Have you ever gone through a period when you could not create? When you could not come up with an engaging premise or an artful expression?
If you said no to the above questions, I hate you. At least, I suspect you’re not being truthful. Or maybe you’re just really good at refreshing yourself to get the ideas flowing again. (If so, skip to the end of this article, because I need your input. . .)
But if you are like most people who create, you have likely undergone occasional periods when you feel uninspired, and nothing you produce has that spark that you know you have inside you. Arrgh! It’s so frustrating!
How to get out of that funk?
Creativity Boosting Strategies:
Take a dump—a thought dump. Julia Cameron, in her wonderful book and course, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, recommends the daily practice of what she calls “Morning Pages,” three sheets of paper which you fill longhand with the thoughts cluttering up your brain. This is sheer stream-of-consciousness writing, not pretty at all. Get all your concerns out of your head so you can free your brain to be brilliant.
Walk. Movement, besides being good for your body, stimulates your brain. I prefer to walk outside, preferably in someplace beautiful, like a park, but your own neighborhood will do. Be on the lookout for ordinary beauty (like a flower), but also for the remarkable (like a hummingbird). Let your mind wander. Which leads to the next suggestion. . .
Daydream. As a child, my teachers often complained to my parents that I daydreamed in the classroom, and so I was strongly encouraged to focus on the task at hand. Focus is good, but you can’t force the muse. So I am giving you permission (print this article out and highlight this sentence so you don’t forget) to every now and then spend time lost in your own thoughts. Creativity often comes when we unleash our imaginations. Which leads to the next suggestion. . .
Brainstorm. Generate ideas—but aim for quantity, not quality at this point. Jot down every thought that enters your head without judgment. If you write down 25 stupid ideas, I guarantee one or two of them will have potential for brilliance. Another way to do this is say “What if. . .” and complete it with whatever quirky idea comes to you. (What if George Washington married Beyonce? What if hamburgers could fly?)
The Alternative Uses Test. This is something like brainstorming. You take a common item, like a spoon or a water bottle, and come up with as many new applications for it as you can. Great discoveries have been made through this activity, but what it really does is help you think outside the box, which is what geniuses and creative people do.
Enjoy music, movies, and books—especially those that are different from what you usually gravitate to and teach you something new. The more kinds of art and information you expose yourself to, the more material you have to ignite your own creativity and originality.
Enhance your workspace with plants and things that speak to you, like a souvenir from a favorite vacation or a lovely photo cut from a magazine. If you love to be at your desk or drawing board or studio, creating is less of a chore.
Start. After you’ve taken a break to recharge, it’s time to jump back into work. Be gentle with yourself, but practice the discipline necessary to create your art.
Now it’s your turn. If you are the person who could not relate to the first paragraph of this article, please tell us how you manage to avoid getting stuck. We’re holding our collective breaths in anticipation of your profound wisdom. Or, if you have a strategy for getting back into the flow of creation, please share it in the comments below.
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There are thousands of ways to be creative. Here are just a few to try:
You know that free online class you’ve always wanted to take? Do it now!
A lot of people did this during the pandemic: choose an iconic artwork, and dress yourself (or your child, or your dog) to look like it. Take a picture and post on social media.
Go to a public place with a notebook and pen. Watch people and make up stories about them. Write your stories down.
Choose a favorite song and choreograph a dance to it. (You might need to film yourself doing the dance so you don’t forget it. Try to think of a way to notate it.) Then teach the dance to someone else.
Make up a new holiday (Umbrella Day? Castanet Day? Tuna Casserole Day?) and a unique way to celebrate it. Invite all your friends to your celebration.
Buy a bottle of bubbles at the dollar store and sit on your front stoop to blow them.
Cut paper snowflakes.
Build a blanket fort. Make yourself a snack to eat inside it, and do something fun in there (read a book with a flashlight, take a nap, pet a cat).
Do a photographic study—take a picture every day of/from the same location at the same time of day for a month or a year, documenting changes (of seasons, growth, decay, quality of sunlight).
Write a love letter—to a real person in your life, or an imagined one; to a romantic partner, or a friend, or a relative, or a pet.
Identify things that need inventing—a wastebasket that empties itself, windshield wipers that exude fresh rubber as they wear, a doorbell that plays your favorite song. If you can think of a way to make it, do!
Call that friend you’ve lost touch with. Ask him how he’s doing. Let him talk—you listen and ask questions.
Watch a classic movie you’ve never seen: Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, Some Like It Hot, To Kill a Mockingbird. See what all the fuss is about.
Take a walk. Bring a notebook and pen. Think about stuff, especially problems. See what solutions you can come up with. Walking with a notebook and pen is an especially good technique for writers needing to work out plot problems or come up with topics to write about.
Think about how a crazy person might solve a problem. (Yeah, crazy like a fox.)
Follow connections. You know how when you think of one thing, it reminds you of another? Follow the trail and see where it leads. You’re thinking of how a joey (baby kangaroo) rides in its mother’s pouch, and that reminds you of how your daughter used to reverse her backpack so that it became a frontpack, and then you remember the time she stuffed her backpack with licorice and it smeared her homework. . .
Learn to do something most people learn to do when they’re kids. Swimming. Riding a bike. Skateboarding.
Practice yoga. Learn a new pose.
If you have a musical instrument at home, try playing favorite songs (or children’s songs) by ear.
That long term creative project you’re afraid to start—buy a package of gold stars, and mark your calendar with them every day that you work on the project.
Write a haiku—a short poem of three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second 7, the third 5: windy autumn days / colorful leaves blowing down / rake them into piles.
Lie on a blanket outside and look at the clouds. What are they shaped like? A lamb? President Lincoln? A Corvette? A mushroom?
Before you throw an old magazine in the recycling bin, tear out a few pictures and put them on your desk in a folder marked “inspiration.” Then refer to them when you want to draw something, but you don’t know what.
Draw a self-portrait. Draw lots of self-portraits. Challenge yourself by trying different techniques: pen and ink, watercolor, colored pencil. Draw a self-portrait using one continuous line. Draw a self-portrait using your non-dominant hand.
Paint a design on your toenails—or on someone else’s nails.
Bake cookies—but add one secret ingredient to the dough.
Choose a favorite quote and write it in fancy lettering, childish lettering, or cut-out letters.
Go to the dollar store with $10 and buy 10 meaningful presents for your friends.
Spend an afternoon in a museum.
Make a list of things you’re grateful for: mild weather, puppies, finding your keys.
Pick up a small item, like a stone, a paperclip, or a thumbtack. What does its shape suggest to you? Put it on a piece of paper, and draw a picture around it. I love what Debbie Ridpath Ohi does with this idea.
Listen to music, or watch music videos. Listen to your favorites, or the classics (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart), or discover new artists.
If you’re stuck in a waiting situation (at the doctor’s office, in line, in broken-down public transportation), don’t fidget—daydream!
Watch funny animal videos on YouTube.
Cultivate creative friends, and connect with them often.
Creation is bringing something new into existence. Formula is re-creation of what has been. Through a repetitive series of steps, it seeks to gain similar results by duplicating what’s worked in the past.That’s great for a muffin mix. Not for creating something original.
~Allen Arnold, on Facebook at The Story of With
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