Many artists of all kinds learn from the start that a creative flow simply isn’t steady and constant. In fact, most of the time it seems frustratingly elusive with a life of its own. Insights suddenly interrupt you when you’re washing your hair, then completely escape you when the time comes to sit down and work.
There’s lots of advice out there about how to be more creative, to have great insights, to generate new ideas. Entire books have been dedicated to the idea that inspiration often requires a certain type of practice before it may strike, and in many ways, I have found this to be true. Inspiration must find you working, as they say.
CULTIVATE YOUR CURIOSITY
Rarely is there one single, simple trick to accomplishing anything that equates to much value, I do know that repetitive small actions can eventually become a habit– and habits (good or bad) are the direct results of what we practice. Repeating any behavior over and over until it runs on autopilot can either create an ingrained handicap, or it can be the predictable advantage that makes you succeed.
It seems perfectly logical that the more work you produce, the more you will have to work with. And the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to uncover a good one. But first, you have to write them down. You don’t even have to write it well. At least, not yet. Many of us have heard this time and again.
There are many stages to writing, and getting words on a page is one of the first.
Many insights appear to be spontaneous (if you’ve ever truly experienced writer’s block, you know that feeling when you’ve tried everything to get that idea light bulb to turn on) rather than something attained through skill, but there are at least a few certain ingredients that must be there for valuable insights to occur.
First thing is: don’t give up. If you’re a writer, and cannot bring yourself to write, that doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Well, technically, it does… but that’s relatively easy to change. Just because I can “sing” behind blaring music doesn’t mean I do it well or that I don’t need practice.
Whether I can ever carry a note the way Mariah can, I can still maximize whatever I have to work with. You may not have even done enough writing to hear your own voice, to see what you have to work with and where you can start. You can start now, and you already have by seeking out articles and reading to help you make progress. Really, anything you can do that expands your horizons is progress, and a step closer to where you want to be.
Become aware of what you consume.
There is no doubt we are all consuming lots of content. All the time. Advertising is something we are regularly exposed to and rarely is it welcomed. The best we can hope for is to hope that what we are being ‘sold’ is worth knowing about– or that the rude interruption just gets on to the point. When we are getting something of value from the content we consume, it is no longer just an interruption or wasted time.
Passive and lazy consumption of lots of content, for the most part, is not what you should be after.
Deliberately consuming quality books, media, or movies in search of growth is a completely different and important discussion. Remember, you can choose a good portion of the things you are exposed to and where you pay your attention.
For better or worse, people usually stick to what they know. This is not a bad way to get started reading, watching, listening, etc. because knowledge is one of these certain ingredients. Start reading about what you like or something you want to know more about, then follow the rabbit trails.
Dabble. Expose yourself to knowledge about a variety of subjects. This always gives someone a creative edge, and with it comes more opportunity to make unique connections between information from different fields.
Give yourself permission to explore new or challenging topics. You aren’t looking to become an expert, but research and the other endless ways of consuming quality content (podcasts, reading, traveling, conversating, etc.) can lead you right where you want to be. Sweet, especially if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going yet. Make notes, draw doodles, and write in your books, if they’re good ones of course.
Fuel the fire.
Sparks easily turn into flames: the more you consume, the more you will want to consume. By consuming lots of information on topics you are deeply interested in, you can ignite the passion and curiosity needed to drive you forward to the next level.
Finding out what excites and moves you is like finding fuel to help you start a fire.
Ask silly questions, then find the answers. Explore topics that interest you and get you excited, your excitement alone will lead you to deeper levels. Though it may seem cliche, curiosity is an incredible driving force behind insights and creative thinking. As often you can, chase down the things that keep you curious.
Over time, if you can build a habit of exposing yourself to and exploring new ideas, old ideas, all ideas– you are likely to have some of your own. Maybe so many that you can’t keep up.
When you are pursuing that which you genuinely care about, you can achieve optimal experience, the ultimate state of enjoyment or happiness that we all hope to achieve in whatever we are doing. Enjoying how you are spending your time makes you want to spend more time enjoying it. The more time you spend doing something, the better you will become, which usually pays off.
People often achieve optimal experience during a state of flow. But to achieve a state of creative flow, there is work to be done. First, the goal should be finding that which you can enjoy immersing yourself in.
FLOW = the state in which people are so involved with an activity that nothing else seems to matter
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
After spending some time consuming content that you are interested in, you’ll begin to see trends in what people are talking about (and what they’re not talking about, hint hint). Is there an article you’d like to find? Big questions left to be answered? Important avenues left to be explored? Immerse yourself in those things that make you ask questions.
I don’t mean to say that you should only pursue topics you are interested in. That is the other side of the coin: I think you’ll soon discover (what seem to be) unrelated areas of interest. Maybe you want to know nothing about painting landscapes but have always wondered how Bob Ross went from one day being a carpenter to a world-famous TV personality. Get curious, and find answers to your most curious questions.
Allow yourself to follow rabbit trails, you’ll uncover the interests you never knew you had.
For some, this may seem overly obvious. It is true that this is a simple principle, but it takes a commitment to fully pursue something, no matter how much we love it. So many of us lazily (perhaps intentionally) consume whatever media is popular, available, or not challenging. Maybe some get stuck in some rut by focusing only on things and ideas that they’re already comfortable with. The key here is to grow, to go somewhere new.
Make connections between worlds.
Inspiration is often unexpected and can be triggered by the addition of new information. This is because even one new fact–when added to the bubbling cauldron of your existing knowledge– can completely change your current understanding, and illuminate angles not seen before. Who knows? Following those so-called rabbit trails could be the key to making unexpected connections or gaining a new perspective. This means growth.
The best creative work we do is often the result of seeing connections between seemingly unrelated things– seeing something in a way that others don’t.
Find ways to force a change in your perspective. Collect information and reorganize it. Take what you know and zoom out. Or zoom in. Take a small detail and change it. Try feeling it from a new place, with different eyes. Some of the most useful theories in any particular field are a combination of or the reaction to the best parts of other, previously embraced theories. Connect similarities. Connect differences. Put it in a pile and come back to look at it again after lunch.
TIP: A vision board is a great way to make new connections between your thoughts. If each piece of information, each quote, each magazine clipping, each word or picture is movable, even better. Create a mind map, find different ways to categorize the collected information, line them up in a different order (try backward!). Move and shift ideas and you may just come up with something new.
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.
— Steve Jobs
All art is borrowed.
With all of this focus on insights, creativity, and ways to promote innovative thinking, it’s important to remember that all art is borrowed. Of course, this means that we are all an assimilation of things we have seen, people we have known, songs we’ve heard, and the experiences we have had. That said, all original and creative work– all ‘innovation’– is a result of that which we have consumed. I won’t delve into the ethics of copying another person’s work, but I am specifically advocating for the opposite. Learn from others, and be inspired by them, to produce something uniquely yours.
Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New
York, NY: Random House.
Gilbert, E. (2015). Big magic: Creative living beyond fear. New York, NY: Penguin Random
Klein, G. (2013). Seeing what others don’t: The remarkable ways we gain insights.
New York, NY: Public Affairs.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.
New York, NY: HarperCollins.