The best of Creative Something 2013

As each year draws to a close, I like to take a look back at how Creative Something has grown.

This year brought a subtle shift in what I write about and how I write. Moving somewhat away from what it means to be creative, more towards how to better understand your own creativity in order to do more with it (including making a living from it).

Just to give you a little snapshot of what 2013 meant for Creative Something:

• More than a quarter of a million people visited the blog • There are now just under 100,000 people subscribed via Tumblr! • 41% of you reading this are from the United States, 5% are from India or nearby • There have only been 198 posts on Creative Something this entire year (something I want to get higher during 2014)

With that said, a tradition I’ve held since I first started blogging here in 2008 is to go over the past year’s most popular posts. These are the posts that received the most eyeballs during 2013.

1. Why you’re more creative at night and how to reproduce the effect

Why is it that so many of us seem to be more creative at night (or during a specific time during the morning or afternoon) than other times? The science behind how we think is captivating and enlightening, to the point where we can find other ways of replicating the effect and not relying so heavily on our internal rhythms for motivation.

2. The relationship between creativity and intelligence

Do you have to be really intelligent to be very creative? In this post we explore the link between creativity and intelligence and what it means if you’re a brainiac or just an average thinker.

3. The link between depression and creativity, and how it can be good for you

Historically, creative greats have commonly suffered from depression or similar symptoms. But why? If you’re creative are you more likely to suffer from depression? Or if you’re a depressed person are you more inclined to be creative? In this article we uncover some of the science behind the link, and expose why depression may help creativity and vice versa.

4. Are you creatively good enough?

If you work in any creative field you undoubtedly find yourself often asking yourself questions like: “Is my work good enough? Do I have what it takes to be an author, or painter, or musician, or dancer, or teacher, or innovator?– While those are good questions, they’re the wrong questions to be asking as a creative.

5. Three keys to thinking like a creative genius

What better creative genius to mimic than the famous Sherlock Holmes? Look through the three classic traits of the mythical detective and see what real science has to say about how those attributes strengthen creative resolve.

6. What neuroscience teaches us about creativity

Creativity is a process of the mind – of course – so to truly understand it we have to attempt to understand the brain itself (at least in part). Looking towards neuroscience as a starting point, we can see exactly what it is that makes our creativity tick (or, at least, what we think it is).

7. The creative processing your brain won’t tell you about

Our brains are so vastly complex that there are a lot of processes taking place at any given moment. A number of those hidden processes impact creativity and our ability to think, but new research has begun to shine light on exactly what happens in our brains when we’re not paying attention, and how that affects creativity.

That’s that!

I’ll be taking the rest of the year away from blogging to focus on other endeavors and a little (much needed) vacation time.

Thank you! Thank you for reading, following along on Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter, and for liking and sharing everything I’ve put here over the last six years!

See you next year when writing continues. Until then, farewell.

Remember that where you work shapes your work

I was working in a cafe the other day when I noticed that I was being oddly productive.

After some consideration, I decided my ability to write more in the cafe – than, say, in the privacy of my apartment – was in-part because of a small group of people sitting directly behind me. Those individuals could possibly see the full view of my computer screen, I knew.

As a result of this subtle difference (the cafe, with people being able to view what work I was– or was not – getting done, versus my home, where nobody would be there to look over my shoulder as I worked) I found myself forced into being more productive.

Where we decide to work does that to us. Our environment shapes our behaviors and our ideas more than we may like to admit or consciously acknowledge more often than not.

The musician who practices in a private studio may find herself more focused, but if she were to move to a busy street corner she may find herself challenged more, since the constant barrage of strange passerby’s would pressure her into performing without error.

Or consider the artist who practices his painting in a classroom. The instructor or a fellow student may occasional glance at the work the artists is making and provide feedback, potentially improving (and propelling) his craft.

Take that same artist and put him into an unusual environment (like that of a cafe) and the feedback will undoubtedly change. In this example the responses would be less of instructional ones to more of peculiar, interest, or possibly critically scoffing ones (who paints in a cafe anyway?).

The point is this: to truly challenge yourself and what you’re capable of doing with your creative work, you have to shakeup your environment.

Go try working where someone wouldn’t expect you to be, or go work where you haven’t been before. The environment will surely shape not only your productivity, but the ideas you have for and around the work too.

Your environment can inspire you.

Yes, people will offer you money if you work hard enough

There are a lot of ways to make money (and, with enough diligence, a career) from your art.

One way – arguably the best, and for some the only, way – is to simply work hard.

Aside: if you were expecting something else, you’re living in a fantasy. But I digress.

Make what you make for the sake of making it, and plan to do it for the rest of your life. Work to perfect a sense of style you can call your own. Always share what you make with the world. The Internet makes this way remarkably easier than it has ever been for artists throughout history (here’s how to start, if you’re unsure).

What happens after a while, if you work hard enough and long enough, is someone is going to want to work with you, or to buy what you’ve made.

For example, I regularly get emails from people asking me to write for them. And I’m not an amazing writer, to say the least. But, primarily thanks to writing here on this blog for the past six years, they recognize that I occasional have interesting thoughts. Those thoughts have become one of my arts. And people, seeing that I have spent time building up my craft and my knowledge of the craft, want to buy part of that.

It sounds so simple because it is. But the hard part is sticking with it, being unafraid to share what you make, and keeping at it. That’s what I think scares so many artists away from the artists, into a life of mediocre office work and spreadsheets.

Of course, after awhile you’ll find that you have enough art to sell on its own, without people approaching you for it out of the blue. But you’ll inevitably find people want to pay you for what you’re doing anyway, because they can see that you’re the one who does that type of art well.

Becoming known for something is one of the easiest ways to make a living from it.

Be careful though, because the moment you start making a living from what you love doing is the moment it shifts away from “I do this because I love to do it” towards “I have to do this shit because I have to pay the fucking bills.”

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to only make a bit of side money doing what you love, and keeping your day job anyway.

Photo via Flickr

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.

What about after you’re a success?

Do you think Picasso ever sat down in front of a canvas and thought it would be his greatest work ever? That once it was finished he would never have to worry about the price of painting supplies ever again?

I just can’t see any of the historically great artists or writers sitting down to work and thinking to themselves: “This is it. This is the work that’s going to change my life.”

Even if that idea you’re working on now does change your life – maybe it makes you unbelievably rich, gets you 15 minutes of fame, or makes you known as an established and wildly successful artist – what then?

Say you make it big and that one idea turns you into an instant artist celebrity. Are you going to not work on your art anymore? Will you suddenly have some other grand purpose in life? If that’s the case, why even work on your art now anyway? Go do that other stuff instead.

Generally, creative work certainly isn’t going to make you money.

I think it’s important to regularly remind ourselves of why we do what we do. That each project or idea we undertake has nothing to do with making it big and everything to do with exploration and expression.

We do artistic work because it fulfills something deeper in us. Not a desire to become rich or famous. Not to see one of our pieces hung in the Louvre or to have our book number one on every best sellers list. Those things are nice, and undoubtedly any creative person would love to have those things.

But what then? The work doesn’t stop. The idea keep coming. The need to explore our thoughts and express our ideas, to solve problems and to make things, will always be there.

Enjoy the ride.