Now that we've worked through understanding the basic creative process thanks to the help of Graham Wallas's work, The Art of Thought (no longer in print), we can move on to the tactical nitty gritty of helping you increase your creativity.
Check out Part 1 and learn about the creative process
Many blog posts that talk about increasing creativity talk about tasks that sound like "frolic through the fields" or "give yourself constraints". While those things are great (I personally like frolicking through the fields) they can actually work against you if you don't understand where these tasks can fit into the creative process.
Before we get started let me say that there are a number of theories out there surrounding the creative process. Many of them are based off of the original work of Graham Wallas. These four stages are simply a starting point or over view of the basic creative process. I believe that as you continue your creative journey you will develop your own process, tips and tricks to work through roadblocks and obstacles that arise as you work on your projects and ideas.
12 Things You Can Do to Increase Your Creativity
If you go back and read Part 1 of this series you will see that there are four stages to creativity: preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and verification. In that post I go into more depth in describing what happens during each stage.
The important part is being aware of these different stages and what you can do within each stage to help you stay productive.
When You are in The Preparation Stage
In the preparation stage you are defining the problem or idea. For example this is the stage when you are coming up with your book idea for the first time. You are thinking about why you are writing the book, what it's going to be about and perhaps what it's going to feel like to hold your book in your hand for the first time!
So you sit down and you start to brainstorm some ideas. This is not the time to edit your ideas. You will only be met with blockage and frustration.
1. Do a brain dump - get a large piece of paper with no lines and just start writing down all of your ideas for topics and chapters you want to write about. Draw pictures, clip out magazine pictures and past them on there. Do whatever you need to do to get your ideas out of your head and onto some paper. There is great power in this.
2. Set a few parameters - Sometimes creativity can come out of setting a few boundaries for yourself whereas too much freedom can actually paralyze you. Giving yourself a challenge can be a great way to spark creativity in this phase. For example, when I was making my first film project we decided to enter a film contest. The contest had restraints such as a time limit, a verse from the Bible we had to integrate into the film along with a strict time limit. Because of these limits we were forced to be creative in coming up with solutions quickly whenever a problem would arise during production.
3. Gather research without judgement and reflect- This is a great time to learn more about your topic of choice. Say for instance, you have an idea for a dance theater piece and you would like to choreograph something really cool and different. Take some time to research different topics surrounding your project like the style of dance, the era in which the style came out of. Maybe get your hands on footage from different dance theater shows in the genre you are thinking about. Go to different dance programs, take classes outside of your genre for inspiration. Do all this without judgement in how you will incorporate it into your project. Just gather the experiences and then write about your reflections and thoughts. You might discover some really interesting insights.
When You are in The Incubation Stage
This is the stage where I think many articles try to address the feeling of being stuck in the creative process by suggesting different activities to "increase your creativity". In actuality these are just things to do during the the incubation stage. I think that this stage is almost involuntary - at least for me. I can usually sense when it's time to step away from what I'm working on and do something else for a while so I can come back refreshed with new ideas.
This is the stage where the unconscious mind really starts doing the work that will eventually get you those "aha" moments. The trick is to find activities that allow your conscious mind to be engaged just enough that your unconscious mind can easily work. I like to think of it like getting into a state where your unconscious mind is able to work just below the surface of your conscious mind. For me that looks like doing activities that don't require so much focus that I can't let my mind wander through the field of imagination.
4. Unplug from technology - Studies have now validated that the increased time on media can affect our higher order cognitive functions. These higher functions include selective attention, problem solving, inhibition and multi-tasking. We need these higher functions to perform at our best when it comes to being creative. Social media has been linked to depression and now there is even a branch of psychology reserved for mental health issues linked to social media. I'm sure that whenever you take a break from social media you can literally feel yourself becoming more calm and centered - I know that is true for me. When you are able to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings without the clutter and distraction of media, you can give space to the creative roaming that your unconscious mind needs to do during this stage.
5. Get out in nature - Have you ever hear of Attention Restoration Theory (ART)? This theory suggests that there is a cognitive advantage that comes with time immersed in nature by "replenishing depleted attentional resources". After spending time in nature (or looking at natural scenery) ART suggests that people will have better concentration and reduced stress through something called the "soft-fascination" effect where you can reach a more introspective state which then allows the imagination to "frolic in the fields" if you will. So after you unplug from technology get out in nature for a while.
6. Practice Temporal Distancing (daydreaming) - Say What? Yeah, it's a real thing. Temporal Distancing is really a fancy way of imagining yourself in a time and space that is in the future. People do this all the time when they are daydreaming - especially creative people - but it's actually a way that you can flex your creativity muscle. Research on how psychological distance influences individual thought and behavior looks at something called Construal level theory (CLT). This theory asserts that when objects that are psychologically near to you that they are interpreted in less abstract ways. For example, two people that are having coffee will see their coffee cup and describe it's color, weight, what's in it, etc. When you imagine something at different dimensions (time, space, what-if's, social distance) you instead interpret things in a more abstract way. Now the coffee cup represents a lifestyle in which you have enough time to sit with a friend. You begin to think in terms of ideas rather than stable characteristics. In essence there is a relationship between developing our abstract thinking and our imagination. BAM!
