Ever since I finished my last final in December, creativity has consumed my mental space. I’ve been trying out a handful of new creative outlets — including blogging here on Medium — and I thought I’d share three analogies that are helping me become more creative.
It’s best to think of your mind as a sponge.
A few days ago, I was having a conversation with my friend, Max Reisinger, and my brother about creativity, and Max mentioned how he goes through highs and lulls in his creative output. To paraphrase him a bit, he goes through times when he soaks up a variety of information through videos and reading books just as like a sponge absorbs water. Then he release his ideas to the rest of the world through his creative outlets, just as a sponge releases water upon squeezing it. In Max’s case, he makes videos on YouTube, runs a clothing brand, and just started a media production company. The guy is rocking ‘n’ rolling, building a community of likeminded individuals through his creative expression. He’s a great example of what consistent creative flow can look like.
I’m particularly drawn to this analogy because it removes the pressure of constantly being at “peak” creativity. As humans, we need time for inspiration just as much as we need time to create.
Creativity is like a faucet: you have to get the dirty water out before the clear water can flow.
I first heard this advice when Shawn Mendes was on Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard — he received it from Ed Sheeran as means of approaching songwriting — and I’ve found that it is the best way of approaching any creative pursuit, whether it be making music, writing, or painting.
Let’s be honest for a moment: most of your ideas are going to be shit. I sure know most of mine are, and that’s just a statistical reality.
For a long time, I let this fact deject me from starting or even tasting ice cream (you can read more about that problem here).
What’s the point of putting your time and effort into something if it isn’t going to be any good?
That question is well intentioned but utterly naive when you are just beginning. You can’t learn to optimize your work until you have work to optimize. And, that work doesn’t exist if you don’t just start and let your worst ideas — the dirty water — flow first.
What I now look for when I sit down to write or make a video or edit a podcast episode is the 1% of my work that will actually make a difference, that actually stands out.
Here’s the kicker, though: you never know what that 1% will be.
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: some of your “worst work” actually ends up being your most impactful. That’s precisely why I publish most of my work. So what if something I write is garbage? At least I’m getting through my dirty water to get to the clean water down the line. (But also, most people will move on with their lives and forget about it, especially when you have a small audience at the start.)
A quick aside before moving to the last analogy: thinking of creativity as a faucet is particularly salient because, in my experience, creativity can be hard to stop once you get started. When I’m writing, I frequently get into a flow state where my ideas are seemingly endless and it can be hard to keep track of them all. If this begins to happen to you, my main recommendation is to just let it all come out. You don’t need to write a full blown article or book or make a video or painting when it does occur, but you should definitely write those ideas down! I promise that it is way easier to look at a piece of paper or a note on your phone and remember what you were thinking then than it is to hold your ideas in your mind (which you can read more about here).
It’s best to think of yourself as a DJ as you create.
99% of everything created in the next year will not be truly novel. What I mean by that is that we will not see as much groundbreaking, revolutionary technology created in the next year as we will see slight tweaks to existing ideas, products, and services. That shouldn’t depress us, however. I think its very existing. Think about how many successful blogs, channels, podcasts, businesses, non-profits, etc. do functionally the same work yet still coexist and flourish. That is a beautiful feat of our modern world, and it deeply inspires me.
So, if what we create is rarely ever groundbreaking, what should we focus on?
My guiding philosophy is to say things that matter to me from my unique perspective. I’m sure that other people have said similar things in the past. In fact, that is likely the same reason why people read, watch, or listen to what I create. People want to feel heard and seen and creating is one way of doing that.
All creative work builds on previous creative work. So, there is no problem with creating something that is only 1% different from everything out there in the world. Who knows? That 1% difference could be the meaning difference to make a message resonate with a larger audience.
If you want to increase your creativity, it’s best to think of yourself as a DJ who is mixing songs together. Are DJs like Tiesto or David Guetta doing anything groundbreaking? Probably not. Are DJs still producing top-charting music? Absolutely.