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Want to find, use and increase your creativity? Get your free ebook here and follow your creative dream.
A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.
When was the last time you got negative feedback?
You’ve probably had comments on your writing, cooking, driving, or that shirt only you like. It doesn’t feel good.
Feedback is crucial to improvement. You only know what needs to change by assessing what does or doesn’t work.
Creative work of any kind exposes you to one-star reviews, lack of engagement, negative or offensive comments. You hoped for praise but got something unpleasant instead.
Alternatively, you might be working with a mentor or in a group of your peers, and actively seeking constructive comments.
You know feedback is a good thing. But do you always want it?
Writers crave good feedback. You want to hear how much readers loved your characters, plot, and description. Positive feedback (I loved this!) feels good, but like eating candy, it isn’t nourishing on its own.
But despite the supposed benefits, we’re less keen on hearing negatives. Like broccoli or high fibre cereal, we know it’s good for us but it doesn’t taste good.
Negative feedback cuts to the heart of your self-esteem. If you’re too closely identified with your work (writing is my life rather than writing is something I do) criticism of your work feels like criticism of your core self. Then you attack in self-defence — either the critic or yourself. Both options are painful.
Reviews and comments are an accepted part of life. The only way to avoid them is never showing your work.
Fighters work with a sparring partner to build their strength and skills. Ask for help from a trusted source. Each time someone points out a defect is an opportunity to learn and do better next time. Take feedback on the chin and emerge with your self-esteem intact.
There are ways to make feedback both palatable and useful, whether it was invited or not.
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
Norman Vincent Peale
Constructive critique is aimed at the work.
It is factual. It focuses on objective measures using rational language.
Destructive critique is aimed at the creator.
It is opinion given in emotive language. It may not be relevant to the work at hand. It is personal.
What complete rubbish. You’re useless, my ten year old could do better than this.
Consider having one idea per sentence and three sentences per paragraph. That gives more white space on the screen, which is easier to read.
The first example is pure negative opinion and offers no useful insight.
The second example avoids insults and emotive language and suggests remedies.
Whether you choose to take the advice depends on the source and the quality of the suggestion. But it gives you something to work with. The new version might work better or not suit your style. Either way, you know more than before, and can make more informed choices in your next piece.
Not every comment deserves a response. Sometimes you just note it and move on. Remember you are in charge of your words. You don’t have to accept all of the critiques or make all suggested changes. However, review from another source can be invaluable in showing a reader’s view, which you as the author cannot experience.
Endless negativity, especially if mixed with personal attack and vitriol, says more about the commenter than the work.
The internet is full of people whose comments consist only of slurs and insults. Sometimes they start by being pleasant and complementary; when you take the bait they switch to attack. Being targeted by an online and probably anonymous bully is a painful and upsetting experience. The answer is simple; don’t feed the trolls.
Don’t respond or engage in a flame war. Don’t stoop to their level.
You risk hurting your brand among observers, as a reputation is hard to build but easy to destroy. And you open yourself to a stream of negative feelings that persist long after the encounter.
You can close comments, mute, block or unfollow, depending on the platform. Often silence is the best response.
A common response to critique is to become defensive or aggressive.
I worked all night on that and you didn’t even give me any credit so what’s the point?
Well, what do you know anyway? I’ve got a postgraduate degree in X so I think I know what I’m talking about.
A good sparring partner exposes your weaker areas without attacking them outright. You wouldn’t spar when angry; it could turn into an ugly fight.
It might take some time to process the emotional hit, so take a breath. Remember that you’re here to learn. Nobody is perfect. Everyone can improve.
The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment.
Exposing yourself to feedback more often is the best way to increase your tolerance of it.
No creative is immune to the sinking feeling when they see just how many changes they need to make to a piece. You’re allowed to feel bad about it as long as you keep the end goal in mind. Constructive critique builds the strength to do better work.
You put something of yourself into your creation, but please separate your sense of self from the thing you made. Critique of your work does not lessen your worth as a person. When you truly accept this, feedback is much easier to handle. Make another, a better piece using what you’ve learned.
You are not your work.
Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game
Dishing out negative reviews is easy. Giving useful critique isn’t easy. Like all good teaching, producing insightful analysis and actionable suggestions is harder than it looks.
