5 Ways To Stay Creative
Many creative endeavors are throttled by mental blocks and distractions, but there is always a way to get past them. I may be an unpublished novelist and frustrated opera composer, but I have learned how to always stay creatively active.
In my beginning attempts to become an “artist”, I would hit that halfway point while writing an opera scene or short story and slam into an imaginary brick wall. I would sketch a musical piece or work on a writing outline just to throw the fifth or fiftieth attempt in the trash. After the garbage can started to look like a paper ball landfill, I would abandon the project for a little reality television, but I’d be left with a nagging, unsatisfying urge to get back to work.
After years of refining my process, however, I’ve discovered five essential techniques that helped me keep my wheels on the long and winding road of artistic creation. Use these tricks to help unlock that hanging idea and turn it into something worth a pat on the back.
Schedule Out Your Creative Time
To quote Woody Allen, one of the most prolific creative writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Sometimes the best way to get those creative juices flowing is simply to mark on the calendar when you are going to sit down and get to work. Like working out a new muscle, the trick is not to overwhelm yourself. Start out with five to ten minutes. Whatever time you plan out, just do it. By completing the task, you’re rewarded with a sense of accomplishment that will help you make creative work a habit.
Consistency is essential. Plan the time out in advance, and once you get in the rhythm of working, your endurance will increase. Start out with five minutes, and in a matter of weeks, you will be able to work for hours. Also, try scheduling out the same time each day so that your brain subconsciously prepares for the task.
You don’t have to be Buddha to get into meditation. Who wants those ear lobes and that pasty belly, anyway? But the creative capabilities of meditation will amaze you. Research has shown that meditation promotes divergent thinking that helps the brain generate new ideas.
Also, meditation promotes mindfulness that leads to fewer distractions and helps filter out unwanted mental processes. Other benefits include an increase in focus and a decrease in stress. Meditation may seem pretty silly and strangely challenging to someone who has never done, it but let me walk you through my simple guide.
- Find an uncluttered, dark space, and place a pillow on the floor to sit comfortably.
- Close your eyes, and rest your palms face up on each knee. Keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
- With big breaths coming from your diaphragm, inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth.
- Focus on your breaths, and if thoughts pop in your head, acknowledge them but do not engage them.
- Act like you are just an observer looking at these thoughts, and continue focusing on nice, deep breaths.
Set an alarm on your smart phone for a period of time to meditate. Five minutes will seem like an hour at first, but just keep working at it. When you get back up, you’ll immediately feel the creative benefits of a less cluttered mind. Sit down, and feel your new mental clarity and focus.
Scenius versus Genius
Brian Eno was a pivotal pop artist with a prolific career starting in the 1970s. An English musician, composer, record producer, singer and visual artist, Eno produced artists such as U2 and The Talking Heads. Some would call him a musical genius, but he describes himself as a “scenius.” In his own words, “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” Eno advises that the secret to creative success is to surround yourself with artistic people and creative influences.
Many people think that great artists like Beethoven or Picasso isolated themselves in a studio as the creative ideas flowed into their head with divine inspiration. Many forget that these great artists were active participants in their own artistic culture and were influenced by others to create their great works of art.
That's why it's important to surround yourself with other creative people. Ignore the stereotypical ideology that if you are not born a creative genius, then you will not be the voice of your generation. Get out there and find the geniuses of the past and present and learn from them. Their influence will do wonders for your creative capability and output.
Sorry. I don’t want to be that guy to tell you to run on the treadmill like a hamster. I don’t want to scream at you to do a sit up like I got John Cena’s neck. But when it comes down to it, exercise is essential to keeping those creative juices flowing. You can eat more pasketti and not be as fat, always a plus unless you’re a Peter Griffin impersonator.
Research shows, “regular exercise seems to be associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking, which are considered the two components of creative thinking.” Furthermore, the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows that regular exercisers do better on tests of creativity than their more sedentary peers. Go for a good bike ride or jog—hell, take your cat on a walk with that leash he hates. Get that sweat going, take a shower and get the juices flowing.
Marinating an Idea
Sometimes, an idea simply needs—how should I put this—time to “marinate.” You have an idea, and you know it’s good, and you know somewhat where you want to go with it, but it’s just not flowing. A good piece of meat sometimes is best as a fresh center-cut filet, but other times you need to cure that sucker for a few months in a locker with a shaker of salt.
Likewise, sometimes an idea comes together all at once and is easy to execute. Other times, you just need to put it in the back of your mind. However, you have to thoughtfully engage in that idea and be ready for the magic to happen. Use notes or a voice memo on your iPhone. When it finally hits you in the grocery store, be ready to put it down on virtual paper or that Frosted Flakes receipt.
Marinating is essential for creating a thorough and vivid picture in your head. A proper outline or a clear vision for the entirety of that book or painting can make the hard part of creative art much easier. Often, an unclear direction for that novel or song and just “trusting” that the story will unfold can lead to frustrating moments of writer’s block and doubt. These discouraging feelings can easily lead you to abandon the work. After you leave and try to come back to that unfinished beauty, you are still in the same position as you were when you left.
To help prevent this scenario, set a deadline. This will help frame your thoughts with intent, helping create sudden insight. Just don’t make the deadline urgent and stressful. Letting the full vision of your work develop with conscious intention and subconscious thought makes your idea much deeper and, more importantly, easier to execute. When the answers come, just be ready to catch them.
So there they are: the secrets to any creative trade. As for getting people to take notice, that’s a whole other story.