The absolute best advice anyone will ever give you on creativity

Find what works for you.

There’s so much advice and insights about creativity today. It comes in the form of books and blog posts, conferences and videos. Consultancies and organizations preach about how to be more creative every day. Entire websites have suddenly appeared, even an emerging industry has popped up within less than a decade.

All of these things are great, not only for our understanding of creativity as humans, but also for the sake of encouraging and promoting creative thinking.

But the more I research and discover about creativity and what it takes to really do creative work, the more I realize that the absolute best thing you can do for your creative potential is to simply find what works for you personally. To not simply read or listen to what other people are saying, but to really find what works for you.

In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp summarizes this point well. She writes:

“In the end, there is no one ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.”

Certainly subscribe to blogs like Creative Something or 99u. Read books written by experienced creatives (and, if you really want to understand how creativity works, scientists). Watch videos and indulge in the great, inspirational posters that seem to aimlessly float around Tumblr and Pinterest. Do these things not to let them guide your life, but in order to gather ideas and find a foundation for where to start your own exploration.

Be proactive in experimenting with habits and routines. Try different thinking exercises, games, and stimulation experiments. Pursue various art forms and other means of exploring your ideas. But don’t do any of that stuff because you read it here, do it because it’s the only way you’re going to really find what works for you and what doesn’t.

It’s not enough to simply read an article online that says something like: “If you want to be creative get 9 hours of sleep!” or “The best creative thinkers exercise daily, science shows.”

What works for the subjects of those experiments may definitely not work for you at all. Yes, try getting nine hours of sleep, try exercising daily, try journaling and learning a new instrument and meditating and drinking only tea instead of coffee in the morning, but don’t feel like those things will be your personal fast-track to genius. I can promise you that many of them won’t help you be more creative at all.

The other part of this advice is recognizing that it’s more than ok to be different – to not follow the results of studies or the advice of successful creatives.

It’s ok if you end up producing more creative ideas as a result of only getting two hours of sleep (though that may not be so great for your body). It’s ok if you don’t fit with the results of studies or the advice that you see posted online all of the time!

This is something I have to remind myself of daily now. What works for someone else may not work for me. In most cases it doesn’t. Of course, I’ll only know if what I hear in studies or read online about creativity will work for me by experimenting.

Which makes a really important point about creativity that many studies and organizations, books and self-proclaimed experts regularly avoid mentioning: mastering your creativity takes time. There’s no way around it.

To really be the best creative you can be (whether you’re a writer, painter, dancer, psychologist, entrepreneur, etc.) is to dedicate much of your life to figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t. And that just takes good old fashioned time to discover and learn.

That’s it. The only way you’ll ever get anything from all of the insights and inspiration you encounter is if you make an active effort to figure out what works and doesn’t work for you personally. It’s going to take time, don’t get frustrated, enjoy the ride.

None of this is gospel, of course.