So try writing a good critique by swapping with someone else. There are websites where you can submit your work for review, and earn credits by doing the same for others. It’s the tough love version of karma.
Follow the golden rule; be respectful.
Sharpen your critical skills, but not at someone else’s expense. Read other reviews to learn how to phrase your suggestions if you’re unsure. Even when you have points to make, imagine how your words would feel if you were receiving them. Empathy does not prevent you from being honest.
Whether you’re dishing it out or taking it, constructive feedback is central to your improvement and eventual success. You can learn to like broccoli. And dessert always tastes better after you’ve eaten your greens.
It’s getting cooler now, autumn truly setting in as what’s left of summer fades away. Rain trickles down the windows. I stare out at the grey sky, and I don’t know what I’m doing or why.
I begin work.
Sometimes nothingness and oblivion are far more appealing than they should be. Have I had a good life, someone asks. I’ve been good. I’ve done good. Followed the rules. Not made a fuss.
I don’t know if that is a good life. If it is good for me.
I keep working.
It seems futile, shouting into the void, scratching symbols on the sand for the tide to wash it away. Hurricanes blow away human constructions, suck the very ocean from the earth. People talk feverishly of end times, booking places in the lifeboat of faith. They know they will be saved. All seems futile, all comes to an end, why not here?
I have not come to an end. I wake, and it is another day, and I go on working.
There are lean times, and times of plenty. There are droughts, and oases of green. There are things made of grey, and nothings made of black. There are places where all these co-exist, a Schrödinger dimension of ideas. My head is one of these places.
In the midst of death and endings, my fingers sprout new lives and beginnings that never were. I build word bricks into sentence walls and so construct whole cities of fanciful notions, airy and insubstantial and leaden. If I don’t spit them out they weigh me down and I drown in a sea of tears.
I must work.
Fly my pretties, out into an uncertain world of indifference and pain. Let me birth you one by one, sit gasping and bleeding in the road, then catch my breath and move on, never looking back. Another cuckoo grows within. I sleep, and life comes to me again with dawn. I rise, weary.
The work compels me.
If I have material or if I have not, it is the same. It is only the work, the creation, the what if spur in my flanks, that gives meaning to the day. I may turn my back, but it is always there.
And so I’m doing the work.
Surely the words belong to you, right?
You found an idea and arranged the words to express that idea before putting them out in the world.
You spent time and effort making sure you’re adding something new to the conversation.
You’ve chosen to share it with the world, but it’s still yours.
Except that the moment you pressed publish, you lost control.
We’re trained to be polite when giving and receiving gifts. We learn to navigate the minefield according to unwritten rules, and if someone fails to play the game right we call foul.
When you send your work into the world, you expect it to be received with polite thanks at least, and effusive gratitude at best. But you fear bad things will happen and you’ll be powerless to do anything about it.
Your work, that gift for the reader that you laboured over, gets ignored, thrown to the ground and trampled on, or taken apart until it is shredded beyond recognition. You’re angry, disappointed, and afraid to risk trying again.
You must try again and change your attitude to giving.
We’re all adults and we know that many gifts don’t hit the spot. It’s on the recipient to decide what they do with the gift, and as long as you gave in good faith that’s where your influence ends.
If you’re giving what someone might need or use, give it freely. Don’t be that person who gives money but dictates what to buy with it. Don’t be that person who gets huffy when you don’t bring out their gift every time they visit.
All you can do is put enough time and effort into making sure you’ve created your best possible work.
After that, it’s time to forget expectations and cut the strings.
A busy road separates my house from the main residential area. My son, then aged nine, wanted to cross the road and cycle to his friend’s house alone. I was worried; a girl had been killed on that road shortly after we moved in. I was acutely aware of all the potential hazards. At the same time, he was growing up and wanting more independence.
I had several options at that point:
Many factors played into this decision but eventually, he would have to face the world without me beside him. My job as a parent was to teach him how.
Two of the hardest parenting lessons to learn are how and when to let go.
Stories are like children. You’re responsible for keeping them safe while they develop and giving them the tools to survive. But after that, they’re on their own.
Your story belonged to you. Now you must find a way to set it free with a light heart, rather than holding on too tight. Then, like your child leaving the nest, you give your words and creativity room to grow and fulfil their purpose.
I know that books seem like the ultimate thing that’s made by one person, but that’s not true. Every reading of a book is a collaboration between the reader and the writer who are making the story up together.
