You may not be able to force creativity but you can certainly invite it

The moment I’m forced to do something creative is when I stop being creative.

I could be in the mood to draw or paint, for example, and so I’ll get out my canvas or notebook and paint brushes, and then sit down to start and suddenly realize that I have no idea what to do. No inspiration comes. I can sit there for hours starring at the blank canvas.

I think many creatives throughout history have taught as to why this happens. But we, you and I, being so ego-driven and mistakenly unfocused in our work, readily forget that you can’t force creativity.

(Well, that’s not entirely true. You can often force creativity, through certain techniques and all that. But even if you’re to force creativity, the results of your work are always, always lesser than if it were to come naturally.)

The reason for this is simple: when we’re forced to do something, it inherently becomes not that important or worthwhile.

We are cursed with this odd sense of ignorance when it comes to things we aren’t naturally interested in doing. Our brains just refuse to focus, or cooperate.

Even if the thing we want seems appealing to us, there may be a different, underlining desire that makes the task on the forefront seem like a wasted effort. And our brain knows this.

Forcing yourself to write a full-length book, for example, is going to be a chore if what you really want is not to write a whole book, but is instead to get a paycheck or your name in some prominent list of top authors. You can be a remarkable writer and write thousands of words a day, but if you just aren’t that interested in writing a full book, you’re going to have trouble writing one.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, of course. But compare that mentality with the one of the writer who isn’t that great of a writer, but wants desperately to write a complete book. Simply because it’s a naturally appealing task the writer with lesser abilities is more likely to get it done without much fuss.

We can consciously acknowledge that a task has to be done, or that something before us is immensely important, but at any opportunity to distract ourselves or procrastinate, we’re mentally gone just like that.

So if we can’t be creative on command, or when we’re forced to do work that requires creative solutions but isn’t really work we’re very much interested in, what do we do?

The solution is, again, one that creative greats have been taunting for hundreds of years.

The solution is to turn the work into play. To make it more about exploration, learning, and fun. To view the situation or problem from an entirely different perspective, ideally one that is naive and quizzical. In other words: to think like a child.

I’ll quote the great cartoonist Bill Watterson here, who is best known for creating the famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Bill tells us:

I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness….For me, it’s been liberating to put myself in the mind of a fictitious six year-old each day, and rediscover my own curiosity. I’ve been amazed at how one ideas leads to others if I allow my mind to play and wander.

Adapting a mindset of play – or, as Bill says, to really put yourself into the mind of an imaginary six year-old – is the way to cultivate creativity more often, particularly when it’s required of us.

And Bill knows what he’s talking about. His job as a cartoonist required that he come up with something creative for the strip every single day of the year. 365 days, on command.

There are a few things required to think like a child (and gain a mentality of play or exploration).

When we look at children we can see that they don’t let biases or existing information get in their way of asking questions, poking and prodding, and generally just trying something.

Successful creatives are the same. So we, too, must find various ways to be more inquisitive.

We could try changing our perspective of the work to force a mentality of discovery. Looking at the microscopic or macro elements of our work – like painting with tiny dots rather than big brush strokes, or imaging what a novel would read like as a part of a quadrilogy – helps.

We can also try changing our environment or tools. If we’re used to working in a studio or office, getting out and attempting to work in a fancy restaurant or at a park, might be all we need to shake up how we view the work.

For more ideas on how to think like a child, checkout this great write-up on