Let me begin by saying that if you’re struggling to access and develop your creativity, you’re not alone. Even full-time creatives such as myself find the process intimidating and daunting from time to time. To that end, I’ve put together a few creativity hacks that make the process not only more accessible but also more fun.
1. Designate a creative space
Creativity is absolutely environment-dependent. Attempting any creative endeavor from painting to poetry to music is significantly easier if you are able to carve out a little space in your home or office that lends itself to inspiration. Not only that but entering that space works as a kind of signal that you’ll be tapping into your imagination. I should also say that by “creative space” I don’t just mean physical space but also space on your calendar. Picking a time of day when you are less distracted and there are fewer demands on your time can be extremely helpful as well.
2. Give yourself a time limit
Speaking of demands on your time, it is somewhat counterintuitive that having unlimited time to create is actually more difficult than having just a little time available. But creativity - ironically - craves constraint. To that end, giving yourself a limited amount of time to create will generate the best results. It’s less intimidating to know, for example, that you’ve only got 15 minutes to try to write a poem instead of the entire weekend.
3. Don’t wait around for inspiration
In the early days of my songwriting career, it never occurred to me that I could go out and get inspiration. I thought that inspiration simply showed up and then it was my job to do something with it. I think I wrote my first twenty songs that way. However, for the next 980 songs and beyond, I realized that inspiration was something I could proactively seek. This took many forms but one of the simplest and best practices was that I started keeping a small notebook on my nightstand and each morning I would take a minute and write down a single song title. That’s all. This seemingly insignificant behavior resulted in my always having an idea to bring to a writing session even on days when my inspiration was at low ebb. Think about a tiny creative effort you can do every day so that inspiration is waiting for you instead of the other way around.
4. Find a collaborator/collaborators
As an inveterate songwriting co-writer, I’m a big believer in creative collaboration for a variety of reasons. First and most obviously, it’s half as hard to be creative when you share the work with someone else but it goes deeper than that. Collaboration equals accountability. In my experience, there’s always some significant distraction or task that can get in the way of a solo creative endeavor (folding your socks or gazing at your own navel come to mind). But when you schedule an appointment with your collaborator, you’re holding each other accountable which tends to keep us honest and on creative track.
5. Be macro patient and micro impatient
This is one of the best suggestions I’ve ever heard on how to have a successful creative practice. What “macro patient” means is that any significant creative gains are, on some level, beyond our immediate control and getting frustrated when they don’t come sooner will be a futile exercise. So you should stay patient when it comes to dramatic improvement. However, you should also be “micro impatient” to do some kind of creative work every day and not wait around for things to happen. This “impatience” has the benefit of improving your creative output while also keeping you from worrying too much about the big picture.
Creativity can be - and often is - a truly joyful process. However, as noted psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states in his seminal book “Finding Flow,” creativity (like the flow state) requires a certain amount of “activation energy” which can be enough to discourage most would be creatives. The above tips are ways to get you past the natural resistance to creativity and will, hopefully, serve to deepen your creative practice.
Cliff Goldmacher is a GRAMMY-recognized, #1 hit songwriter, music producer and author with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Middle River, MD. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and studio vocalists for their songwriting demos. Find out more. You can also download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs.”