Creativity doesn’t just happen.
Have you ever tried to strike a match only to have the slightest breeze (or your neighbor’s breath, or the twitch of your own hand) blow it out, again and again, before you actually light anything? The flame is right there for a split second, then it disappears.
Ideas are that elusive. There’s a reason why we say creativity sparks. We get flickers of inspiration, fleeting ideas, fuzzy visions, but they typically go up in smoke. Why?
I love the phrase “sparking creativity.” It’s romantic. The theory that everything we need to create something extraordinary or solve a difficult problem is already within us—it just needs a light.
But good things don’t come easy or cheap, right? Maybe the idea pops into your head, but the actual plan of attack does not. The spark’s not enough. You still have to fan the friggin’ flame.
Here are four bullet-proof ways to set your creativity on fire:
1. Get bored.
“Social media has colonized what was once a sacred space occupied by emptiness: the space reserved for thought and creativity.” —Mahershala Ali
During my 80s childhood, we knew boredom. Some days there was actually nothing to do. At the very least, we had to sit and wait for the “Fern Gully” VHS tape to rewind so we could re-watch it.
Now, we’re never bored. And we’re paying a pretty steep price for constant stimulation: depression, anxiety, social stagnation, narcissism, poor posture, and those wrinkles you get in your neck (turkey neck is now called “text neck”!?) from constantly looking down at a screen, to name a few.
We just don’t stumble into boredom like we used to—we have to get out and find it. Even if it means, gasp, pocketing the phone.
I did this recently, unwillingly, when Verizon was knocked out in the Midwest for practically FOREVER (about six hours) and we users lost our ability to call, text, search, and scroll in one fell swoop. At first, it was weirdly stressful. All of a sudden, I had to figure basic things out on my own again. (Like, actually asking the guy at the hardware store how to get to the post office in our new hometown.) Eventually, it was pretty empowering! My brain totally rose to the occasion, sans internet. Funny how smartphones have a way of making us less smart.
Did you see this boredom-inspiring Ted Talk by Manoush Zomorodi? If so, you know the benefits of slacking off:
“By doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self. It might feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but boredom truly can lead to brilliance.”
The 16-year-old, MTV-binging version of you would have killed for a free license to space out. Why not channel that detached, devil-may-care vibe of your youth, do nothing on purpose, and see what sparks?
2. Get inspired.
You’ve given boredom a try, now consider action. Notice the word choice here—this tip doesn’t say to BE inspired. It’s not about sitting around to see if lightning strikes, it’s about going out during a thunderstorm to find it. GET means you’re making it happen for yourself.
Think about what typically inspires you, and don’t be afraid to get weird. Just about everyone sees beauty in nature, art, music, old movies, etc., but what really drives you to actually make something happen? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Take a walk, but go a new direction. (If you get lost, great! See tip #1 and space out as you wander home.)
- Channel surf, but do it consciously. You might stumble onto something worth your time. (Definitely stop for anything in the 80s fantasy genre. It’s a goldmine.)
- Phone a friend and ask what they are loving right now. Copy/paste in your own world and see if it sticks.
- Think about the last time you went shopping and couldn’t find what you wanted. What would it take to make it?
- Think about the last time you had a crazy idea (hint: all original ideas are crazy). What would it take to pursue it?
- Read something. A new book, blog, magazine, or shampoo bottle. Words (even the chemicals you can’t pronounce) lead to curiosity or learning, which lead to action.
- Open up. There’s no rhyme or reason here, just a willingness to feel something that moves you. Deliberately open up your head and heart (and eyes!) and lightning will eventually strike.
3. Get legal addictive stimulants.
Fun fact: Thousands of studies prove that creative juice is actually just plain old drip coffee.* Head to Starbucks, drink up, and make your masterpiece. If caffeine isn’t your vibe, just be fed and hydrated when you sit down to work. Hunger is a pesky distraction, and even creative energy needs to be fueled by bread and water.
4. Get to work.
You knew this was coming! When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Maya Angelou, goddess supreme, said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” I’m so grateful for the truth in her words.
Sometimes the only way to spark creativity it to do something, anything creative. When I can’t seem to find the words to write, I start writing a lot of bad words (I don’t mean swearing or slurs, just generally poor, first-draft writing) and eventually better words come. You can be the judge of where this post falls on the spectrum.
Action is the best way to fight doubt or drought, period. The best way to avoid it? Netflix.
*The terms “fact,” “thousands,” “studies,” and “prove” were used somewhat recklessly here. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true for most of us.