“How do creative geniuses come up with great ideas? They work and edit and rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up.”
This is a snippet from an answer I posted to Quora:
There are a lot of ways to “become more creative!” Many of these have been explored by researchers, writers, artists, and educators alike.
We know, for example, that being groggy and having your head in the clouds can lead to having more creative insights (Daydream your way to creativity).
Though it’s important to note that the best creative insights that come from daydreaming are often the result of a period of intense focus just before your mind wanders off (Where Do Eureka Moments Come From?).
Another great technique to spark creativity is to circumvent the regular self-editing parts of your brain, either by waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you usually do (How Interrupting Your Sleep Can Silence Your Doubts and Boost Your Creativity) or by trying free writing exercises (The ways writing helps improve your thinking). Anything you can do to get ideas out—onto paper or otherwise—without much internal debate can lead to greater insights, in theory. This makes sense, since the best ideas often come as a result of having many ideas (though we often do realize this, since our minds are editing and filtering the ideas before our consciousness has time to acknowledge them)….
Which brings us to the meat of your question: what’s the best way to become more creative?
Tricky question with a somewhat discouraging answer, unfortunately. But this is true! It seems the absolutely, scientifically-backed, research-tested, personally tried way to become more creative is to…
A drawer in my kitchen broke at the beginning of last week. You don’t realize how easily you slip into a routine until something breaks.
Despite four people coming in-and-out of the apartment all week, the drawer sat half-in and half-out of the cabinet for three or four days. Eventually, near the end of the week, I found a few spare minutes away from writing and working to look at the problem.
I sat on the kitchen floor, the drooping drawer before me, and shined a light up into the old cabinet that once held the drawer in place.
It took only a few minutes – ten, at most – for me to learn that the drawer was usually held in-place with a single, rubber wheel which sat in a small, enclosed, metal rail along the top of the cabinet. Somehow the wheel had been dislodged. It wasn’t a simple matter of putting it back in place, despite my attempt to do just that.
Instead, upon closer inspection, I noticed that at the side of the cabinet closest to me, the metal rail opened up. Aha! I twisted the drawer, tilted the rubber wheel into the gap in the rail, then slid it backwards to find that the drawer was now fixed. Simple enough!
Later, when conversing with a roommate, I asked why nobody else had taken the time to fix the drawer or at least look into it. His reply: “We didn’t know how to fix.”
But the thing is: I didn’t either. All I did was look at the situation long enough to find a solution. Most of the time (usually) that’s all it takes, to write the book, launch the business, create a product, learn to paint with oils, or fix an ancient, broken drawer.
How often do we go throughout our day thinking we can’t do something, simply because we’ve never taken the time to look at what it takes to make it possible?
Read this next: Everything is easier once you start
Is this the right way to write about creativity? Maybe.
Is this even the right way to view creativity? I could be wrong. You would think after reading and researching and writing on the topic I’d have at least some understanding of what it means to be creative, but I might still be wrong. There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot that we still don’t know about it.
But, in a way, that’s what creativity is all about: exploring the unknown, thinking where there are more questions than answers, proposing something when you could have just as easily not.
You, too, could be doing that certain thing you do wrong. Maybe you’re a writer who has an obsession with fragmented sentences. Or perhaps you’re an artist who never understood why you can’t treat watercolor the same as acrylic.
Who’s to say what’s right when it comes to creativity? Ignorance and uncertainty are arguably more important than knowledge and doing the right thing.
Are we wrong when we say creativity is about doing something even when you’re not sure it’s the right thing to do?
I don’t think so. So go and think of your creative work or craft however feels right. If you end up at a brick wall, change your thinking however you need to in order to overcome that block.
Exploration and curiosity are at the heart of creativity, there’s no way to mess those up other than to avoid them.
Read this next: The value of making the wrong marks
“You’ll make mistakes, but as long as what you’re focused on is what you’re passionate about, all the other things will fall into place. If there’s anything you’re going to give less priority to, it shouldn’t be your passion. You can never go wrong with that.”
Great advice from Dan Rubin, in celebration of The Great Discontent turning three today.
Many of my articles here are centered around doing anything to move an idea or project forward.
Why isn’t the focus more on the importance of perfecting an idea or project, rather than the repetitive notion of simply getting started?
The reason I insist that we, as artists and writers and designers, focus on simply getting the work out the door is that it’s undoubtedly the biggest struggle we each face. Even experts and professionals struggle to get their ideas moving.
Action is an ongoing battle.
Of course, perfection is a battle too, but one that can only come once there’s something to perfect.
Yes, perfection is something to aim for, but to perfect something you first need to create it, and to create it you need to take those first steps. How can you perfect what doesn’t exist in the first place? How can you know what to change or improve if there’s nothing in front of you?
The challenges we face are primarily in overcoming the fear of failure, of feeling like an impostor, of feeling like our efforts are worthwhile, all at the very beginning of a project. Face those fears, fight the battle of starting something, and you can move onto perfecting it. You’ll learn more about what you’re capable of by starting something than you will of fine-tuning it.
Rather than starting a project with an eye on the center of the target, it’s much more rewarding to start a project with the sole intent of propelling it forward.
Worry about getting started, taking the first few steps. Only after you’ve moved the needle should you start to think of making something ideal or perfect.
Read this next: All you need is five minutes to do creative work
Photo by John Trainor.