Completing a new piece of art often takes longer than you expect. The inherent demands of the work take patience and time; and the artistic process itself can be lengthy. Add in the ever-escalating mandates of daily life and things can really slow down. Other times, we’ll be moving along at a nice clip on a piece when - BAM – just like that we find ourselves stuck. We just hit a wall. Days pass without much movement. Plans to be done by the weekend drop away. Suddenly it feels like the piece will never be completed. Oh Calamity!
Now, now. Settle down. Trying to command insights and solutions to instantly appear hardly ever works. I mean really - how do you respond to stress and the grinding thumb of pressure? Does it spark your best performance or do you rebel - become defiant - shut down? So the first thing to do (always) is: Be cool.
I promise you, inspiration has not burned out. The truth is, creativeness is always alive inside of us; and, creativity is, and will always be, incandescent. Your genius has not deserted you; it has just gone into hiding and is waiting for you to coax it out again. In this blog I’ll let you in on the secrets for courting your muse.
Creativity flows from a state of feeling secure so you can take risks. It requires a certain daring. After all, new ideas can be wrong. When you try to implement creatively, there will almost always be missteps. When your mind detects subtle, unconscious threats, things like performance pressure and deadlines, you tend to stay more focused on the topic so you don't make any errors; thus, you never stray far from where the problem is and you don't try to find new strategies for what you are trying to do. To think differently means you must fly in the face of reason and common sense. This takes a person of considerable self-assurance.
A good way to start is to take inventory. Look carefully at what you are doing. Is there a tool that you don’t have or a part that is missing? Once you identify a specific deficit it’s easy enough to acquire what is needed. But taking inventory also means asking yourself: Do I know everything I need to know? Creativity doesn’t flourish under pressure but it doesn’t flourish in a vacuum either. If information or skills are lacking, get to work. Once you have the physical and intellectual goods you need, solutions will tend to unfold naturally.
On the other hand, if you’ve done your homework and you have all the resources and knowledge required to get the job done, ease up on yourself. Have a little confidence in your own expertise. There will always be obstacles. Embrace your current situation for what it is and for as long it remains. Try to go with the flow. Plowing ahead, unheeding, can really screw things up.
Another reason not to fight against the current is that resistance creates an anchor of negativity. Negativity is not sexy. It will definitely not entice your creative spirit. Refocus your energy on generating a positive state of mind, body and space. A positive mood literally expands the scope of your thought. If you’re in a bad mood, your brain will not key into subtle unconscious ideas; it will just go where the strongest neural activity lights up - which is usually the first old rut it finds. A positive mood increases your sensitivity to ideas that are weakly activated and unconscious. You want to get the obvious ideas out of the way to make room for hunches, inklings and strange flashes of insight. You want to be alert to new possibilities when they pop into your head.
There are a couple of good tricks that will nurture a positive mood. To begin with, when you’re feeling stressed out and blocked, power down. I know, it’s not always easy but if you can, step away from the tools, the technology and the problem itself.
Next, pick up a pencil. Since creativity is about linking up bits of information it helps to organize your thoughts. Write down what you have done so far and make a list of the next steps. By removing the clutter inside your head you make room for new, creative ideas. Putting your process on paper helps sustain slow hunches; in other words you may reformulate the problem rather than having to find a totally new solution.
Now with that same pencil, pick up a pad and sketch it out. Engage your senses beyond the realm of words and really visualize a prototype. As you draw, challenge constraints as you encounter them. It can help to think of the piece from another artist’s point of view. Creative blocks can be the result of our confinement to old experiences and expectations. Imagine, how would the piece look if Da Vinci, Margritte or DuChamp created it? By removing ourselves from our work and observing it from the lens of someone else, we gain a different perspective. Get loose. Entertain unconventional, even radical changes. Make weird connections between seemingly unrelated ideas. Novelty, by definition, lies outside traditional methods so by bringing together a bunch of different concepts, tools, capabilities, and ways of thinking you will be more inspired.
