Creative Something


Articles tagged “inspiration”

“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.

Posted at 9:14 am



Learning how to start something creative is more important than learning how to perfect it

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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.



How creating mental blocks from curiosity, and knocking them down, can spark creative ideas

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“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

This quote from Pablo Picasso has always intrigued me.

What does it mean to work for inspiration? Is it enough to spend time browsing the web in search of some spark? Or does the work need to be of a more difficult kind?

I found a similar quote this afternoon, from the great Greek ruler Leonidas, that may give us some additional insights. He said:

“Action produces the appetite for more action.”

This, I believe, is a crucial key to getting creatively unstuck. It’s when we stop working that our ability to think creatively also stops. So the two – thinking creatively and taking action – are undoubtedly linked.

There are then two ways of looking at this: the first is to say that we must have a problem to solve or a project to move forward on in order to give ourselves the momentum to think creatively in the first place.

In other words: it’s difficult to drum up ideas if there isn’t a purpose to doing so.

The other way of looking at this advice is that, when we feel the least creative – the least to do creative work or have new ideas – the best thing to do is anything actionable.

We can think of our brains like domino machines, and when we get creatively stuck it’s because there isn’t a block in front of us to knock down.

The solution becomes easy to identify when we view creative thinking from these perspectives: put a metaphorical block down in front of you and follow it as it continues to knock others down.

I could throw in a dozen more quotes here about how this relates to creativity being about “just connecting things.”

To be creative, and to do creative work, we have to ensure there’s a constant setup of blocks in front of us (to knock down, or connect, or whatever verb works best for you).

Here’s an example of how to use this information in order to get ideas flowing:

Go to Google.com and start typing a question, something actionable. Type “How do I”, or “Learn how to”, or “How do you” or something like that.

The results will be surprising, most likely. Topics will appear like: how to tie a tie, or how to do a backflip, or how to do crafts, or how to make the best french toast. I have never tried to do a backflip, but I wonder what it takes to learn.

These topics are our starting block. It’s time to knock one down and see what comes after it. So follow one of the ideas, maybe it’s learning how to tie a new knot or how your favorite candy is made or how to do backflips.

As you learn about the topic you can start to relate it to others: the work you’re doing or another topic that popped-up when you did your original search (as we’ll get into again in a moment).

Allow yourself to be curious about the topic.

Ask questions and follow them online, in a notebook, or just in your mind: is it easier to do a backflip off of something? How does doing a backflip under water impact your ability to do it out of water? Who do you think first invented the backflip? How many people are hurt each year as a result of doing a backflip?

The more you dive into these topics and follow them, the more questions you should have. As you dive into the answers to those questions you’ll find yourself discovering and uncovering new topics to follow as well.

Congratulations: you’ve started the process of action. This, according to Picasso and Leonidas, is a crucial step toward thinking creatively.

All you have to do now is link the topics to your work: How is thinking creatively like doing a backflip? If you tried to flip an idea around like a backflip, what difficulties would you face?

If you’re stuck, take action: setup the blocks in front of you that can lead to new and curious ideas.

Read this next: Why we get stuck

Photo by David Pacey.



Give yourself a break: everyone gets stuck

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re not feeling as creative as you’d like. But frustration is just another hinderance in the creative process, one that we must find a way to overcome in order to get back to creating.

But here you are, stuck.

You’ve tried everything you heard would help. Maybe you went for a walk, tried brainstorming with a friend or coworker, or you spent the equivalent of a full work day browsing for inspiration online.

You should have had a good idea by now, you think to yourself.

I don’t want you think having creative ideas is easy. The insights don’t always fly in when you need them most. In-fact: they hardly ever will.

We see and hear about these geniuses of our time, they seem to consistently have one good idea after the other, but the reality is quite the opposite: everyone gets stuck, even creative geniuses.

The difference between them and you is that they keep trying, they don’t let the fact that no good ideas are coming right now (or tomorrow, or the next day) stop them from doing the work.

Of course, there are things you can try to calm your brain and (with some luck) get the ideas flowing. One thing you can do right now to try and break away from the frustration is to literally break away for a while. Go for a walk with a friend and talk about anything but the creative work you’re trying to do. Go take a nap. Go watch a new movie. You could also try using any of the 150 techniques in the creative app oflow.

What’s important isn’t to get the ideas going again right away. More important is allowing yourself to not feel overwhelmed by the fact that ideas aren’t coming. Accept that it’s normal! It doesn’t mean you’re any less creative or intelligent or useful.

The reason you’re stuck isn’t that you can’t have good ideas, or that you don’t have all you need to have them, it’s much more likely that you’re stressing yourself out and restricting your attention. That’s it.

If you feel like you should be having good ideas, but aren’t, don’t worry, it happens to all of us. Give yourself a break, give yourself some slack.

Read this next: Get out of your own way



“There could be something 10 times greater than what you’re doing, but you don’t realize it because you’re fixated on the thing you feel like you should be doing.”

Love this blurb from The Great Discontent interview with Merlin Mann.

It’s a good reminder to stay foolish and curious for what comes next. Try new things, experiment, don’t be afraid to step away from what you think you’re supposed to be doing.

Posted at 12:22 pm



All you need is five minutes to do creative work

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What are you waiting for?

If you want to write a book, you need to write. But maybe you’re not at your desk, maybe you’re too tired, maybe you’ve lost track of the storyline. What do you do?

The answer – whether you’re writing a book, or anything – is: anything you can.

Even if you don’t have all the tools, or all the answers, even if you aren’t exactly sure what comes next, there is something you can do.

Maybe that something is to get out your notebook or phone and create a simple list of what you need to move forward. Better yet: make the list, then set a reminder for yourself. Because it’s that list, and that reminder, that will not only serve as the first step, but they also provide you with the actionable momentum to take that next step.

If you want to start a new painting project, or a website, or a business, or a song, or whatever, do whatever you can right now. Give yourself five minutes to do it. Just five minutes. Here’s a free online timer to get you started (pro-tip: click on the “short break” button near the top of the page).

Even if that means you spend the next five minutes only outlining what it is you need to do when you get more time later in the day, that’s something, that’s progress. For creative work, progress is everything.

Small steps add-up fast. You spend five minutes today, and tomorrow, and the next day, working on these little steps and before you know it you have a completed book draft, or a first layer of paint, a business plan, or whatever.

Like dominoes falling into place.

There’s no excuse for why you can’t spend the next five minutes making some small progress on what it is you need to be doing to make progress on your creative art.

Read this next: How to write a novel

Photo via Flickr.