I’ve been working on a number of creative projects lately, and found myself working too hard to make progress on them. I decided to take a look back at this post, which I wrote a couple years ago when I was in better shape and had attained a lot of mental clarity and a positive attitude.
The thing is, I was feeling fantastic during the time when I wrote this. I was routinely coming up with motivational topics to write about because I felt motivated. I had cut out alcohol, dropped thirty or so pounds, and was exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep.
Life caught up to me, and I’m not there anymore. Reading this, and remembering how I felt, is motivating me to start again. In honor of getting back to that place, I’m republishing the post today.
Originally Posted on Mar 22, 2012:
I’ve experienced a real burst of creativity lately. It’s helping me to do double or triple the amount of work I would usually do in the same amount of time. It’s a good feeling, but as any creative person knows, creative bursts are often short-lived. Here are 8 tips on how to keep it going:
8. Put Down the Booze
You may think that because Van Gough, Picasso, Poe, Wilde, and Hemingway all found their muses with the help of the Green Fairy that you should too. I’m telling you, it doesn’t work. Drinking alcohol may loosen the inhibitions that keep creativity in check, but it also loosens your will to do work and fogs your brain. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I’d find the next chapter of a story I was working on at the bottom of a glass, only to wind up losing interest in writing at all. If you think it helps your ADD-riddled brain to slow down and identify ideas, then try to stick to brainstorming while you’re on the sauce. Keep a notebook handy and write things down when they come to you. Have conversations with friends (unlike creative work, these are often enhanced – or at least made more entertaining – by a touch of white lightning) and see if you have any takeaways you can use next time you’re fully sober.
7. Turn Off the TV
Seriously. You can chillax, or you can create, but you can’t do both. TV numbs your brain. You may think that catching the latest episode of Fringe will give you ideas for the next chapter in your own novel, or that Breaking Bad will be like a crash course in character development and exposition, but at the end of the day, you will just be watching TV. Ask yourself how often you’ve gotten up from the couch to go do something productive afterward. I’m not saying you can’t find inspiration from television, but do it sparingly, and do it on days when you intend to just relax, not expect to get some creative work done.
6. Find Silence
It’s harder than ever to get any real quiet. We’re constantly distracted by a cornucopia of sound. Conversation, radio, MP3 players, Spotify, TV, traffic – you name it. Give yourself some time without noise. Go for a walk and don’t bring your headphones. Get up earlier and sit in a room overlooking a scene that you love. Let your mind wander, and it will begin to get the creative juices flowing.
5. Use Music
Silence is grand – and necessary – but most of us can only find it in small doses. If you can’t find silence, find noise that is conducive to your muses. I have a long morning commute, and I used to listen to audiobooks every day. They were great, but I spent so much time focusing on the narrative that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I switched over to using Spotify in the car, and next thing you know, I was getting to the office brimming with ideas. Find music that suits your mood. Don’t feel like it has to be Beethoven or Mozart. Rock some Skrillex if you want to. Listen to someone mellow like Lights. Find your own tune, whatever it is that gets the creativity happening.
4. Get More Sleep
This is one of the hardest things about fueling creativity. When you’re feeling creative, chances are you’re up late working on things. You have so many ideas, and not enough time to do them. This week, I’ve been getting somewhere in the ballpark of 4-6 hours of sleep a night. The more tired I get, the more sluggish my brain is. Get at least 8 hours of sleep and your head will feel clear, allowing you to work better, faster.
3. Eat the Right Foods
This can’t be overstated. Despite the fact that I’ve still got at least 40 lbs. to lose, I’ve never felt better in my life. The food that I’m eating (and not eating) has an enormous impact on my brain. Everyone has a different approach to nutrition, but I’ve made no secret about what mine is: get rid of wheat. Get as much coconut oil and Omega 3s as you can. Eat red meat and vegetables. You’ll be amazed how amped your brain is when you dial in the right nutritional balance.
2. Look for Inspiration
You know that old saying, “No man is an island”? Well, it’s true. Those of use with strong creative impulses can do a lot on our own, but we do even better if we feed on other sources of creativity. Read design websites. Thumb through magazines. Take a spin around Pinterest. Check out Fab.com. Read novels. Play with children. Climb a mountain. Visit a city at night. Go to an art museum. Browse Etsy. There are so many amazing sources of inspiration around you, you just have to tap into them.
1. Make Stuff!
Everything else on the list is no good unless you actually move into the production phase of creativity. If you’re a photographer, pick up your camera and start shooting. If you’re a sculptor, grab that clay and start working it with your hands. If you’re a writer, start dancing the keys. Don’t worry about whether it will be any good or not. Failed attempts are just building blocks for success. Many great ideas are born out of the incomplete execution of an earlier concept. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten on creative work is this: “If you don’t like what you’ve done, lower your standards.” Silence the internal critic just long enough to give birth to something. Then you can give yourself permission to revise, or start over.
Just this morning I saw a great quote:
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”- Michael Jordan
So get out there and make it happen!