Science has given us all kinds of cool hacks for tricking our brains into thinking more creatively. But what about living a more creative life? Do we have to move to a commune or take up improvisational yoga?
Nope! Living a life conducive to achieving creative goals is perfectly possible without setting up shop in a yurt. Here are a few concrete, actionable tips that have made my life more productive—and, yes, more creative.
1. Schedule your creative time
Some people will tell you to “make dates” for creativity, but try going one step further: Make specific, recurring dates to participate in a creative activity that somebody else runs. Whether that means attending a weekly open mic for musicians or comedians, volunteering at a monthly art walk, or participating in National Novel Writers Month, find a creative outlet that doesn’t make you responsible for the logistics.
Seeking out creative events around my city has been invaluable to me as a creative person. I get to see other people’s work, I gain energy from participating in something that already has a strong core of regulars, and if I miss a week, I don’t feel so bad—I know the show will go on without me.
2. Make friends with creative people
Creative people are pretty awesome in general, but there are two excellent (selfish) reasons to befriend them: feedback and competition.
Feedback on your work is great, but you don’t want just anyone’s input; you want to hear from people you respect, who share your tastes and goals. Creative friends are the magnificent folks who really get where you’re coming from, and can—gently, sarcastically, straightforwardly, or whatever adverb works best for you—help you get where you’re going.
In terms of competition, you don’t have to live your life like American Idol. However, a group of creative friends will push you to be more productive. You’ll be inspired by the things they’re doing and want to share your own work with them, maybe even collaborate. This adds up to a busier, more creative you.
3. Defy algorithms
From Google to Facebook to Spotify, websites use algorithms to show you things they think you’ll like, based on what you’ve liked in the past. This can make it easy to accidentally fall into an echo chamber of ideas, which is pretty much the antithesis of creativity.
Break out of your shell by seeking opposites. If you like hard rock, look up a classical composer and listen to some of their work. If you’re ultra-liberal, find out what a conservative blogger has to say about the issues du jour. If you’re a graphic designer, watch some YouTube videos of ballroom dancers. You don’t have to change your mind—just let yourself in on new experiences.
4. Stay well-versed in your field, but don’t feel pressured to obsess
As a creative person, you’ll be told you should be consuming whatever you create: Game designers should play new games, writers should be reading, etcetera. And this is absolutely true. But there’s no set amount you have to consume. I have poet friends who can listen to poetry performances for hours—hours!—then go home and head to YouTube for even more poetry. Me, I like to read maybe one poem a week and ruminate on it, but if I sit down for a Saw marathon? Bam! Suddenly I’m writing.
If geeking out is what fuels you, then by all means, binge. But don’t think you’re depriving yourself of inspiration if you don’t have that urge. Who knows? Maybe your best idea will come to you while you’re watching Chopped.
5. When you’re on a creative roll, go a little further
Let’s say you’ve gotten an idea and you’re generating like a fiend. Good for you! Surveying your work, you deem it Pretty Okay, and decide to stop for the day.
In my experience, this is the exact point at which you should roll up your sleeves and dig back in for another ten to fifteen minutes. I consistently find that even better ideas are lurking beneath my pretty-okay ones, waiting to be roused from their slumber.
6. But accept when you’ve hit a wall
… That said, eventually you’ll genuinely run out of steam. Sometimes you can rejuvenate yourself with coffee or walks or a brainstorming session with one of those creative friends you made earlier. Other times, the only solution is to sleep on it. Part of living a creative life is learning to be gentle with yourself: This is a marathon, not a sprint, and nobody can be creative 24/7.
7. Take menial task breaks
When you’re working furiously on a project and sense you’re falling into a rut, get up and go make coffee. Switching from “hurry up loser, are you a creative genius or not??” to “grab a filter, push the button, listen to burbles” performs a sort of hard reset on your brain, freeing you from counterproductive wheel-spinning.
Instead of beating yourself up when you hit a mental roadblock, get into the habit of finding yourself a small, distracting task to do.
8. Ride the bus
It may sound strange, but public transportation is one of my favorite places to get creative. The familiar route and lack of having to drive puts my brain into soft focus, enabling maximum daydream. The people around me come from all walks of life, and provide plenty of enlightening eavesdropping opportunities (or what writers like to call “research”). For me, the combination of dreamy boredom and unexpected stimuli is ideal for brand-new ideas.
Have you been trying to live more creatively lately? Share your stories (or your work!) with us in the comments.