We write with a specific idea in mind, but that idea can spark many different connections in different minds.
Once I wrote a fictional argument between two gay men about authenticity. I received a long comment in return from a woman, married with children, who identified so strongly with one character that she was in tears reading it.
This was not the reaction I intended. But it told me that for one person at least the issues resonated, so strongly that she took the time to reply.
We write to connect. We can’t predict whether we connect or in what way, because each reader is unique. Each reader views the story through a unique lens shaped by personality and experience.
A story is different for everybody who reads it and the writer only owns the first version. The reader filters and changes your words, consciously or not. Their response has more to say about them and where they find themselves at that moment than the story itself.
The glory of a good tale is that it’s limitless & fluid; a good tale belongs to each reader in its own particular way.
So consider your story a child of your imagination. Make it as strong as you can. When it’s ready, send it into the world. Your story is outside your control now, and that’s as it should be.
Every child must walk its own path. Every story must make its own way.
Whether people react to your words with delight, anger, scorn, or tears, you’ve done your job. You made a connection. The outcome is not your responsibility as long as the story comes from a place of love, and a desire to share and receive something positive.
That also means that every story has the ability to change someone in ways you can’t predict. Who knows what comfort you can give to a person who can finally say, “That’s me, that’s how I feel.” If you can do that, why hesitate?
That’s the true worth of a story – the possibility of learning, wonder, and growth for writer and reader. Accept this responsibility and use your powers for good.
Do you really need the elusive 1% of inspiration, or is 99% perspiration enough to get the job done?
Inspiration is one of those ideas people use to separate artists from the rest of the population. Popular culture shows an artist writing or playing or painting like a person possessed, forgetting to eat or wash in the process. They’re overwhelmed by the spirit of creation and must capture it before they lose it.
Perhaps as a reaction to that, many no-nonsense creators simply dismiss it. Show up, do your work, and you don’t need inspiration. Once you start, you’ll find whatever you need along the way. Prolific and successful writers such as Stephen King and Nora Roberts have no time for inspiration, dismissing it as an excuse for failure to produce.
You might share one or other of these views. You may have been inspired and found the experience both thrilling and elusive to repeat, like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Or you get on with hitting your daily word count and find that’s more than enough.
But is it possible that both viewpoints are true?
All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired.
Chuck Palahniuk, Diary
The Nine Muses of Ancient Greece were goddesses who symbolised arts and sciences such as poetry, singing, astronomy, drama, and so on.
Artists of the time called on their muse to bring forth their best work.
The idea of the muse as inspiration persisted into the last century, often personified as a woman who inspired a male artist. Sometimes an artist in her own right, she embodied an artistic concept for the man whose work often featured her as a model. Dali, Picasso, Rossetti, and Rodin all drew on their significant relationship with a woman, while Francis Bacon’s muse was male.
The muse reflected the artist’s vision while also challenging him. Her presence as model or sounding board encouraged him to push the boundaries, infusing his pieces with more energy and no doubt encouraging him when the results were viewed with confusion or disdain. Every movement that we now accept in art began with artists who dared to go further, risking the scorn of their contemporaries.
The muse shines her light on a new path and whispers in the artist’s ear, “That is your way forward. Be brave.”
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
Creativity and inspiration are not the same things. They can exist separately or together.We’re all creative, but we’re not always inspired. You can make a cake or write a story by gathering your materials and starting. The result will be perfectly serviceable if you know what you’re doing.
But if you have inspiration, you can create something much more. Inspiration turns good into great, and great into sublime.
Think about the last time you were struck by an idea. It seemed to come from nowhere. Perhaps you were in the shower or thinking about something else entirely. Perhaps you were half-way through your piece and suddenly you went off in a different direction, as though a billiard ball collided with you.
It’s impossible to explain. You might say your characters told you what they wanted, or that you had a hunch, or you shrug your shoulders and say it just felt right.
The Ancient Greeks would say your muse had whispered in your ear. Science says that it happened in your brain. Your brain is a collection of a trillion neurons and a quadrillion synapses, a self-regulating system capable of near-miraculous processing.
Neuroscience has evidence that the creative act may involve enhanced neural processes. Normal pattern recognition steps up to a level where the brain can make new connections. That’s creativity – connecting things.
