When it comes to getting the creative juices flowing, here are some of the most common suggestions:
- Drink a massive cup of coffee.
- Listen to music that inspires you.
- Watch a "really creative" movie.
- Go for a long walk.
- Surround yourself with other creative minds.
I am not going to pretend like these things don't "work," because they do--and I write about them often. I think reading is a key component to keeping your mind fresh and the ideas flowing. I also think writing down 10 ideas a day will keep you swimming in potential brilliance.
But from witnessing my own creative work, and the creative work of those around me, I can tell you that all of these things sound great in theory, but are not the key drivers to getting you out of a creative rut. They are better habits than immediate fixes.
Do you want to know what can make you go from 0 to 100?
1. Watching Someone Far Less Talented Than You Succeed
Can we stop beating around the bush here? Reading a nice book on a quiet Saturday afternoon isn't what sparks fire inside your belly. What sparks fire is watching someone else, someone far less deserving, someone who put in less work, someone who got lucky, took the easy road and hit the jackpot, succeed.
If you ever forget what you're aiming towards, or what it is you ultimately want to create, go look at the people who are dominating your market or industry or interest. A large majority of them got there not because they were talented, but because they were persistent. And now, they are running the game. They have what you want. How does that make you feel? They aren't as creative. They aren't as smart. They aren't as talented, and yet they're winning.
Does that piss you off?
Good. Now get to work.
2. Study What Sucks
I can't remember where I saw this, but I was watching an interview with Dr. Dre (the billionaire music producer) a long time ago, and he said something to the effect of, "You learn a whole lot more from the bad music than the good music."
That has stuck with me ever since.
Have you ever read a horrible novel? I mean a horrible, horrible novel. The characters move like claymation figures. The plot runs in circles. He glared, she sneered. It's almost insulting. The same goes for a really bad movie. You sit there and you wonder how on earth anyone thought this was a good idea.
The truth is, a lot can be learned from work that sucks. When you read something brilliant, when you watch an Oscar-nominated film, you can barely absorb it all, let alone pinpoint what is working and what isn't working. You are too taken aback by its beauty and its ability to capture emotion in a time capsule. But when you look at work that sucks, you see it all: where the plot fails, where the dialogue loses you, where you laughed at the narrator out loud and mocked their very existence. And do you know what? There is a lesson there! The work might suck, sure, but it is also giving you an opportunity to see, very clearly, what isn't working and how you could potentially make it better.
Study work that sucks. It'll teach you a lot--and surely spark another fire in your belly.
3. Imagine Who You Would Be Without Your Creativity
And finally, the question of all questions, always leading to a newfound creative approach.
Whenever you get frustrated or down on yourself during the creative process, ask yourself this question: If I quit what I'm doing and never did it again, what would my life look like? Who would I be?
It's safe to say that creativity for most people is an escape. It is a deep expression of self. If you are truly creative, you could not imagine living a single day of your life not being creative. It would kill you.
It's important to remember that during times of frustration, or drought, or "writer's block." The moment you want to give up, ask yourself, "Who would I be without this?" You'll probably start imagining a very boring life. And as that scene begins to unfold in your mind's eye, pay attention to how that makes you feel.
Sit with that feeling long enough and you'll realize there is nothing left to do but get back to work. After all, the work is what makes you you.
Know how to instigate your creativity.
The reason I think it's important to mention these more aggressive measures to igniting your creativity is because creativity is passion. Creativity is emotion. Creativity thrives on a desperate need to be heard in the world. As much as it is important to have healthy habits that keep your life stable and supportive of your creative work, I think it is just as important to know how to get back to those triggers that ignited your earliest creative processes in the first place.
I can tell you the first time I ever sat down in front of a piece of paper and wrote how I felt, I was seven years old. I was angry because my parents said I had to have a bedtime. I didn't want a bedtime. So I wrote them a really long letter expressing the injustice that was happening against my childhood--"No seven year old deserves to have a bedtime!" The letter never made it into their hands. Instead, I spent all night reading it in my bed. I had discovered my voice on paper.
If you are ever feeling uncreative, you need to get back to those moments that encouraged your self expression in the first place. Yes, make sure it's coming from a good place. Yes, live a happy and healthy life. But let's be honest here: self expression is honesty in a bottle.
Figure out what makes you honest, and then trigger it.