For the longest time, we’ve assumed creativity is some kind of character trait bestowed at birth. In fact, it can actually be learned. Here’s how.
One of my most vivid memories from high school involves a pottery class I took during my senior year. While I was sitting there mashing clay around the table trying my best to sculpt something that resembled a bowl, some of my classmates were practically recreating Michelangelo’s “David.”
There seemed to be a chasm in the quality of art being created. Some projects would be showcased proudly on a shelf at home while others would be hidden behind picture frames and encyclopedia volumes. I was in the latter group. Whatever gene was responsible for creativity, I didn’t have it.
Fast forward several years, I decided to give blogging a try. To my amazement, I was decent at stringing words together. After many early mornings of practice, I was even able to sell a few pieces of writing. Despite my lack of ingenuity in art class, I was able to grow some semblance of a creative muscle.
While we traditionally think of creativity as an innate trait, research is now showing that it’s mostly a learned skill. It just takes a bit of work. Here are four tips from writers and artists to help you get the creative juices flowing.
Curate your surroundings.
In his book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon, a self-described “writer who draws,” emphasizes the importance of your surroundings in regards to creativity:
There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.
I think the same thing is true of idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
This applies outside of just the individuals you spend time with. The events you attend, hobbies you enjoy, and places you work have an impact on your ability to create. If you’re constantly surrounding yourself with others that are innovating, you’re going to be more inclined to adopt the same kind of mindset. Here are some ideas for using your surroundings to your creative advantage:
- Attend a WordPress meetup. Network with other bloggers and writers that are experiencing similar frustrations and successes.
- Join an online Blogging University course. If there aren’t any scheduled meetups in your area or you’re craving an online community, consider joining one of our courses. They’re perfect for improving and getting feedback on your writing as well as building relationships with other bloggers.
- Keep inspiration nearby. It’s exceptionally hard to have an explosion of creative genius when you’re staring at a bare wall in a sparsely decorated room. Try to keep a few books, quotes, or images nearby that connote creativity. I keep the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by my computer for this exact purpose.
- Experiment with your environment. I’ve found I’m most creative when I’m sitting at a particular coffee shop with a latte in front of me and music flowing through my headphones. Perhaps you work best inside the house by yourself in a certain room. Practice working from different locations to see what works best.
Expand your bubble.
Remember back in school when teachers would repeat the phrase “think outside the box” ad nauseam? Everyone knew what the phrase meant but hardly anyone knew how to put the words into practice.
The infamous “box” can be thought of as your normal routines. The breakfast you eat every day, the route you take to work, the types of books you read and music you listen to – they’re all part of your normal day-to-day.
To “think outside the box,” we need to live outside the box, at least every once in a while. For example, some interesting research shows that traveling abroad can increase creativity. The jetsetters have been immersed in a different culture (different way of thinking) and have a greater wealth of experiences to draw from when drumming up new ideas.
The good news is you don’t have to pack your bags to reap the benefits. You can apply the same philosophy right from your home.
- Read books and blogs on different topics. We’re drawn to individuals that share our same point of view. Break outside of the rut and read something completely different. If you’re always reading non-fiction, try fiction for a change of pace. You’ll be exposed to different writing structures and characters.
- Practice free writing. Normally, when we sit down to write, we have an established idea of what we normally write about and how we want the finished piece to look. Those creation ruts can obstruct our ability to create something new and unique. Practice free writing on a variety of topics that have nothing to do with your normal subject matter and see what comes out.
- Take a writing vacation. Grab your laptop or notebook and pen and hit the road. Where you go isn’t all that important; just go somewhere new. Spend an hour or even a weekend in a new place and soak in the inspiration from being somewhere unique.
Creative professionals don’t sit around waiting for lightening to strike. They actively work to make sure it strikes regularly.
I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.
– W. Somerset Maugham
Take entrepreneur and author James Altucher for example. Every day, James writes down 10 ideas in a notepad. Some ideas are terrible. Others turn into blog posts and even book ideas. The goal isn’t to produce 10 great ideas each day. It’s just to produce 10 ideas in general. In fact, as James explains, putting pressure on yourself to come up with 10 blockbusters can actually do more harm than good:
Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with good ideas. The key right now is just to have good ideas. When Tiger Woods is practicing he doesn’t get disappointed…if he doesn’t hit a hole in one every shot. You’re just practicing here.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice makes permanent. So that later on when you do need good ideas to save your life, you know you will be a fountain of them.
Routine is one of the most effective yet underutilized hacks for creativity. Set aside 30 minutes a day when you’re not allowed to do anything else except write (If you’re stumped on ideas, Daily Prompts come in really handy). You’ll find the new routine is exceptionally challenging at first. Over time, however, the 30 minutes will fly by, and you’ll find words flowing onto the page.
Back yourself into a corner.
In 1960, Bennet Carf made a bet with a man by the name of Theo Geisel. The bet was that Theo couldn’t write a children’s book using only 50 different words. Theo, better known as Dr. Seuss, ended up winning that bet. The result – Green Eggs and Ham – has sold more than 200 million copies.
Personally, I’ve found that deadlines have a strange way of forcing words out onto a page. I could be at a loss for words until the morning an assignment is due. Then, the floodgates open up and words pour onto the page.
Take a lesson from Dr. Seuss’ book and use constraints to your advantage. Set a hard deadline with yourself to publish a new post to your blog every Tuesday. Better yet, partner up with another writer and promise to hold them accountable if they’ll do the same for you. You’ll find you have a lot more to say on Tuesday morning than you do on Wednesday night.
This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of creativity hacks. Every blogger has their own routines and habits that spark new ideas. What works for you?