Put another way, you can make a fire with two sticks rubbed together and oxygen. Both are essential and together they are sufficient, with enough effort.
But add a spark and you shorten the process. The spark is neither necessary nor sufficient on its own. But allied to enough kindling and skill, your efforts can go into making a bigger, brighter flame.
Fire = kindling + oxygen + skill
Creation = spark of inspiration + kindling of ideas + skill
Now you need to make sure that inspiration can find you, ready and waiting.
Whether it’s a painter finding his way each morning to the easel, or a medical researcher returning daily to the laboratory, the routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.
Every act of creation has process at its heart. Every marvellous work you admire is rooted in skills which are hard won and honed by repetition. So before you think about being inspired, you have to do the work of being able to do the work. Always.
If your spark drifts by and your eyes are closed, you’ll miss it. If you have no materials, or there is no oxygen, you won’t be able to use it. This is where a routine is your friend and constant practice is your teacher.
Forget about inspiration and work on your craft daily. You need to level up before you can take advantage of it. Put in the work to improve. Check your progress with whatever measure you like, just be sure that you’re doing better work, not just more of the same.
The rules of writing (painting, photography, or anything you like) can be tedious and boring to learn. Learn the rules anyway, so that when inspiration strikes you know which to break and which to follow. Put in the training miles so that when spark meets kindling, you’re ready.
Inspiration is there all the time. For everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts whether they realize it or not.
Just as a flame needs oxygen, inspiration thrives in open space. An open mind is unusually receptive to new patterns. You need to clear out the constant chatter of conscious thought. Meditation may be useful but it’s not absolutely necessary. Daydreaming, naming clouds, or watching a raindrop crawl down a window can all quiet the mind and allow new ideas to surface.
Some people get their breakthroughs while in the shower. It’s a time for most of us to let our brains idle. For others, free-writing nudges thinking into a less directed state, as in the morning pages of The Artist’s Way.
Some people move around. Walking, running, swimming or even sweeping a floor might work for you.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
A tired mind is a slow mind, barely able to cope with the familiar let alone come up with something new. Lack of sleep is so common these days that it’s seen as normal, but to be truly creative you need sufficient rest. The average is six to nine hours, so experiment and find your ideal. Work back from your rising time to find when you need to go to bed.
The other reason to sleep more is to get enough REM sleep, the phase during which we dream. Often this phase occurs just before waking naturally, so if your alarm wakes you before you complete your sleep cycle you will miss out.
If you can remember your dreams, keep a notebook by the bed to write them down on waking. Sleep allows the conscious brain to rest and the subconscious to work without distraction. There’s some evidence this can result in more creative insights. Dream recall can be difficult to start but improves with practice.
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
Henry David Thoreau
If creativity is connecting things, make sure you have plenty of material to work from. You’ll have to sift through a lot of rocks to find that nugget of gold.
Get out from your routine and search out something new.
Read something outside your comfort zone, outside your genre. Read non-fiction, look at architecture or a photography magazine. Read a novel you think is trashy and one you think is classic. Re-read the books you loved when you were twelve, or twenty-one.
Visit a museum and spend thirty minutes with a single exhibit. Examine it from all angles. Think about the materials and techniques that made it. Imagine it in your sitting room. Take a picture for later. Print the picture and sleep with it under your pillow.
Talk to people properly, by which I mean ask them about themselves and listen to the answers. We all have a tale to tell and some of them are fascinating.
Visit an unfamiliar place. This could be a new town or part of your hometown where you never go. If you live in a city, take the tourist bus tour and learn something new. Look up at buildings, notice carvings and old facades. Sometimes all you need to do is raise your eyes to see much more.
It’s a dull world without inspiration. And without perspiration and effort, nothing would be realised. We need both.
When you feel like you’re just plodding along and you’re missing something, seek inspiration.
Build your skillset, sharpen your tools, challenge your capabilities.
Be curious, give your brain space to spark new connections, and always be seeking out new materials to feed it.
If anyone can make this marriage of opposites work, it’s a creative person like you.
Go to it.
To depend entirely upon inspiration is as bad as waiting for a shipwreck to learn how to swim. To leave everything to natural spontaneity is as bad as to make everything the result of mechanical predetermination… perfection is the harmonious blending of the two.
Have a comment or suggestion? Drop it below.
Do you think creativity is a special talent that other people have but you don’t?
