Creativity isn’t magic. There are concrete steps you can do to level up your imagination.
My friend and I were having coffee at one of those little independent places you see in independent movies. You know those type of places. There aren’t any seats available. The people who have them are planning to leave their spots to their grandkids.
We talked shop. She does some writing for her 9–5 and then finds time to work on screenplays and books. I have a buffet table of creative ventures going on at any one time. Interested in an appetizer of podcast? Perhaps you’d like some prime rib blogging? And for dessert, why not some YouTube?
Writers’ block came up. Specifically, what do you do when you look at a blank screen and think Great, it’s all over. The well is dry. I better start thinking about grad school.
I have to tell you, those moments are terrifying. You know why. Most creative people aren’t factories. They’re not an endless stream of wonder. They have beginnings, middles, and ends of their artistic lives.
There is fear you could be finished.
That got me thinking. What are the tricks that keep the imagination pumping? Are there strategies — like the ones athletes use to prolong their careers — that work?
The answer is yes.
Immerse yourself in your art.
A lot of people start a project because it’s trendy. Fifteen years ago it was blogging. Ten years ago, YouTube was the thing. And now you can’t go on social media without someone wanting to teach you how to podcast.
There no sin in doing what is trendy. What is a problem is jumping into a medium you have little or no experience in. For example, starting a podcast where you sit down and interview a guest without immersing yourself in Marc Maron’s show, WTF, The Joe Rogan Podcast, or someone of that caliber is like painting a picture without any idea about color theory.
You will flounder about like a swordfish pulled out of the Gulf of Mexico.
Let’s take another artistic medium, screenwriting. Say you want to write a comedy script. Your friends say you’re funny. You have funny stories. Why not just sit down and crank out 120 pages of pure gold? And when you finish, you will find you will have one joke stitched together to the next one. Do you know what that gets you?
Before writing one word down, sit down and watch 10 movies in the genre you want to write in. You will understand how stories and characters convey laughs.
Now, you may say, “The only thing I’m going to do is learn rules. That’s not going to help me create.”
Yes, it will.
Having deep knowledge of the medium you’re working in gives you tools. Those tools will unlock your creative talent. You will be able to perform better on that podcast or look at comedy differently.
Practice the creative act in a specific area.
What does sleep deprivation have to do with being creative? If you ever had insomnia, you probably know there are behavioral tricks to get a good night’s sleep. The same strategy that will get you a good night sleep will help you to create.
It’s about controlling your surroundings.
The Mayo Clinic explains some of the ways someone can create an environment conducive for sleep:
Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
When you practice, find one area to do it in. Your mind will associate it with creativity!
Find the best time to create
Finding the optimal time to be creative will boost your ability to produce high-quality content. I’m a morning person. Even back in high school when my peers were sleeping in on the weekend, I’d be ready for action early in the day. It’s no surprise my muse is easiest to summon between the hours of 8 am-11 am.
Many people aren’t morning folk. I had a boyfriend who was a comic book artist who didn’t start working until the sun went down. He did his best work burning the midnight oil.
The Wall Street Journal delves into the topic in the article Your Body’s Best Time for Everything:
Of course, everyone’s body clock isn’t the same, making it even harder to synchronize natural rhythms with daily plans. A significant minority of people operate on either of two distinctive chronotypes, research shows: Morning people tend to wake up and go to sleep earlier and to be most productive early in the day. Evening people tend to wake up later, start more slowly and peak in the evening.
The thing is, you already know when your peak time is. Use that knowledge. Of course, working your 9–5 job may interfere with this strategy. When you have that golden time, use it to your advantage. Your work will improve.
Spend time with creative people
If you look at the typical analysis of creative people you will see superficial generalizations like “They like to do different things!” You probably won’t hear how getting together with other people like you will boost your abilities. However, being around imaginative people will pay dividends.
The dividends are many. Simply watching your friends and associates try new techniques and strategies in making their art and taking note of what works and what doesn’t is helpful. A lot of creativity and problem solving is learning techniques — the cognitive and physical tools — that get the job done.
Another benefit is trying out ideas. Sometimes just verbalizing a concept you’re working on to another person who can appreciate what you’re saying brings about new insight. It’s as if a whole other system in the brain gets activated when you talk about an idea. The process gives you a new perspective as well as some insight from the other artist.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a scientist, a plumber, or a writer. Having a group of like-minded people around you will help.