So the next time someone gets on you about daydreaming tell them you are working on your Temporal Distancing and testing the Construal level theory. That'll shut them up so you can continue the incubation phase in peace.
When you are in the Illumination Phase
This is your Eureka! phase where you can unexpectedly experience flashes of genius and insight all within a few seconds, minutes or hours. It seems to come upon us like a rush of wind and then leaves, causing us to grasp at the echoes of what's left like mad people. "Wait. What was I going to say again? It was so good."
Have you ever been there? In this phase my suggestions are more surrounding preparation for this phase. I want you to be able to grab those illuminations and hold on to them so you can go into the next phase of creativity with excitement.
7. Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times - There is nothing worse than having a flash of genius and not having a way to record that idea. There is something really powerful about the written word. I mean written on paper that is. It's more powerful than the words that you are reading on your screen right now. Imprinting your ideas with your own flesh and emotion onto a page is seemingly otherworldly. Keep a notebook that inspires the heck out of you. If you can't find one - make one. It's a priceless item when it can hold your amazing ideas!
8. Use your phone don't let it use you - Remember when we used our phones to call people? Now it seems that our phones use us by sucking us into social media, answering emails and consuming random content that doesn't move us forward in our lives. When an idea hits you and you aren't in the mode of implementing that idea, plot twist, or hook for your song use your phone to capture that thought.
Capture it visually -Take a picture of the thing that triggered that amazing idea and make a detailed note to remind you of your ida.
Memo yourself - Record the melody that was playing in your head. My husband is always humming incoherent tunes into his phone to remind himself later when he is composing. (It always baffles me how his weird humming turns out to be such musical masterpieces!)
Use your notes section on your phone - My notes section is large and in charge. I can always go back and look at my ideas for films, scripts, stories and even my epic grocery list if I want to. It's not the same as writing in a notebook for me but at least I can always go back to the idea later.
Keep your ideas on ONE or TWO places - Dear creative who loves to grab random pieces of paper, napkins or your kids to write your ideas on PLEASE STOP! It only brings heartbreak later on when you can't find your notes. Over the years I've learned the lovely and calm feeling one can get from being able to go back to one or two locations and always be able to find your idea. I know this is tough and I'm guilty of not doing it all the time but it's always a good thing to aspire to.
You are a fantastic drawer - Many people are afraid just as afraid of drawing in front of people as they are speaking in front of people. But for you I want you to believe that you are an amazing illustrator of your OWN idea. Sometimes it helps to jot down your idea in an abstract picture or diagram. I love doing this when I'm working on a structure for a play or business idea. I don't ever focus on my illustration skills but rather the idea and emotion driving the images. And of course if you are reading this and you are an illustrator by all means have fun with it!
9. Don't be afraid to stop what you are doing and grab the muse - Just to add to the quirkiness of creatives I think it's perfectly okay to ask someone to pause for a moment mid conversation so you can capture your idea. If it's a friend or family member they will (or should) love you enough not to get offended. Sometimes if I'm in a conversation I just let them know I'm taking notes on what they are saying when I'm really writing down the inspiration I'm getting from what they are saying. Got it? Don't let life stop you from capturing your illuminations.
When you are in the Verification Phase
In this phase you are taking everything that came to you during the Illumination phase and testing to see if it actually works or not. I'm not going to tell you how to verify your idea - you probably know that already depending on your area of creativity. If you are a writer that means you try out your new plot twist and see where it takes you. If you are a dancer you will put on the music and see if it works for you, if you are a musician you will try it out at your next session.
Rather I want you to have certain mindset in this phase.
10. Remember it's still a work in progress -While you are in this phase you are still testing your theories like a scientist. Since artists and creatives many (not all) times work from their intuition you will "just know" if something is working towards your vision or not. Sometimes people find that they might have to develop a new vision for the project if nothing is working - and THAT IS OKAY!
11. Be careful of too many cooks - My husband will always tell me stories of how he used to let people in the studio while he was building out his ideas for a song. As a young producer he would allow the noise from others influence his work so much that the song ended up...well "sucking" as he puts it. During this phase I would be very careful about who you let into the process. Don't be afraid to work until you absolutely need another set of eyes or ears on your project.
12. It will all work out - This is a phrase that I've had to tell myself over and over again when I'm creating something. There are moments for all of us when we are working and it just feels like nothing is coming together. One thing that was common to theater and my work as a competitive gymnast was that there was some kind of "magic" that would happen on the day of a performance after really terrible rehearsals or practices. It takes a level of faith and perseverance to lean into your creativity. Stay the course and trust the process.
I hope that these tips really and truly help you on your creative journey. It's important to remember that this is NOT a linear process. You are constantly going back and forth between all of these phases. You could even be going through them at the same time! While you are fiddling on your guitar maybe another song is being worked out subconsciously in the background. Perhaps while you are working on your final draft for a screenplay you get an idea for another screenplay (that happens to me all. the. time.)
So go forth and create.