A while back, a dear reader asked me for advice on how to become creative.
It feels kind of funny to me to be addressing this topic, because for the longest time, I didn’t see myself as a creative person at all.
When I thought about creativity back then, I would picture someone sitting in an art class with paint-splattered hands, wearing a flowy flower skirt. Probably with red hair and plans to attend a poetry reading in her favorite coffee shop on Friday…
I most definitely did not fit that stereotype. I wore boring jeans and t-shirts and had my nose buried in a book most of the time. I was completely incapable of creating anything with my hands and used to think that art and music classes were a big fat waste of time. Like, are they actually going to make me sit through this? For a whole entire semester? Shouldn’t this be an elective?
Thankfully, my narrow-minded view of creativity has evolved since those days. While I still maintain that the world is better off with me sticking to the role of consumer as opposed to creator when it comes to fine arts and music, I’ve come to understand that creativity can be expressed in a multitude of ways.
And I’ve not only come to see my plain old self as a very creative person, but also – through years of trial and error – figured out some tricks and hacks to boost my creativity.
So if you want to learn how to become creative, here are 21 tried-and-true ways to boost creativity. While much of my personal experience with creativity comes from writing, I’ve also dappled in interior design and followed my husband’s creative endeavors as a bowl turner, so I think my tips are universal enough to be applied across many fields of interest.
How To Become Creative: 21 Ways To Boost Creativity
1. Expand Your Definition Of Creativity
Just in case you are still stuck with that same narrow view of creativity I used to cling to, let’s briefly touch on what creativity actually is. Here’s what the dictionary has to say:
“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something.”
“The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.”
So at its most basic, creativity is simply the act of creating something that didn’t exist before.
Where and how and with what materials you apply creativity is up to you. It could be creating a new recipe. It could be creating a more streamlined process at work. It could be creating a new approach to parenting. It could be creating a re-design of your living room. It could be creating a piece of art to hang on the wall.
It could be anything. There are no limits to the areas where creativity can be employed.
2. Follow Your Natural Talents
You can obviously apply your creativity in whatever area or areas you choose, but you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you follow your natural talents. Having talent in a particular area simply means that it’s easier for you to learn the necessary skills than it is for someone whose talents lie in a different area.
3. Employ Grit
Natural talent will give you a boost, but talent alone won’t cut it. Creative endeavors often come with challenges.
You might be intimidated by needing to learn new skills. You might struggle with perfectionism and fear of failure. You might be battling the real-world demands of work and family when trying to find time to pursue your craft. You might get frustrated when your grand vision doesn’t materialize exactly the way you imagined. You might be terrified of releasing your creation out into the world and making yourself vulnerable to rejection.
To overcome these kinds of challenges, you need grit. Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance that enables you to persist in the face of obstacles.
Simply put, you need to love what you do and be too stubborn to quit. 😉
For more on this topic, check out Angela Duckworth’s wonderful book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
4. Never Stop Learning
One way in which grit will help you is by pushing you to hone your skills in your area of interest. Regardless of how much innate talent you may or may not have, getting over the beginner hump and acquiring new skills and techniques is key. The more skilled you are, the more freedom you have to explore.
Think about someone who has writing talent but never learned the basics of spelling and grammar. Or someone who has artistic talent but never learned how to mix colors.
Everyone has to start somewhere.
Let yourself be a beginner.
Learn from others who went before you.
And never let the learning stop.
5. See Failure As Part Of The Process
Grit will also push you to overcome fear of failure. Fear of failure is a giant obstacle to creativity. It can completely paralyze you and prevent you from creating altogether.
Fear of failure is perpetuated by the fact that we usually only see other people’s successes.
We usually only see their final product. We don’t see all the years they spent honing their skills. We don’t see all the rough drafts and first tries and abandoned starts that happened along the way.
And we usually only see the successful creations. We don’t see the duds. We don’t see the 100 songs that were written before the one-hit-wonder. We don’t see the unpublished novels that were stuffed into a desk drawer before the one that made its way to the best-seller list.
But even if it’s mostly invisible, failure happens to all of us. For every blog post of mine that goes viral, I write several that sink into oblivion. For every beautiful bowl that comes off my husband’s lathe, he turns several that end up as fire wood. It’s just part of the process.
In order to have a chance of success, you must be willing to risk failure and find ways to work through it.
I would even go as far as to say that the more you fail in the beginning, the better, because you become numb to it. Once you are numb to failure, there are no limits to what you will dare to try.
6. Let Yourself Start Over
Sometimes you might get an inkling that you are pouring your heart and soul into a project that is headed Nowhere and Fast. But it can be really hard to admit this fact to yourself when you’ve put countless precious hours into your creation du jour.
