Don’t Force Creativity, Harness It.

This article was originally written for online publication The Mission – Accelerated Learning, Tech, Antifragility, and Definite Optimism

Yesterday morning, as I drowsily sat in the crowded tube carriage on my way to work, my brain flung out a smidgen of creativity. Amidst the autonomous commands of keep breathing and don’t miss your stop, it found the resource to blurt an idea for my story’s next chapter.

And it was great! Not drunken idea great but genuinely good!

Well, it was a bit rough around the edges, but it was enough to prompt me to fumblingly jot it down on my phone before it escaped the realms of sleepy commuter’s short-term memory.

This is how my mind seems to operate. Hopefully I’m not alone.

To me, creativity is not something that should be forced, but be allowed to grow and take hold naturally and progressively.

How many of us have set aside an afternoon to focus on a project, a creative endeavour or artwork, only to spend it staring at a blank screen or piece of paper whilst the right side of our brain leaves you to take a day-trip with the portion that yells out random reminders about food shopping, not leaving the oven on and whether you locked the car. We persevere, reigning in the left side as supply teacher, but the results are never as complete or organic as we aimed for.

Creativity should not be seen as a mere task to complete or a problem to solve, it is the perfect excuse to let the mind do the exact thing we curse it for every day. Wander.

For instance, it’s well documented that the mind races whilst we sleep, with many studies both in terms of analytical and creative processes. So, if an afternoon of intentional “idea generation” resulted in a less than desirable result, the perfect brainwave will usually appear the following day whilst your attention is focussed elsewhere. Subconsciously, you’ve been brewing this master-stroke for hours, but you refuse to publish it to yourself until the (un)optimum moment.

When I first decided to be more “serious” about my hobby in digital art and started publicly showing pieces I had created on sites like DeviantArt or social platforms such as Myspace or Facebook, I felt compelled to push myself and produce work on a highly regular basis. So many other talented people, I knew I was a small fish in an ocean. (I still am, and you know what, that’s totally OK. There will always be people better than you.) But with that self-imposed pressure, the ideas became staler, and fewer in number. My hopes at improvement seemed to result in the opposite effect.

Whether it be digital, physical, a piece of art or literary prose, formulating the beginnings of a new creation and then letting the result develop at an organic, rather than hurried pace almost always results in something more pleasing, complete and unique.

In the same way that quantity does not equal quality, enforced creativity is not creative.

However there are many ways to help harness these bursts of creativity and the process alongside. Below are just a key few.

Mobile Tools: I often rely on my phone or tablet. Being able to quickly record or scribble ideas with a good note-taking or sketching app such as Google Keep, Docs, Artflow, Sketchbook Pro, Evernote (others are available!). Bonus points if they can not only synch with a PC to develop the initial musings, but can also be used offline.

Old School: Personal Sketchbooks, notebooks, diaries… napkins. Many people keep a little notepad by their bedside for the moments when they wake up at 2am yelling “Eureka”. Not all your dreams are daft. Some of the best ideas start off as the mad ones.

Read More: Studies have also shown that reading, particularly fiction, helps stimulate the brain and improve function on a variety of levels including imagination and creativity.

..reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports. (Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today)

Go for a Run: Similar to a good book, a good jog can also enhance creativity and studies have backed this up. So if that empty page isn’t filling itself despite your urge to do so, take a few laps around the neighbourhood. You’ll probably have a moment of genius before you get back.

I wish I could flick a switch and enter [creative mode] at will. Some people can, and I’m quite envious. But I feel there is also an inherent beauty to the moment when the seeds of an idea, a spark of artistic merit present themselves to you from idle pondering, resulting in your own “lightbulb moment”.

The real trick is to take these seeds and lovingly grow your product of creativity from them.

Lighting Designer, Freelance Graphic Artist and Self-Confessed Photoshopaholic.