In the last several years of running our shop, we've run into a bunch of people who have said things like, "I could never do that—I'm just not that creative."
Often, we feel like creativity is an inherent state of our being. We either are creative, or we are not. Someone else might be able to look at a canvas and imagine worlds hitherto unknown, but certainly, I cannot.
The good news is, that's not true. In fact, a NASA study of 1600 4- and 5-year-olds found that 98% of them performed at genius levels of creativity. The same test administered to adults only found 2% displaying that same level.
Your creativity is like a muscle. If you don't use it, you lose it. It atrophies.
But that doesn't mean you can't get it back. There are a number of things you can do to get those creative juices flowing again!
Here are a few of our favorites.
One of the hardest parts of any creative work is that first idea. Few things are as intimidating as the endless potential of a blank page.
Instead, find something you like and put your own twist on it. Take a look at your favorite painting or song or story and move some elements around. Michelle teaches a Van Gogh painting class, and even the students who are the most dismissive of their own creative talents end up throwing their own twist on "Starry Night," to great results. They'll add Godzilla or the Death Star or their cat, making for a whimsical bit of art that they didn't think they were able to do.
When I first started writing music, I would learn one of my favorite songs, then change the words. As I workshopped it, I would substitute chords and change the melody a little bit. It might have sounded like a ripoff, but that practice taught me a lot about songwriting.
Even now, one of my favorite songwriting techniques is to dismantle a song into its most basic parts, then write a new song around them. I'll loop a guitar part and write a bass line to that, then I'll erase the original and write a new guitar part to the new bass line. Rinse and repeat as needed. Before you know it, it's a completely different song.
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. That's especially true in creative brainstorming.
My whole life, I've struggled to finish stories. There's a folder on my desktop that has around a dozen half-done novels and a couple screenplays. It's not for a lack of passion—I care deeply about these stories. A few of them were even outlined all the way to the end. But I often run into spots where I just can't see the next step.
But in college, some friends and I used to email a word document around to each other. We'd write until we ran out of ideas, then we'd send it off to the next person.
And we wrote a few full stories that way. And I'm talking like, 150-page novels. When I couldn't see any more possibles, my friends were brimming with ideas.
If you're stuck in a creative rut, find some friends and invite them to collaborate on your work. Or, start a brand new project together from scratch. It might not go the way you expected it to, but isn't that the point?
We spend so much time going from one task to the other.
We wake up, scroll through social media, drive to work while listening to podcasts, tick through our to-do lists, drive home, eat dinner while watching Netflix, scroll through social media for a few more hours, then go to bed.
And during that whole time, the creative part of your brain is engaged with what you're ingesting. So when you sit down to create, your brain has a hard time switching gears.
But scientists have noticed that idleness can lead to more creative thinking. When your brain isn't focused on any specific tasks, it starts to wander. Often, that wandering connects ideas in ways that you wouldn't have considered otherwise.
If you've ever been struck by an idea while in the shower or while trying sleep, you've already seen this in action.
But what if you were to work in intentional moments of mind idleness into your day? Getting away for a short walk through the park can give your brain the space to wander, leading to more creative.
Sometimes, thinking up a great idea can seem like a task of Herculean proportions. But thinking up a terrible idea is no problem at all.
But what if there was something worthwhile in that stinking pile of bad ideas?
Instead of trying to think up your best idea, try to think of the most terrible idea you can think of. Sometimes when my band writes, we try to imagine collaborations between the most oddball pairings of musicians (one song was formed as an imagined collaboration between Bon Iver and a metal band).
When you've got a good list of terrible ideas, look at each one and see if there's anything there that you actually kinda like. If there is, see if you can turn that terrible idea into an actual good idea.
Risk is at the heart of art.
Picasso took a risk when he contorted the human form into his famous cubism. Radiohead took a risk when they traded their electric guitars for synthesizers for their groundbreaking Kid A. George Lucas risked everything to make Star Wars, with almost no signs that it would pay off.
While you might not face some of the same backlash as more well-known artists, there's still a risk when you create. You might waste a few hours making something you hate. You might waste some supplies.
Give yourself a challenge. Try new things. Use mediums that you're not familiar with.
You might not end up loving everything you make, but you will flex your creative muscles big time. And when you sit down to create later, your brain will remember the lessons you learned there.
There you have it: our five favorite ways to boost your creativity. While these ideas are powerful methods of flexing your brain's creative muscles, it takes time to shake off the cobwebs. But in time, creativity will be second nature to you.
After all—there's a good chance you had genius-level creative thinking as a child. You can get that back.
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