Everybody is creative. In fact, being creative is simple.
We’ve forgotten how to do it because we complicate it too much.
We label ourselves as “creative,” or “not creative.” Other people put us—or maybe we put ourselves—into a role.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve quoted this, but it’s so true:
When someone asked artist Shaun Tan when he started drawing, he very accurately pointed out that everybody instinctively draws as a child.
But somewhere along the way, most people stop.
The same goes for creativity and people who fall into the label, “Creative.” They just kept it simple, and never stopped doing stuff. They never let other priorities get in the way.
And other things—distractions, complications, priorities, basically whatever you want to label them—will pop up. We’ve learned all of these things, and have been conditioned by other situations in our lives—that we twist and tie our brains into a bind.
For someone who still has a song—or photo, visual art, design, poem, business idea, program, even just a vague concept—in them, this can be incredibly frustrating.
But that’s the thing: being creative means not letting them stop you from doing what you set out to do, even in a small way. If other commitments are getting in the way, you need to decide to improvise your way around them. You can make those constraints a part of your creative process.
Habits are one way of doing this. Take Beeple, who has painted 5,000 illustrations, who has said, “After a certain amount of time, the habit becomes more important than the distractions. ‘I’m not going to miss today, just because [insert distraction here] happened.’”
Be more happy by spending more time doing the things that make you happy—and less time doing the things that don’t make you happy.
For my book, I found 46 propositions as starting points for you to reclaim creativity. (I found them from studying artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Allen Ginsberg, and Richard Feynman, to contemporary creators such as Grammy award winner Dacoury Natche (DJ Dahi), 100 Day Project facilitator Lindsay Jean Thomson, and visual artist Michael Saviello (Big Mike).
Here are three simple ones that I’d recommend, the final point is actually in the book:
1. Write a list.
Everything is made up of lists—scenes in a movie, tracklists for albums, table of contents. Even throughout history, we have:
- 4 Noble Truths
- 95 Theses
- 10 Crack Commandments
This post is a list. This 3-act, 27-part, story structure is a list. Some ideas you could write a list of:
- Things you learned yesterday.
- The story of your life.
- The worst things about the pandemic.
- The things you are grateful for.
- The reasons you feel creatively blocked.
Like, seriously, you can write a list of everything. Lists are great too because they don’t have to be sentence form, they can just be point form. A list is a great structure which frees you up to write—which is simply putting words on the page.
2. Give something a new name.
Earlier this morning, I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass, and one of the simple things that stood out to me was author Robin Wall Kimmerer’s practice of naming things. She’s an American Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology—and she knows the scientific name for every plant. But even then, she tries to turn off her science mind and name plants with a Nanabozho mind—“And so today it is not Picea sitchensis but strong arms covered in moss. Branch like a wing instead of Thuja plicata.”
Words are short stories. A dictionary isn’t a collection of words, but a collection of short stories. So it is with Kimmerer, who is changing the way she views plants and the relationship she has with them by reconsidering how she names them.
Giving something a new name can be a decision to how you want to view the world. Or it can just be an exercise in admiring something’s current name—and how the name is so well-suited! Maybe in the process of coming up with five new names for your bookshelves, you realize and appreciate how perfect the name of a “bookshelf” is.
Giving something a new name means telling a new story for it. You’re pointing out an undiscovered part of it—or maybe something you noticed.
In my book, I suggest a starting point of re-creating a classic. For me, that means typing out chapters of books that I admire. I’ve always found that this primes my brain to write my own stories, and unsticks the way I think.
For you, it might mean re-creating a song, a painting, an app, or something else. Give it a try, you may be surprised at how much you learn.
Forget about What Happens After
Naturally, the question that might pop up on your mind is, “Will this be successful or not?”
I don’t blame you—so much of the content online is about “How to be successful,” when in reality it should be, “How to discover what you have to say,” “How to discover how you want to say it,” and ideas like that. I really appreciate Austin Kleon’s sentiment, “This is what writing and making art is all about: not having something to say, but finding out what you have to say.”
We’ve got our focuses all messed up. I recently interviewed visual artist Shantell Martin for a revised edition of There Is No Right Way to Do This. Since she’s rather popular on social media, I asked her, “What is your relationship with analytics or metrics (e.g., Likes, Shares, etc.)?”
“I don’t pay any attention to that stuff.”
All of Shantell Martin’s commercial and creative success came as a byproduct. She first had to gain a clear insight into her process and her expression, and she did that through her live VJing shows in Japan. Then, she dropped it all and came to New York City to discover something new.
If You Haven’t Started Yet…
Then now’s the time to do it. It can take five minutes—do it now!
If you’re struggling with which of the three to pick, just flip a coin and choose from the first two. Heads, you write a list. Tails, you give the first thing you see a new name. (Maybe the coin!)
If you want more ideas and starting points like these, I wrote a book about creativity entitled, There Is No Right Way to Do This. If you want to improve your creativity for your full-time job, or independently pursue creative skills and projects in your spare time, this is the book for you. It’s also the perfect companion for people doing or interested in trying daily creative challenges (such as #The100DayProject, #100daysofpractice, or SketchDaily).
I’ve said this already, but don’t let time be an excuse. Set a timer and give yourself just five minutes.
Maybe you’ll be surprised at what you come up with.