Being in a creative profession, I live, eat, sleep, breathe and dream creativity. It’s my job to be a master of my craft. I’ve spent 20+ years working on this – and every day I learn something new. That’s what I love about this journey that I’ve chosen to pursue. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to meet interesting, creative, smart, cool people – and every one of them has a story. One refrain that I hear a lot is, “I’m not creative at all! How do you do what you do, especially in a short timeframe?”
I want to dispel any misconceptions right here, right now: creativity is a gift that we all have. It just looks different in everyone. I happen to make a living with my creativity, so I’ve dedicated a lot of my energy and time to understanding it. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be developed, trained and used. But the important thing to know is that we all have this muscle. Whenever someone tells me they are not creative, it makes me want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them and say, OH YES YOU ARE!
So if you’ve ever thought that you are not creative at all or wish to add more creativity in your life, here are 7 tips that have worked for me – and I hope they work for you, too.
1. Be curious. Creativity comes from a burning desire to understand, to know, to dive deeper than the surface of everyday life. Ask more questions. No – question everything. I drive people crazy sometimes with my questions, but if I don’t understand, how can I help? Listen for opportunities to ask questions. A great example is when someone says, No, we can’t do that, it will never work. Or my favorite: but this is the way we’ve always done it. I always ask, why? I read an analogy once, that you don’t tear down a fence without first finding out why it’s there. Maybe it is old and falling down and serves no purpose. Fine, tear it down. But if it’s there to keep the cows from wandering off into the hills, the fence needs to stay. But if you don’t ask questions, you’re missing the good stuff. I always get nervous when I am teaching a class or interviewing a creative professional and ask if there are any questions – and I get crickets.
2. Recognize your own creative passions. When one friend told me she was not creative, I reminded her about her flair for cooking and creating new dishes. I then reminded her that I have burnt hard-boiled eggs. Another friend who is an engineer said the same thing. I reminded him that every time he was given a problem to solve with a new design, he was being creative. Cooking, engineering and knitting may not seem on the surface to be as creative as the work that a poet or an artist does, but you are using the same creative muscle, just for different outcomes.
3. Find what lights you up inside. My good friend and neighbor recently took up knitting with her daughter. As she talked about it, her face lit up, she talked excitedly, and she was happy. Think about what does that for you. It could be tinkering with a car. Maybe it’s decorating. Whatever activity you can do and completely lose yourself in, that’s your creative outlet and you need to find a way to do more of it in your life. As we get older, it’s tougher to find time for yourself, but creativity is as essential to life as air, water, food and shelter. Without it, we are simply not whole. What you did creativity at age 9 might still suit you at 49, but if not, look for something new. Commit to giving yourself the gift of an hour a week devoted to your creative passion.
4. Listen more than you talk. This is hard for me when I am in the mood to talk, especially after I’ve had 3 extra-large Dunkin Donuts black coffees. It also requires that you can be comfortable with silence. When I first became a manager, I turned to a good friend with excellent business sense and years of management experience to tell me what I needed to improve. He said, “Learn how to be quiet.” (I guess I talk too much around him LOL) But I realized that this is critical not just for managers but for people. When you listen, you have more time and energy to observe and pay attention to the little details that tell you more than words ever could. That’s what creativity is about: seeing and hearing the truth below the surface – then finding a way to interpret and reflect back what you see.
Being in a group setting for me is like drinking 3 extra-large coffees. I turn into the Energizer Bunny (look! He has his own bio!). But making time to sit quietly and listen helps me understand people better. I can study their gestures. Listen for good dialogue and story starts. Another friend who is a photographer takes photo walks – she wanders Chicago on her lunch hour and takes photos of what moves her. Take time to listen and observe. It doesn’t take much time. Every morning after my workout at the local YMCA, I walk to my car and simply stare up at the endless sky of orange, blue and gray. I see mist rising above the field. The sun shines warm on my face. I close my eyes and I let it all sink in. It never ceases to fill me with joy. It takes 60 seconds. Give yourself this gift. You deserve it!
5. Know your own creative process. My work requires that I create something out of nothing, often with insane deadlines. It is not a 9am – 5pm job. I need time to think. To simmer. I also need a deadline – usually the more urgent the better. I work better under pressure, otherwise, I will simmer forever because I love to live in creative simmering mode. I need large blocks of time to work through a first draft. I need music at some points in my process, but silence at others. I always need coffee. Some work I can only do at 3am. Some people need to talk through a creative challenge and bounce around ideas, then go off and work it through alone. Some people need to work in a coffee shop, while others need to work at home in their pajamas (hey, it works for Hugh Hefner!). The point is, think about what you need. Then follow and feed your process. You’ll be surprised at how much more creative – and productive – you will be.
6. Seek out new experiences. Get out of your comfort zone. Try a new class at the gym. Force yourself to drive a different way to work every day for a week. Take a weekend off from life and go somewhere new. Try a new activity. I’ve gone to pottery classes with an artist friend (and have a misshapen bowl to show for it), learn a new language. Think of it as cross-training your brain. Every new activity that pushes you out of your comfort zone helps you get more comfortable with ambiguity and change – where creativity thrives. The picture in this post is from my vacation to Jamaica in 2010 – that cliff diver was a professional, but I dove off of a 30′ cliff that was made for amateurs. I am not coordinated, so I hit the water ass first, which I liken to getting spanked by God. But it was so out of my ordinary life, spent behind a desk, that it energized me for weeks afterward and I wrote three short stories in a week. Even though I couldn’t sit down for three days afterwards, it was worth it.
7. Make your creativity a priority. I know, we’re all busy. I can’t remember if I ate breakfast let alone what I had and refuse to tell you how often I forget things because my mind is so preoccupied with the details of family, work and life. (Let’s just say that I often drive past my exit on the expressway because I am lost in creative thought and am on a first-name basis with my bank, as they call me frequently to let me know they salvaged my debit card, which I left in the cash station machine.) So yeah, I know, it’s tough to fit in time for anything else. But know this: you need creativity. You need to lose yourself in a creative passion, reaching that ‘zen’ state where you lose track of time and lose yourself in your creative work. You will be a better spouse, friend and employee because you are doing what you love.
I apologize this is so long, but there’s so much more I could say, I never get tired of this topic. Please share what works for you, what your creative passion is and how you fit creativity into your life – or want to. Inspire us!!