Do you long to make art, but feel you’re not a creative person? Have you lost your creative flow?
Then my free e-book Unleash Your Creativity is waiting for you. I believe we’re all innately creative and I want to help you find your artistic heart.
I know how hard it can be to claim the title of artist or creator. I know you’re busy. Like me you have work, family, and social commitments demanding your time and energy. But despite all that, you feel something’s missing.
I wrote Unleash Your Creativity for you; a short guide to living a more creative life in the real world. In your free e-book you’ll find advice and exercises to guide you as you identify and start to follow your passion.
Whether you lack confidence, ideas or resources, there’s something here for you. You’ll also find more tips and ideas on this blog every week.
The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt.
They say that everyone has a novel inside them. Maybe you know someone who is hard at work on theirs. You read their comments online or chat with them at an event. They tell you they’ve been working on it for a while. “How long?” you ask. They tell you it’s been several years so far. These perfectionists have laboured over this one piece for five, seven, ten years. And they don’t know when it will be finished.
Or maybe it’s your work that has limped on forever. You’re stuck because you can’t figure out the right style of the gowns in your Imperial court, or your research on spring weather patterns in Kansas has led down increasingly arcane corridors.
You’ll publish or submit, someday. But it’s not perfect yet. And so your great work sits on your hard drive and the world never sees it.
Perfectionists are often procrastinators. You believe if a thing’s worth doing, it must be done properly and nothing less will do. So you either rework and edit endlessly, or you don’t even start because you can never get it absolutely right. And you can’t edit an empty page.
You conceal these feelings behind strong psychological defences and sublimate them into pointless activity. But research isn’t writing. At some level, you know that and you’re disappointed with yourself.
At the heart of perfectionism is fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success, because then you have to do it again, leading back to fear of failure.
To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand your fear and master it. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action despite feeling fear. Courage is taking a deep breath and doing it anyway because your desire for something is greater than the fear of what might happen.
If you never challenge yourself to move past fear, you cannot improve or grow. Everything you really want is outside of your comfort zone.
In order to step out there and thrive, you’ll need to let some ideas go and embrace new thinking. We’ll look at how to do this next.
Fear is a basic emotion that we all understand. You fear humiliation and ridicule for getting something wrong. Perhaps you replay some old memory of being laughed at for a minor error, and that underlies your current avoidant behaviour.
Here are two reasons why you should leave that in the past where it belongs.
Babies are the world’s fastest learners. From zero, they learn to feed, walk, talk, and live in a social unit, all within two years. They achieve this not by being perfect, but the opposite. They stumble, fall, stand up again.
They babble nonsense and parrot speech without understanding at first. Eventually, they achieve a level of competence that allows them to run, jump, and sing a nursery rhyme.
They do not beat themselves up because they can’t yet recite Shakespeare. They simply chatter and listen to adults when corrected. Each time they repeat, they’re closer to the goal of intelligible speech.
You learned to speak, walk, and countless other complex skills in the same way. If you had waited to speak until you were perfect, you would not have uttered a word for years.
Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Understand that supposed errors are signposts back to the right path, and you’re much less fearful of your results. Judge not against some unattainable level of perfection, but against where you were last time you tried.
You already know how to learn and improve. Adjust your aim, and try again.
While you’re slaving over one meticulously crafted blog post, searching tirelessly for exactly the right image and quote, I’m ramping up my output. One post every Friday was my first goal. Having reached that goal and with over 200 posts under my belt, now I’m aiming to post two or three articles every week. I don’t have time to agonise endlessly over a picture.
Oh, you say, but you prefer quality over quantity. People repeat this justification for low output as if it were gospel truth. It’s completely wrong.
In an experiment, students in a ceramics class were split into two groups. One group was told that they could get an A by turning in one perfect piece. The other group was told that they would be graded solely on the total weight of pieces produced, of any quality.
The results were surprising. The second group produced a large number of extremely good pieces. They were freed from the constraints of perfection and given free rein to experiment without being penalised. I’d bet money they were happier with their work too.
Repeated practice increased their skills and confidence. They weren’t paralysed by over-analysis or worried about criticism. They did not fear the impossibility of lightning striking twice, because they knew how to create a storm. They were able to replicate good work because they understood what went into making it.
The more you make, the better you get.
Real artists ship.
