Friday, July 03, 2015

Nine Ways To Be More Creative

I love being creative, but it doesn't always come easy - there are times I get stuck, feel uninspired or lose motivation! For a long time I didn't think I was very creative at all, and you can read about that in my book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

Over the last few years the topic of creativity has cropped up regularly in my blogging, podcasting and writing.

So here are my top nine ways to boost personal creativity, overcome obstacles and stay motivated. Maybe you can apply them to your own creative endeavours, whatever shape they take!

1. Collaborate

It's good to find your tribe!
In the words of U2 "Sometimes you can't make it on your own", and in my experience this can be especially true in the area of personal creativity.

It's easy to get self absorbed, so collaborating with others can be a healthy way to get a different perspective to our own - let alone it can be really fun!

We're not always strong in every area, so finding others to create with can bring strength in different areas and help us produce something better as a result.

Instead of seeing others as competitors how about seeing a tribe who share our passions?

At the same time, we can move away from a "scarcity" mindset, feeling like there's only a limited amount of creativity to go around, and instead focus on an "abundance" mindset. Collaboration multiplies creativity rather than diminishing it!

The role of collaboration in innovation is a theme in the fantastic book Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, which is worth a read for more detail on the topic.

So go on, find some other collaborators in your tribe and see what you can make together!

2. Play

Seriousness can lead to blockage.
Let's face it, we can all get far too serious about our creative endeavours. Of course we want our creations to be brilliant and world changing, but sometimes we end up piling pressure on ourselves and producing nothing as a result.

Getting writer's block or wallowing in creative meltdown.

There's much to be said for taking a more playful approach. Instead of creativity becoming a chore why not treat it like a game? Just fail faster!

I've done this with songwriting - after years of struggling to write that perfect song I changed approach. Inspired by The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook, I dedicated a day as an "immersion" songwriting day.

The challenge was to write and record 20 songs in 12 hours.

Not 20 perfect songs, just 20 songs.

On my first immersion songwriting day I "only" got up to 16 songs but the amazing thing was that some of them were pretty good! I've done this a few times now and have written more great songs in 2 years than previous decade before.

As a way of unblocking creative constipation, taking a more playful approach works wonders. So how could you be more playful with your art? Stop working and start playing!

3. Go for a walk

Pop your shoes on and off you go!
There's plenty of evidence out there that physical activity boosts brain function. And taking a walk or going for a run is a healthy thing to do for any reason.

Even in general terms staying fit and healthy is good for our creativity. For instance I know that the fitter I am the better my lung capacity and tone tend to be when I'm singing.

But that's not the only reason to go for a walk. In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman goes into great detail about how our brains work. Suffice to say that sometimes we need to give our subconscious mind space to surface by doing something physical that isn't task-oriented.

Walking or running with no fixed purpose allows our minds to wander and can bring deep insight or inspiration to the front of our minds.

I can testify to this - when I've been mulling over what to blog about, or how to overcome an obstacle, more often than not the answer will come to me when I'm running. For instance the title for my book Life Space came to me in a flash of inspiration during a morning plod.

So take a break, put on your trainers, and build some regular walking or running time into your routine!

4. Listen

What could you listen to this week for inspiration?
I take plenty of inspiration from hearing about other peoples' creative successes and failures. I find it really helpful hearing about someone else's alternative approach and their lessons learnt.

These days there's more inspiration than ever available online, and no matter what your interest or activity there will be someone talking about it in some form!

Podcasts in particular are a great way to connect with your favorite authors, topics or passions for free. Most smartphones enable you to subscribe and there are numerous apps out there to allow you to listen to podcasts at home, on the move and on whatever device you choose!

If you've never listened my own podcast, The Potting Shed Podcast then that's a great place to start!

Other shows I regularly listen to are The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins, Blogging your Passion and the Self Publishing Podcast. I also have a show about Home Education called The Home Ed Matters podcast which is really fun!

Aside from podcasts, I regularly watch TED talks, and there's thousands you can listen and watch across all kinds of subjects. I think that listening to podcasts and watching TED talks are a form of creative cross-pollination - what inspiration could you listen to this week that might pollinate your own creativity?

5. Slow it down

Really slowing down enables us to improve our technique
If you really want to improve your technique, whether it's your tennis serve or playing the violin, then a good way to do this is to really slow it down.

This is something the top performers do very well, according to Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code. I'd really recommend the book in terms of how to become more skilled in effective practice.

Going extra slow enables you to perfect all the aspects that make up the whole, each note of a piece of music, each action of a sports move.

We're often in such a rush, wanting to skip to the end, but taking things slowly enables us to improve our technique and ultimately be better at what we do.

Another tip for effective practice is to become outcome-focused rather than time-focused. So when learning a song for instance instead of planning to practice for a set period of time, like half an hour, plan for outcomes, like playing a song five times perfectly. This creates extra focus and self-correction - deep learning - and part of playing it perfectly might be playing it perfectly slowly to begin with, before speeding up.

