There is a reason Archimedes proclaimed ‘Eureka’ while in the bathtub! All the elements are present to manifest creative thoughts.
Ideas often seem to appear at random, but I am not sure they are truly unpredictable, I believe there are ways to manifest creativity at will.
I have come to this conclusion after noticing trends in my own thinking, and then discussing with others what works for them too.
It really boils down to a few simple factors.
But what are creative thoughts? In my view it’s the ability to connect ideas that would never normally interact, and in doing so, a huge leap of possibility manifests.
Creativity is as much present in the thought processes of entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists as it is in what we would consider as ‘story’ creativity. And it’s our secret weapon that can elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary.
- Hyper alertness
Being super awake is key. In practical terms, this is why many of your best ideas come in the mornings, or when stimulated by caffeine or the environment. Have you noticed that the shower is a great place for ideas? It’s not random, you are hyper alert when in the shower, free of distraction AND receiving additional stimuli from the outside world – the hot water drops on skin is a sensation overload. Being fully awake and capable of complete focus is the first step.
- Clear and Rested Minds
Our modern world is filled with distractions and the voice in your head is constantly chattering – the key is to get that voice to chatter about creative ideas and not the general nonsense of family gossip, Facebook junk and lord only knows what else. There are strategies for getting a clear mind such as exercise or meditation, but by far the best is to start work before your mind gets distracted. That means getting up early (before everyone else), not checking your email or Facebook, and immediately writing. The clear mind is another step toward entering the Creative Trance which I talk about later. Some people can write all day. Most can work in sustained bursts of between three and five hours. I suggest that if you want a lifetime of creativity as a business or career, you need a strategy that is sustainable. Write early for fixed amounts of time.
- Additional stimulation
Being rested, alert and clear minded are key – but if you can add external stimulation, your subconscious will go into overdrive. Those hot water drops of the shower are super productive for me, but so is listening to music very loud, driving (which is also awesome from the ‘creative trance’) and walks in the fresh air… Notice in your own life what external stimuli leads to creative leaps and share them with us.
- Zero distractions
So now you are rested and clear minded, with external stimuli… what do we do? Check email and look at Facebook? NO NO NO! I get why it happens and I am as much an offender as anyone, but the daily distractions of life will cause the focus of your ‘creative state’ to shift away from your writing. Common offenders are family, TV, newspapers, conversation over morning coffee… all can derail this key state. Listen, I get that we live in the real world and it regularly steamrollers over our routine, that’s just being human. But the key is knowing our patterns so we can reboot. So maybe deal with the family until everyone leaves, then have coffee and a shower. Or again, get up and write at 4am.
- Enter the trance
My favourtite state is the Creative Trance. This is when we are hyper alert, rested, stimulated by our environment and free of mental distraction. For me I experience this most often when driving, and it has caused me to drive 100 miles in the wrong direction more than once! In this creative trance we find ourselves fully conscious and in control (often on autopilot), but now the subconscious enjoys the playground of random ideas and spewing out inspired connections when they occur – and we are in a state to notice and analyse these ideas. There is a reason Archimedes proclaimed ‘Eureka’ while in the bathtub! All the elements are present to manifest creative thoughts.
Working with others requires massive creative thinking, but it’s not always possible to do in the bathtub or at 4am! Again, we live in the real world and it crashes into us regularly. But the principles remain the same. Avoid distraction, clear the mind and collaborate as early in the morning as possible. The best thing about collaboration is that the other person becomes the external stimuli that will fire your subconscious in new directions. One tactic though. It’s often easy to enter the trance state when hitting some kind of block. Give yourself a timescale for these trances, say 10 minutes, and if the problem is not solved, write the best idea you have and move on. Know that your subconscious is hard at work on solving this problem and it’s likely to pop into your mind while walking home or in the shower tomorrow morning. Sometimes, though rarely, I have even had dreams deliver solutions.
- Your own formula – mine is the pressure cooker
We are all unique and no one size fits all. There are no rules, but there are principles – the most important being that we all have patterns that manifest creativity. Knowing your pattern will allow you access to more powerful and rapid creative thinking. Paradoxically, I have also noticed that when under extreme pressure, I get hyper creative. It’s why I am good at running events, in control on film sets and often inspired in solving problems when up against the clock. In those moments, I believe I enter a trance like state, filtering out distractions, pumped up on adrenaline and hyper stimulated. My brain also knows that huge and instant reward awaits if I solve the problem at hand, so it works even harder. So for some of is, but not all, deadlines, pressure cookers and hyper focus can also produce amazing results. This is the one thing that I thing distinguishes filmmakers from writers. It also explains why I often manifest ‘false pressure cookers’ in my life, to create the right environment for creativity. This is also an issue for personal relationships that we all need to consider if we use that strategy.
It’s obvious, but keep a notebook at hand to jot down ideas, or get used to dictating short audio notes on your iPhone. Some writers I know love Evernote for this, though it’s not worked for me.
- Criticism from others (and self)
Nothing shuts down creativity like regular and harsh criticism. Beware of people observing your action and misinterpreting it for laziness. I know people in my life who have real jobs who can get frustrated when they ask what I am doing and I say ‘just thinking…’ It’s best to do your creative work away from people who will find ways to criticise you, or offer you ‘work opportunities’ around the home. This also includes your own inner voice that may well self sabotage by helping you avoid failure by causing massive procrastination. A writers home that is clean and tidy is a worrying sign.
- Environments and activities you can use to stimulate creativity
So what can we do? Getting up at 5am, hot showers, driving, walking outside, going to the gym, working in silence, working with music, yoga, switching off phones and the internet… We know all these things right? So there is a bigger question of wehy we find it so hard to commit to these and other strategies. And we all have great reasons and excuses. Consider that any failures you may be experiencing in your writing, creativity and career may be nothing to do with your ideas and EVERYTHING to do with your environment, patterns and working habits. Look hard at those reasons and excuses because most of them are like your creativity, wonderful works of fiction. No-one likes to hear this, and we all react by saying ‘Hey, my reasons and excuses are real you know…’ Are they? I know mine are not and they do feel very real and can dominate if I allow them to.
As a final thought, about 20 years ago I read a book about successful screenwriters, and what struck me most was that almost every one of them had a writing regime that began very early, between 4am and 7am and their work was almost always done by midday. After that, they then did their correspondence and business.
I know I kick back against this idea, believing I am most creative late at night. I may be creative then, but the question is how can I manifest creativity EVERY DAY for my entire life. The answer is simple – I need a sustainable routine. Late nights just don’t work with life, year on year, but early mornings do.
I am just offering a strategy based on observation of success, and it may or may not work for you. But do consider it.
Onwards and upwards!