Humans are very productive when they know what they want to do. As Srikumar Rao, creator of the “Creativity and Personal Mastery” course, once said, “Everything you see in the world started as a thought in a person’s head.”
Our thoughts and ideas are important, because they drive our actions and shape our life experience. The question is, how do you develop awesome ideas that will lead to productive action and wonderful outcomes?
The Self-doubting Creative
In 2010, Ira Glass gave a famous interview about the creative process, where he describes the gap between when an artist begins and when they are able to deliver:
The thing I’d like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work went through a phase of years where with their good taste, they could tell what they were doing wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be… it didn’t have that special thing they wanted it to have… Everybody goes through that phase… You gotta know, it’s totally normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.–Ira Glass
There is this phase of self-doubt. You have good taste and you know where you’d like to be… but your work at the beginning sucks in comparison. So many creatives give up at this stage, maybe thinking they aren’t very creative after all. But persistence and giving yourself the space to develop your skills can make all the difference.
When you start developing a creative craft – whether it’s visual art or writing or blogging – you’ve got to acknowledge that you’re not a leader in the art form from the day you start. You’re going to suck a little. It’s going to frustrate you.
But you do your best, and you push yourself to become better. Most importantly, you keep trying.
Because if you don’t do anything, you don’t get any better.
It is frustrating at times being surrounded by successful creatives who appear so much better than you. The internet makes this so much worse because you’re only ever a click away from the best. This constant comparison derails so many on their creative journey. What you really need is to give yourself permission to do your work, to put your work out there, no matter what level you’re at. It’s about persistence.
Take my artistic skills. In my eyes, my drawing sucks. There are kids who are better artists than me. Last year, I gave myself a 100-day challenge, where I sketched every day for 100 days. It was transformational, improved my drawing ten-fold! It improved because I was doing something every day. My skills still aren’t where I want them to be, but one step at a time.
Now I’ve stopped my sketching routine to focus on other aspects of drawing, and that skill has faded. Maybe it’s time to start again.
A Sacred Playground for Your Ideas
Ideas have a life of their own; they dance around in our thoughts, and come and gnaw away at us when we’re sleeping or distracted. But if we ignore them, their energy and curiosity slowly rots and dies, and leaves us clinging to routine.
Not all ideas are worthy of attention or should be given the space to flourish. But some are and should. They need time, space and attention in order to grow and flourish. They need room to play.
Imagination is the sacred playground for ideas.
Intentionally create space to play with ideas in your imagination. Switch off the computer, the phone, the possible distractions, and ground yourself in the real world. Grab a cup of coffee, a pencil and paper, and sit out in nature or in a really comfy chair.
Create a sacred time on a regular schedule, and show up for it.
Then, just let the ideas go wild.
If they’re feeling a little sleepy or dopy, you can tease them out with questions like, “well, what if…?” Or even write a bunch of random words on a page, and then draw some random lines connecting random words, and ask, “how do you solve the problem using these words” or “how do you create something from these words?” The possibilities for fueling ideas are endless, but the main point is to have fun with it. Because if you’re having fun, then you’re coming from a space that’s filled with love and joy, and the ideas will carry this forward and out into the world.
Breaking the Routine
Do you ever get stuck in the same routine? Or is your day so packed that you don’t have space to let go and just be bored to the point that creative ideas start flowing?
That’s when you need to take a creativity vacation. Not a vacation from creativity, but one to stimulate it. It could be just a weekday evening or a Saturday afternoon, or it could a full-on trip – whatever works for you.
Julia Cameron wrote about the “Artist’s Date” decades ago in The Artist Way. It’s an idea that has stuck with me since I read her book 10 years ago. The essence is pretty simple: plan a date with yourself to go out and do something which fuels your imagination. Take yourself out to coffee with a notebook and a new pen. Go to a museum. Go for a walk downtown. Sit in a mall and just observe the people going by. Have a solo-picnic at the park. Visit a bookstore, and pick out a book that looks interesting, but in a genre that you don’t typically read. Even go for a road trip for a few hours, where the only destination is the place you started (and whatever you discover between the start and the end of your journey is a bonus!). Go make pottery or paint, or do something different.
Personally, I find it works best when I leave my house, and go out on my own. Quite often I have my journal with me, and my date will consist of finding a quiet place where I can sit down and write. Whatever it is, I find it refreshing to be somewhere different. At home, there are just too many reminders of things that need to get done. Sometimes I switch off my phone. The less space there is for the usual distractions to come up, the better.
A full-fledged vacation can be even better. What I’ve found is that if a vacation is filled with activities, then I end up running around, and while it’s great exercise, I often don’t find much creative inspiration. The vacations where I do find that spark are ones that are relatively low-key. Perhaps we’ll be staying in an AirBnB, but without any planned activities. Sure, we’ll go out walking, and play games, but there is a lot of downtime. Time to just sit and be bored. Time to write without any time pressure, and without work looming as soon as I put my pen down.
Juice in the Morning
Morning Pages are another concept from “The Artist Way” that I use. After re-reading the book, I started writing Morning Pages on July 10, 2014. In the last five years, I’ve missed less than 100 days… Morning Pages are a dump of morning writing. Unstructured, unfiltered writing of 3 pages, or about 500 words. Doesn’t matter what you write. No editing allowed. No judgement allowed. It can be a free-association write if you want. Over time, it has become a staple of my daily routine. For a long time, I was stuck just reflecting on my day and my to-do list, sort of groaning to myself about my problems (which can be oddly therapeutic). Now, I kind of check-in with how I’m doing, and then write a random blog draft, one without any expectation of quality or content. The whole point is that it doesn’t need to be anything, doesn’t need to have any structure, but perhaps it releases an idea that can be used later.
When I do this, it’s very interesting to watch how ideas develop. They might start as a random wish or vague plan. They usually sit and simmer for quite a long time, and then something else provides a spark, or sometimes I just reach a point where I get tired of theory and kick over into taking action. From that point on, the idea is transformed as it starts taking on flesh.
The real juice, though, is in the fermentation of the idea, and doing your morning pages is one great way to get the juices flowing.