Okay, now put down your pencil. Stand up and look around. How do you feel? If you are in a small space, your focus can get cramped - your visual attention doesn’t spread out. When your visual attention is constricted, your conceptual attention becomes narrow and your thinking is more likely to be analytical. In a larger space – a place with high ceiling or windows with vistas and lots of light, your visual attention expands to fill the space and your conceptual attention expands too. If you can see far and wide, then you can think far and wide. That's why getting outdoors and taking a walk can reinvigorate you. Large, airy spaces with soft, rounded features and natural colors (blues and greens) have all been associated with relaxation, expansiveness and feeling safe - all good things for enhacing creativity.
It is amazing how often a solution will make itself known only when you step away from the problem and stop staring at it in the nose. Sometimes an answer is a hundred and eighty degrees from where you are looking. Inspiration favors flexibility, an open mind and a receptive space. When you take a break from a problem that you’re stuck on and do something completely different, you let go of the bad ideas you’ve become fixated on. This allows other ideas, better ideas, to bubble to the surface. When you’re working on a problem but can’t seem to solve it and you take a break, part of your brain remains active to the problem so you are sensitized to anything in the environment related to the problem. You will notice relevant details and may make an association which then pops suddenly into your awareness. Ah, sweet inspiration.
Of course, there are a lot of ways to take a break, the most obvious being to grab a coffee or a beer or any of the other in the long list of seductive intoxicants. But there are other ways to take a break that will likely foster creativity. One way is to get some sleep. Sleep is a powerful tool for promoting ingenuity. If you’re stuck, take a nap. It will help you purge the bad ideas and you’ll be more attuned to clues that might solve the problem. Sleep rearranges and consolidates thinking so that details, hidden relationships and unusual connections can be revealed.
Another trick is to do nothing at all. When you consciously do nothing, the brain will churn over ideas and incubate associations. This process gets super-charged when you sleep but if you can’t take a nap, just try doing nothing. The balance between doing nothing and doing something fuels creativity.
If doing nothing makes you feel like crawling out of your skin, then it’s a good time to get out of the studio. Get to a museum or hit that exhibit you’ve been meaning to attend. No matter that it doesn’t relate to your work - in fact, tha's probably better. Novel images, textures, sounds and colors will renew the flexibility of your mind.
Not in the mood for a museum? Then go play. Get yourself out to ultimate field or, if you findyourself without a Frisbee (heaven forbid) do something else you that lets you break a sweat and be childish. Exercise reduces stress and is a natural mood enhancer. Besides, playing is fun. That’s why kids do so much of it. Children are endlessly creative. They are spontaneous. Their imagination is unrestrained; they break the rules; and, they believe that anything is possible. By flexing your body and finding your childlike inclination for play, you will ignite your creativity.
Now that you’re all sweaty, you’ll want to clean up so find some water to splash around in. Whether you go swimming or stand under a waterfall, water helps you release the boundaries between your body and your thoughts. If you are employed or (sigh!) have a rich patron, I encourage you to immediately put in a critical request for both a pool and a hot tub. Research will back you up – being in water is associated with inspiration – it’s evidence-based! We are hardwired to react positively to water. A lot of dopamine gets released (remember the womb). If you don’t have lavish access to a nearby ocean or spa, you can at least take a shower. The shower is pure downtime. It’s a great place to let your mind wander and incubate thoughts. The water is warm and soothing and you drop your defenses, which engenders feelings of connection and empathy. The white noise in the background induces a mild meditative state. Let the water flow over you and allow your mind to wander and broaden.
- Be Cool
- Take Inventory
- Refocus your Energy
- Power Down
- Pick Up a Pencil
- Organize your Thoughts
- Sketch it Out
- Expand your Space
- Take a Break
- Get some Sleep
- Do Nothing
- Get Out of the Studio
- Go Play
- Break a Sweat
- Be Childish
- Find some water and splash around
Now that you have all my secrets I assure you, your muse will be smitten. Incandescent creativity will flood through and around you.
Isn’t it a lovey truth that inspiration is merely the discovery of something that is already known?