As a creative, you may be used to having a lot of ideas.
But what if you don’t think of yourself as being creative?
I remember when there was a time when I thought I was the most un-creative person in the world.
Doing the same type of work for so long, in an industry allergic to change (banking), I gradually stopped learning and growing. As a result my ‘idea muscle’ dried up.
When I decided to pursue my passion of writing, I was quite horrified to find that I just couldn’t think of anything to write. Many people will tell you to ‘just write’.
But what if you don’t know what to write about?
That is what happened to me. I didn’t know what to write.
I had no ideas at all.
Do you ever feel like this?
If so, keep reading as I share 3 key points I discovered on my path to becoming more creative.
Understand we are inherently creative beings
We were born with a creative impulse. Think of new-born babies and how creative they are in getting your attention when they need something. We were BORN creative.
So it’s not a matter of ‘i’m not creative’, rather than a question of ‘how can I unlock my creativity?’.
Being creative means seeing the world with a fresh pair of eyes in every moment.
How many times have you walked down your street and not noticed the pink garage attached to the corner house? Or not noticed the white blossom growing from your neighbour’s garden? Or not noticed the smell of rain as it hits the damp earth?
How many of these things do we just take for granted and let them slip away from our attention?
Being creative means allowing your self to experience new things. Instead of being inflexible, open up to new possibilities.
The first time I ever went to the theatre was only because a friend insisted I go with her. I didn’t know what to expect but had a preconceived idea that theatre shows were boring, cramped and generally entertainment suited to the older generation.
But after that one show I was hooked! I was blown away with the live performances, live music and how the stage transformed from one scene to the next with basic props. The experience was so intimate and energetic. I was hooked!
I now try to catch a show at the theatre every 1-2 months. I’ve completely fallen in love with the live performance, the coziness of the production and just about everything about it including the small seats!
But I would never have known my love for theatre if I had not allowed myself to open up to the experience.
Try doing something totally new this week:
- Don’t spend time in nature? Then take a walk in the park.
- Only play one type of sport? Try out a new class you have never been to before.
- Only drink English Breakfast tea? Try cardamom tea this week.
When you open yourself up to new possibilities, you begin to notice what is going on around you. And this is where ideas come from.
For example, I was leafing through the newspaper when I came across an advert for a tea called ‘Fairy Lady’s Golden Fingers’. This is a type of green tea. But it was the description that caught my attention.
It said the tea was named after the legend of a fairy lady who lived in Tai Pu Mountains of the Fujian province of China. This particular tea was hand-made in one village only. I took note of this idea as I can see it turning into some sort of story, or as a character in a story! All that matters now is to capture it.
How Do I Become More Creative?
Rule #1: Capture all ideas you notice
This can be from a photo, video or newspaper clipping you saw. This could even be a word or a single sentence that sparked an idea.
Whatever the form it comes, your job is to take note of it and capture it. You may not know when you use that idea in your work, but for now, we just want to get into the habit of capturing the ideas.
Rule #2: Create a swipe file
This is the place where you will store all of your ideas. Its called a swipe file because it’s a file where you store ideas that you have ‘swiped’ or taken from others.
And it is perfectly OK to swipe ideas from others (remember, no idea is original, we all take ideas and information from each other and then add our own view to it). No art is original. It’s what we do with the ideas that is original.
As Picasso said:
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Newspaper reporters call the swipe file the ‘morgue file’. It’s where you keep the dead things that you will later reanimate back into your life i.e ideas you can use for later.
I am a fan of creating habits and this has extended to the habit of noticing and documenting any ideas that come to me.
It does take a little bit of effort to do when you are just starting out. But if something calls out to you, it means you need to pay it attention. Who knows what wonderful work you will create which was sparked by a photo you saw?
I used to make little notes in my email to document my ideas but I now use the Evernote app. It’s free to use (there are paid features you can upgrade to).
What I like about this app is that it allows you to capture ideas in video, photo or text. I used to take a lot of newspaper clippings which would result in piles of paper on my desk. Most of the time I would end up losing key pieces of information. But now I just take a photo of it with my iPhone and store it all to Evernote.
I use the tagging feature to tag my notes so that I know what they relate to I.e non-fiction book, character idea, blog post idea. So when I am searching for something I can find it quicker.
You can also collect your ideas in a non-digital format such as a scrapbook. You can cut and paste things into it.
Make sure you always carry a notebook with you. You never know when your phone battery might just die on you, or the app freezes, or won’t open when you don’t have internet connectivity.
- The artist David Hochney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook.
- The musician Arthur Russel liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheet.
Rule #3: When you need inspiration open your swipe file
Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file!
We all have those days when you just don’t seem to have any ideas at all no matter how hard you try. Or perhaps you just need some inspiration?
If so, open up the swipe file, your scrapbook or Evernote and scroll through all the nuggets of creativity you have stored there.
Most of my blog post ideas come from one line sentences that came to me whilst I was at the gym or commuting and I add it to Evernote.
Then when I need to write a blog post, I simply scroll down the list of ideas I have and pick one which seems to sing out to me.
In this way I spend less time worrying about not knowing what to write about, and instead can focus on the writing itself.
As you notice more ideas and capture them, you will also notice that you begin to come up with your own ideas. And these ideas will be a mixture of what you already see outside in the world around you, as well as your own creative thoughts that will be unique to you.
How do you capture your ideas? Please share in the comments below.