a daily writing habit. You sit in a chair and you write 200, 300, 1000 words a day. And you keep doing it. For a songwriter, it might be new lyrics for a song every day.
In the beginning, it’s hard. And what you make will be garbage. But as you keep going you’ll notice it all gets easier.
There are a billion and a half ways to work this method. You can use my system, which you can find in the form of a free email lesson course.
Alternatively, there is the “Don’t Break The Chain” method made famous by Jerry Seinfeld. What he did was get himself a giant yearly calendar that he hung on the wall. Every day that he wrote a new joke, he’d make a big X on that day on the calendar. Slowly but surely he made a chain of X’s across the calendar. Now, who wants to break such a beautiful sight? This compells you to keep writing each day.
These, of course, are just two possible ways to schedule out your day. Honestly, there’s a hundred. The system is less important than actually keeping to the system you choose!
Amazing things happen when you train your mind to be consistently creative.
Being a creative person isn’t easy.
This is mostly because we don’t value or train our minds to be creative. In fact, creativity is oftend made subordinate to other hard skills.
It’s no wonder that myths about talent abound when we don’t appreciate the work needed to cultivate our creative mind.
Don’t get me wrong. You still should learn math and science. But maybe if we took that same level of rigor to our creative life, we would all be world-class storytellers!?
Maybe, maybe not.
So for now, why not pick one of the above tactics, or maybe event try all 5. I think you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get those creative vibes flowing through you.
And listen. Like I said in the beginning. This list isn’t exclusive. There are a billion different ways to activate your creativity in a meaningful way.
The takeaway shouldn’t be the method, it’s the idea that creativity MUST BE ACTIVATED. If you want to create, if you want to be creator, a creative person, sitting around waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear isn’t the way to go.
Instead, I challenge you to force the issue.
Like anything, creativity is all about momentum. Once you get that big wheel spinning, you can ride it all the way home.