The word creativity can bring a lot of baggage with it. It’s been mythologized so often with stories of muses and artist’s grueling rituals, that trying to understand creativity and maximizing your own can feel like a foreboding prospect. But, to quote Nick Cave, beneath the mysticism, “it is just hard labor.” Creativity can be this simple. It can be a simple formula of hard work coupled with the knowledge of what works best for you. With this formula in mind, here are some ideas of what has worked for others, and could work for you—hard labor not provided.
“He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.” — Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Inspiration is one of the aspects of creativity most mythologized. The folklore of inspiration striking in brilliant flashes which sustains the artist through great creative bouts permeate many discussions on the topic. However, these types of flashes are rare, and most often come in unassuming moments captured by a disciplined eye.
The filmmaker, David Lynch, related the example that ideas come to him like puzzle pieces. One puzzle piece comes to him at first, and he has no idea what the entire puzzle will look like. But he works on that one piece until another comes, and another after that. The more he works on the pieces the quicker they come.
These puzzle pieces can be found all around. Many people carry a notebook around so they can jot down ideas in any setting. Writing notes or impressions that can be returned to is vital and essential in building the whole puzzle.
Finding inspiration can also be a more concerted effort of seeking inspiration from other writers or artists. Finding the style you’re drawn to from these writers or artists, and discovering what you like and why from their work is a necessary and continual part of developing your own voice or aesthetic.
The lead graphic designer here at The Dealio, Blair Adams said he looks at a variety of community websites like Dribbble that show the work of other designers. In this way he is able to find inspiration from his contemporaries while also providing his own work.
“You’ll always be taking little pieces of things,” Adams said. “So you might be taking this color, or a certain layout you like, but you always change it and modify it. It needs to make sense for what you’re doing and apply to the project you’re working on.”
“If you sit down and are prepared, then the ideas come. There’s a lot of different ways people explain that, but, you know, I find that if I sit down and I prepare myself, generally things get done.” — Nick Cave
Research and preparation are indispensable stages of the creative process. Whether the project is yours or a client’s, the research you do provides the foundation that makes everything run smoothly.
While working for a client, research takes on an even more vital role. Understanding their needs and their voice takes time and concerted effort—almost as much time as actually working on the project.
Spear related that without this time spent researching and preparing, the actual writing process takes much longer with re-writes and edits. So, while the research may seem like drudgery initially, it pays off in the end.
“I always research,” Designer and Account Manager, Krysta Morgan said. “I found if I don’t do research before, and I just start doing it, it never turns out, so I look at different designs for inspiration, then I really think about what the client wants and how we are going to achieve that, then I do sketches. If I do those things I’m more successful, generally.”
Rituals and Overcoming Writer’s Block
“When I sit down to write I never brood. I have so many other things to do, with my children and teaching, that I can’t afford it. I brood, thinking of ideas, in the automobile when I’m driving to work or in the subway or when I’m mowing the lawn. By the time I get to the paper something’s there—I can produce.” — Toni Morrison
As I read this quote from Morrison, I am sitting at my computer and brooding over what to write, and wishing I better followed her example. And it is worth striving towards her example of any other artist’s you love. Learning their rituals and what worked for them and why can help you find what rituals work best for you.
Writer, Mason Currey, wrote a book about just this, called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which delves into the lives of writers, composers, designers and others. A series he did in this same vein can be found at Slate.com. The series shows any and all rituals; from Woody Allen’s love of inspiration-inducing showers to Tchaikovsky’s superstition-riddled walks.
And while it isn’t recommended to try some of the rituals—like Ayn Rand’s amphetamine reliance that boosted prolificity—learning of them, and finding one that’s tailored to your needs can get you in the right mindset each time you work, and ultimately help you overcome the dreaded writer’s block.
Everyone has their own way of beating writer’s block. For Krysta Morgan, just taking a break and focusing on something else helps her see the project in a new light:
“When I’m stuck I’ll take a deep breath and talk to someone, like a friend or client or my boss, just so I can get a second pair of eyes,” Morgan says. “Even just taking a break and looking back with a fresh pair of eyes helps. Being okay with failing. Just try it and if it sucks, do it again. When I fail I always feel like a terrible designer, but you have to fail until it’s right.”
For Curtis Spear, he has to completely move on from the project:
“Whenever I’ve been in a crossroads with whatever I’m working on, I have to move on to a different task,” Spear said. “I move on to other things on my to-do list, and I’ll come back to it later. Or I will throw it up on our employee page, and I’ll ask people for their ideas. That can usually help me get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
While both have different approaches to overcoming writer’s block, both spoke about reaching out to others and getting different perspectives. This collaboration can turn a mediocre project into a great one, and turn the creative process into a joy-filled one.
“Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems.” — Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios
Collaboration is for more than just beating writer’s block, though. It is as foundational to the creative process as finding inspiration and researching. While disciplines like filmmaking that require large numbers of people require obvious collaboration, all disciplines require a certain amount of collaborative efforts.
Even writing, which is largely a solitary act, relies heavily on collaboration in its later stages. Without the fresh eyes of an editor, or reading within a workshop, writing can remain convoluted. New and different perspectives are crucial.
“The best thing about collaborating here is the perspectives,” Spear says. “We all have different ideas and different ways we think about things. It helps when I can throw an idea out to the group and get their ideas. Collaborating makes a huge difference in finding and creating the right content that will make the biggest impact for whoever you’re making it for.”
Looking past individual projects, personal growth as a creative cannot happen without collaboration. It helps us see new ways of doing things and broadens our views.
“If you’re just doing everything on your own, and only focusing on your own work, you’ll never change,” Blair said, “Or it will take a really long time to change, because the more you work with other people and see what they’re doing, the more you’ll grow and change your style and your process.”