Imagine if Dali had refused to let anyone see his paintings, or if Michelangelo had obsessively chipped away at and repolished his David. How much poorer we would be! Remember also that an artist’s most famous works comprise only a fraction of their total output.
Writers learn more from finishing one story than from starting and abandoning ten. You’ll learn where you wrote yourself into a corner, and how to figure your way out. You’ll learn how many plots you can juggle. You’ll learn what makes a good ending. And eventually, you’ll join up all those skills and move from conscious competence to unconscious competence.
In other words, you will master your craft and spend more effort on deciding where to put the ball than how to kick it.
At some point, you have to declare a thing finished and let it go. The more refined your skill, the harder it is. You always feel there is just one more thing you could improve upon.
Let it go. Ship it. Publish, submit, and move on to the next thing. That’s the secret; always have a next thing. Each piece becomes a little less precious when it forms a smaller part of your portfolio. You may still have your favourites and the ones you shrug over, but the totality is what matters.
Confidence comes from improvement. You know that you can make another piece, and it might be even better than the last. And if it’s not, that’s okay too.
That is true creative freedom.
This free short e-book will show you how to stop letting limiting beliefs hold you back and finally start creating the work you’ve been dreaming of. Want your creative spark back? This is the guide for you.
Get your free short e-book Unleash Your Creativity here.
powering through the block
Sometimes the ideas won’t come. You want to paint or write but you don’t know what. You started something and now you hate it. Or maybe you’re trying to get started again after a drought or forced hiatus. Like a stalled car, you need a little push to get going.
The way we think has a great impact on creativity.
Divergent thinking creates possibilities. It gathers ideas and combines them in new ways. There is more than one answer to a question. And all ideas have potential value. Divergent thinking creates options using right-brained methods; imagination, visualisation, and intuition.
Convergent thinking solves problems. It considers, weighs and discards options, narrowing them down until the right answer emerges. Convergent thinking achieves results using left-brain methods; sequencing, logic, and facts.
We need both types of thinking to achieve a result. First, come up with ideas using divergent thinking, then execute an idea using convergent thinking. A brilliant concept is nothing without the techniques to make it a reality.
Judgement can wait
But choosing which idea to work on too soon can choke off possibilities. We tend to judge ideas and discard them without fully exploring them. So it’s vital to gather all your ideas without judgement first. It’s like mining a fine diamond; they’re not lying about on the surface. After digging through a lot of worthless stuff, you spot something with potential. Then you get to work cutting and polishing.
Creativity exercises are best done quickly to outwit the inner critic. Keep moving and let yourself be imperfect.
We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.
1 . Get random
Having too many choices can lead to being overwhelmed. Because you could do anything, you end up doing nothing. Research has shown that we are more satisfied with our choices when options are limited.
Try letting chance dictate your next move rather than fretting over what to do.Then you can put your energy into doing, rather than frustration that you don’t know where to start.
Turn to a page in the nearest book to hand. Count the tenth verb or noun. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a story or poem inspired by this word.
Do the same with a magazine, instead using the tenth picture as inspiration.
This is a classic way to access divergent thinking. The idea is to generate quantity rather than quality. Concentrating on quantity leads your brain to think widely, past the obvious. Creativity sees new links between ideas or objects that were not connected before.
Keep asking “what else?” but do not ask “would this work?” For example, a Lego brick could be a doorstop. It doesn’t matter at this stage how effective that might be.
Most people can think of 10–15 ideas for a paperclip. See how much better you can do.
Write down as many uses as you can think of for a paper clip; a Lego brick; a small silver coin; or a teaspoon.
Pick an unusual use for an object and write a short story about it. Or draw it instead.
3 . Do the same job with fewer tools
Creativity blossoms within restriction. When we challenge our skills by limiting the available options, we have to find another way to get the job done. In other words, divergent thinking comes into play. That is the essence of creativity.
Artists, paint or draw using shades of only one colour. If you usually draw in pencil, try using ink. Set a time limit.
Writers, use a random first line generator like this one to write a one-page story. Sometimes this works better writing by hand; somehow it’s less daunting than the blinking cursor.
4 . Play in a different sandbox
To create we need to see the world in a different way. When we’re comfortable in one way of seeing, it’s good to mix it up. Maximise your creative muscle by trying something new, just as you’d train different muscle groups in the gym. You will benefit by finding new solutions and skills that you can bring back to your chosen field. That could be improved memory, attention to detail, or improvisation. And it’s fun to try something new.