It's better to be perfectly slow than badly rushed!

6. Be Yourself

George is secure in his identity
I'd hazard a guess that comparison has stifled more dreams than almost anything else. There's always likely to be someone better than you at what you do, and the difficultly is taking inspiration from that rather than becoming disheartened!

With social media, the temptation of artistic and creative comparison can be compounded when we see other people's perfect creations, workspaces, families and lives!

Too often we compare our messy process with other people's neat outcomes, when the truth is that their process is probably at least as messy, they've just chosen to frame the best bits.

We all have a unique blend of skills, experiences and hopes, and there's room for all of us to combine that in a unique way. What we may see as our biggest flaw might instead be our biggest selling point! We're all diamonds, even if we can't always see it to begin with - I interviewed Cathy Madavan on this topic recently. Embrace your inner buzzard rather than being jealous of eagles!

Becoming the best expression of who we're made to be is the biggest gift we can give to those around us. Creatively that might mean our style is unique, but that's ok! The Impressionists of the 19th century like Monet and Manet were widely criticised by the conventional French art world of the time, but they stayed true to their own unique style of painting,  and the world is richer for it!

Maybe you need to stop conforming to other people's perceptions of your life and release your inner Monet! As Oscar Wilde said: Be yourself, everyone else is taken!

7. Go public

Going public helped me regularly create...
If you're anything like me, you've got a million projects that you've never finished. You started enthusiastically but then motivation waned and you've never quite found the time to finish it off.

Without a deadline, without anyone shouting for it, it's easy for our creative works to gather dust on the shelf. This is where going public can really help. It's a way of being accountable and regularly "showing up".

For my writing it takes the form of my Blog Buddies group - we set each other a title to blog to each week and agree to post at the weekend.

Over the last few years I've found this weekly routine and deadline SO helpful to make me regularly write blogs and post them for the world to see.

As a result my writing has improved, I've been more consistent with my output, and it's generally been an all round "win".

Is it time for you to Go Public and get that extra motivation you need to keep creating? If you blog, you're welcome to join our Blog Buddies group!

8. Start small

Permit yourself build your masterpiece block by block
Confession - I am quite competitive.

This means that I don't always like being a beginner at things. For instance I like the idea of playing golf, but I'm not sure I have the patience to learn!

Likewise when it comes to creativity the gap between what I aspire to produce and what I'm actually able to produce can sometimes feel huge. For instance, I aspire to be a fantastic luthier and make beautiful stringed instruments, however my woodworking skills fall a little short of this ideal.

Now it's important to aim high, but sometimes I've been so disappointed that I'm not an expert straight away that I've been put off from even trying.

A lesson I've been learning over the last few years is to allow myself to be a bit rubbish. It's ok to start small. Our skills and talents grow over time through repeated use. It's ok that I'm not as good at making things in my workshop as my dad is, because he's had quite a headstart over me! And though I never saw it, even he was a beginner once.

So embrace small starts and baby steps - "Do not despise the day of small things". Even Usain Bolt had to learn to walk before he could run.

9. Go long

How long are you thinking?
More than ever our culture wants everything instantaneously, and this can rub off on our creative ambition.

It can feel like everyone else achieves overnight success and being brutally honest it's hard to keep from feeling jealous or resentful in darker moments. However, there's much to be said for playing the long game.

The artist Hokusai, most famous for The Great Wave off Kanagawa, is considered to have produced his best work in his 80s! So what if we don't achieve overnight success?

Perfecting our art and becoming a masterpiece is more important in the long run than short term and hollow acclaim. As Erwin McManus says, we're all "works of art and artists at work".

And as Bill Gates said, "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years".

There's a tree conservancy charity in Scotland that is thinking in a 250 year horizon. We might not need to think quite so far ahead, but maybe we just need to keep showing up, growing our skills and playing  the long game. Good things come to those who wait!

Collaborate. Play. Go for a walk. Listen. 

Slow it down. Be yourself. Go Public. Start Small. Go Long.

So there are my top nine ways to be more creative - which of these could you put in to practice first?

Why not try to apply one creativity booster a week for the next 9 weeks? I'd love to hear how you got on, so get in touch and let me know!

What are your top creativity boosters? I'd love to hear those too!


Thanks for taking the time to read Nine Ways To Be More Creative. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). Please nominate my podcast for an award during July 2015 - press the big red button here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

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Unknown said...

Really enjoyed this one and agree with them all- our goal at the moment is to slow it down :) #bigfatlinky

Tubbs said...

Some excellent advice. I do my best thinking about one thing when I'm doing something else.

Random Musings said...

I totally agree with all of these. Especially the one about going public. It is much harder to quit a project when people know its happening and are waiting to see your results :)
Thank you for linking to #AnythingGoes