Creativity ought to be as natural to us as breathing, and when we're in the zone it certainly is that way. The ideas flow, we see inspiration all around us and solutions present themselves with effortless ease. When we're in touch with our creativity - which is an innate part of our nature, even if we've convinced ourselves to the contrary - there's nothing we need do but ride the wave and have fun seeing where it takes us. It's a grace-like state requiring little effort on our part, and we usually feel invigorated, excited and buzzing with life (a pleasant byproduct of being creative).
But we all go through times when we find ourselves blocked, stuck and stifled. That's when it's necessary to shake things up, blast away the blocks and nurture our creative side. Here are 12 practical tips for kick-starting our creativity that I have found useful.
1. Create the necessary time and space
In order to be creative, you need to make sure you have the time and space to actually be creative. It may be almost habitual to fill up every moment of your life with activity, both productive and unproductive. It's necessary to take time out to flex your creative muscles, preferably every single day. Clear some time in your schedule, even if it's just 10-15 minutes a day. Guard that time and be aware of any tendency to procrastinate. Procrastination is the number one enemy of creativity. Ask yourself why you're procrastinating (often it's out of fear of failure or not being good enough) and commit to overcoming it.
2. Keep a journal
This tip is from Julia Cameron's book 'The Artist's Way' which is well worth checking out. She calls them 'morning pages': every morning, you have to write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. This can be about absolutely ANYTHING, from problems, ideas, grievances and annoyances, inspiration, plans for the day and all kinds of random and rambling thoughts. You have free reign to spill your mind onto the page. Essentially this works as a kind of 'brain drain', freeing up mental energy, relieving tension and enabling you to tap into your inherent creativity. Try it for a month and be amazed. It's well worth getting up 10-15 minutes early to do this. I'm willing to bet that after a few days you'll be hooked.
3. Seek inspiration - fill your artistic well
Julia Cameron also encourages us to go on an 'artist's date'. This simply means taking time out to give ourselves fresh creative input and stimulation. Creativity needs to be encouraged and nurtured and you can facilitate this by making a specified time to do things that inspire you. Ideas might include going for a long walk on the beach, visiting an antique shop or old bookshop, going to an exhibition or having a latte in your favorite coffee shop while reading up on people who inspire you. It's best to spend this time on your own, so you can give full attention to what you're doing and not get lost in conversation and distraction. Creativity feeds on fresh input, on images, sounds, sensations and new ideas and experiences, so be sure to keep the well filled.
Stop watching TV! Or at least limit the amount you watch. Television tends to dull the mind and numb the senses. Why it can be an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so, especially after a busy day, if you're spending entire evenings (or perhaps days) zoning out, it's probably time to take a break. Generally television is not designed to spark or foster creativity. It often does the opposite. Try also limiting the amount of time you spend on the internet, whether social networking or aimlessly surfing the net. This will free up time, space and energy which can then be channeled creatively. A 24 hour media/TV/internet fast every so often is immensely refreshing. Why not try it?
5. Take a walk
A 20 minute walk has a way of re-balancing the mind and reinvigorating the senses. A short walk is not only good for you physically, but can elevate your mood, free up creative blocks and get the inspiration flowing. It doesn't really matter where you go, although I recommend being in nature if possible, for nature has a harmonizing and energizing effect, particularly if you spend a lot of time indoors. Why not go for a walk without a destination in mind and just see where you find yourself (a creative walk!) or take a camera and be on the look out for interesting photographs, which will help you keep you in the moment and paying particular attention to your surroundings.
6. Be quiet
It's hard for creative ideas and insights to emerge when the mind is continually filled with thoughts and bombarded with stimulus. Creativity needs space to flourish, much like the sun needs a gap in the clouds to shine down. So sit quietly for a while. Learn to meditate, or simply relax. In our fast-paced culture our minds are conditioned to be constantly seeking input and stimulus and many people find it impossible to sit still for more than a few seconds without needing to do something. Try to overcome this urge. Sit still and just look around. Observe with vivid clarity, bringing your full attention to whatever your eyes rest upon. Even if you're in a room you've been in a million times before, try to notice little details you've never before seen. As Pierre Tielhard de Chardin noted: "The whole of life lies in the verb seeing". Another thing that can open the creative channels is to take a nap, especially if you are feeling stuck and uninspired. Often a short nap is enough to shift our thinking patterns and tap us into heightened creativity. It certainly worked for some of history's greatest creative minds, including Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali.
7. Learn to bypass the inner critic
You're probably already familiar with your inner critic or censor, the part of you that's constantly judging, analyzing and criticizing your work - and everything else besides. The inner critic does have its function and its place, but given free reign will probably sabotage your creative efforts before you've even begun. The first stage of any creative endeavor is simply to create, to freely get ideas onto the page and canvas. If your inner critic is continually criticizing every single word or brushstroke, you'll quickly end up getting blocked. So learn to send the critic on an all expenses paid vacation to Bermuda until you're ready for it. Create freely and without censor and don't fear making mistakes (see the next step). When you're ready for the next stage, which is analyzing, editing and polishing up the work you've done, that's when you can let the critic do its job. But remind it to do so kindly and constructively.
8. Be fearless
Let go of the need to be perfect. There's no such thing. Relinquish your fears of inadequacy and your determination to create something that's 'worthy'. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, because that's often the best way to learn. The need to create something 'great' can make it hard to create anything at all, so just surrender to the process and learn to enjoy it. Play around with ideas, words, paint or clay. Allow yourself to innovate, to think outside of the box and let go of any fears about what other people may think. Fortune favors the brave.
9. Explore music
Music has a way of loosening up the mind, allowing you to access heightened levels of creativity. It has to be the right kind of music, though; mainstream radio stations are unlikely to be of great help. Explore and experiment with different styles, including classical, world music and ambient. See what inspires you and compliments your creative process.
10. Observe, question, experiment
The key to innovation is to observe, question why things work they way they do and experiment to see how you could make them work better. This is a basic framework used by inventors and innovators in numerous different fields.
11. Hang out with creative people
Creative people generally love being around other creative people. If you don't have many artistic friends, then consider joining or forming a group. Share work, discuss ideas, exchange experiences, reflect on what inspires and excites you. Creativity has a kind of resonance, and simply being around creative people and innovators of any kind can kick-start your own creative flow.
12. Take inspiration from the greats
Are there any creative geniuses whose work or lives you've always been fascinated by? Perhaps Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot or Thomas Edison? Why not adopt them as a kind of creative role model. Learn all you can about them, read biographies, view or read as much of their work as you can and learn how they functioned creatively. There's probably a whole lot you can learn from their achievements, mistakes and methods of working. Heck, you might even choose a creative genius who is still alive and someone you might even be able to get in touch with. Having a creative mentor is a surefire way to spark your own creative fire.