Make something small, in a different medium.
Doodle your favourite animal, if you write.
Write a song or poem, if you paint.
Cook a meal using a new recipe or only three ingredients from your fridge.
Look at an object in the room for one minute, then try to draw it from memory.
5 . Move
The brain requires up to 20% of the body’s energy. That energy comes from circulating blood, and getting active improves circulation. Sitting or standing in one position for extended periods also leads to stiffness and even pain. Artists and typists are prone to repetitive strain injuries from small repeated movements.
Spending long periods inside in solitary activity can have a number of negative effects, from vitamin D deficiency to low mood. We need to take care of our bodies if we want to stay healthy longer.
Go for a walk and notice the animals. One of them will become a character in your next story or painting.
Wander around a gallery, craft supplies store or even a toy shop. Surround yourself with interesting visuals to spark ideas.
Running, swimming, walking or gardening are good ways to clear the mind and occupy the body with soothing repetition. This allows ideas from your subconscious to bubble up to the surface.
Just do it
The most important thing you can do to access creativity is to make more things, no matter how small or mundane. A new recipe, story, garden, doodle, or haiku all come from looking at the world, seeing new possibility and then expressing what you see in your own way. And that’s what creating is all about.
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which to keep.
I wrote a piece recently about overcoming writer’s block by immersing yourself in the Zen of simple things. In this case, baking cookies.
It was all there; soothing repetitive tasks, making something tangible, a dash of creativity in the ingredients (these are oat, mixed fruit and ginger cookies, in fact.)
I thought I had done a Good Thing.™
Then this dropped into my inbox from Austin Kleon. You know, the Steal like an Artist guy.
My world tilted. Was it possible that I had procrastinated without knowing — I had in fact procrastibaked?
No, no, say it ain’t so.
Okay, it might be so, sometimes, but I stand by my original article. And I learned something after the cookies (and my story) were baked.
Now, go read his article and the book, which is fabulous. I’m off to make tea and raid the cookie jar.
baking a solution to writer’s block
I’m stuck. Just forty minutes ago the words were flowing, full steam ahead. Now they’ve dried up. I stand, stretch, sit again. Still no words.
It’s time to follow my own advice. I say that writer’s block can be overcome*, so this is my opportunity to walk the talk. I resist the temptation to fall into a social media vortex. The weather is too hideous for gardening or a walk, so I head to the kitchen.
Flour, butter, sugar. The basic elements for baking are all there, and it is truly amazing how many variations flow from them. Like Lego blocks, they can build many things. I grab my trusty recipe for oat and raisin cookies.
Not enough butter, so I make up the shortfall with avocado oil. It’s supposed to be super healthy, and it ought to be at that price. Must have been feeling well off that day.
The recipe says raisins. I substitute mixed fruit and chopped ginger.
Little changes make these cookies uniquely mine, raisin and oats and something else.
Creaming butter and sugar is repetitive and soothing. I can’t get this wrong and there’s no pressure of time. I sift the dry ingredients together and inhale the aroma of cinnamon, noting the random speckles of brown against white flour.
While I combine ingredients, the story problem simmers in the background. It’s meditative, this focus on a single thing. I lose the plot. I start clean up while the oven preheats. Blobs of dough sit unevenly on assorted baking trays. They’ll all taste great.
The aroma of baking is heavenly and I inhale deeply. The kitchen is quiet and tidy again. After hours of mental effort, turning the focus outwards and creating order restores calm. I feel more in control and the nagging voice of doubt recedes, because the cookies are a small but certain win.
And then the protagonist whispers, “I fell asleep on the train and now I’m waking up in Sheffield with a dead phone and no money. Help.” Oh yes, I can work with this. The next steps light up in my brain and I return to work energised, with tea and a warm, delicious cookie.
*No more writers block
Simple repetitive tasks are calming, approached in the right mindset.
Step away from the keyboard.
Let your subconscious work on a problem while you occupy your brain elsewhere.
Engage all your senses and pay attention.
Limitations create problems. Solving those problems demands creativity.
Making something tangible is satisfying in a way mental work is not.
Small wins help enormously on the way to the bigger goal.
Enjoy your cookie.