However, there are times when moving on and letting yourself start over truly is the best thing to do. The more you accept failure as an expected part of the process, the easier it becomes to admit that you have landed on a no-go and the easier it becomes to start fresh.
7. Go For Quantity
And while we are on the topic of starting over, let me point out that creativity is not monogamy. You don’t need to find the ONE. You don’t need to get married to any one given idea or solution or project and stay devoted to it happily ever after.
As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to boost creativity is to challenge yourself to come up with MANY possible solutions. Challenge yourself to come up with 10 possible titles for your article. Or 7 possible color schemes for your living room. Or 5 possible ways to deal with your toddler who throws a temper tantrum every morning when it’s time to get dressed. Or 3 possible ways to change a process that is a giant pain in the ass at work.
You will discover that the possibilities are endless.
8. Expose Yourself To Lots Of Work In Your Area Of Interest
To keep popping out new possibilities, your brain needs food. It needs something to work with. One way to feed your brain is to expose yourself to lots of ideas and work by other people.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll become a copycat. Instead, you can suck up ideas from multiple sources and then put them together in a way that’s unique to you. Other people’s work can serve as a spark that ignites you to think of something new.
9. Expose Yourself To New Environments
There’s also something about exposing yourself to a novel environment that prompts your brain to make new connections.
I’ve noticed that whenever I go on a trip, I come back with several new topics to write about that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s pretty much a given now that, when travelling, I’ll find myself in some hotel bathroom at the crack of dawn frantically typing up notes on my phone trying not to wake the kids up.
10. Surround Yourself With Other Creative People
And then there are the people who inhabit your environment. You know that cliche about being the average of the five people you spend the most time with?
Enough said. 😉
11. Give Yourself Lots Of R&R
So we have established that your creative brain needs food. The food comes from learning new skills and techniques, exposure to other people’s work, and exposure to new environments.
But your brain also needs a chance to digest this food. It needs a chance to process and put two and two together. It does this when you are sleeping and when you are relaxing.
This one’s easy! You don’t have to do anything or try hard. You just need to step back and give your brain some R&R.
12. Keep Idea Lists
Whenever ideas do come to you, be prepared to capture them.
Ideas have a tendency to show up at random moments when you are busy doing something completely unrelated. You might think you’ll remember them later, but you won’t.
I have a list of nearly 200 blog post ideas and I have no memory of when I came up with them all. Sometimes I look at the list and I don’t even remember seeing some of the ideas before. But there they are – ready and waiting whenever I need them. 🙂
I like to keep lists on my phone with the free google sheets app. A small notebook in your bag is another good way to go.
13. Step Away
Regardless of where and how you apply creativity, there will be times when you get stuck. When you don’t know what to do next.
Wanna know what I do when I get stuck with a project? I just drop it. I’ve quit stressing about it, because I’ve learned that if I just wait a bit, the answer will come to me.
Sometimes all you need is to create distance between yourself and your work and you will be able to look at it a moment later with fresh eyes from a different perspective.
There are times when I literally just need to step away from my desk for 5 minutes. But when that doesn’t cut it, the answer will most often come to me the next morning when I’m on the treadmill running.
Human beings evolved to be on the move and exercise literally makes our brains work better. For more on this topic, read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey.
15. Take Long Showers
If the answer doesn’t come to me during my run, it will come in the shower when I’m all relaxed and away from distractions…
16. Listen To Music
…or when I’m listening to music…
17. Let Your Mind Wonder While Doing Something Mindless
…or when I’m letting my mind wander while doing something mindless, like cleaning the house or folding laundry.
With some patience, the answer always comes. 🙂
18. Pretend To Be Someone Else
But what if you are not the patient type? Well, if my “just wait for it” techniques are too slow for you, there are a couple of more active things you can try.
For one, you can look for a different perspective by pretending to be someone else. What would the person you admire the most do? What would your favorite guru do?
19. Get A Second Opinion
Or you could actually real-world ask someone. Sometimes another person’s fresh perspective is all you need to get unstuck.
20. Take Advantage Of Your Most Creative Time Of Day
One other way to boost your creativity is to time your creative pursuits so that they match your chronotype.
Are you a morning-person or a night-owl?
I’m a morning person all the way and I noticed my creativity skyrocketed when I managed to change my schedule so that I was writing in the mornings as opposed to afternoons or evenings.
So if you can, it really pays to take advantage of the time of day when you are at your most productive.
21. Just Start Already 🙂
With that being said, optimizing the conditions conducive to creativity is a luxury – not a necessity. If you wait for inspiration and the perfect time, you might be waiting forever.
The most-important-number-one-can’t-live-without-it-top-priority for anyone wanting to learn how to become creative is to simply START.
Simply START creating.
Just DO it!