Instead of creating until you have nothing left, take it from those who are doing it right. Aim for a more focused, inspired and productive style of creative work.
Let’s be honest — creative work is hard.
Not the typical kind of hard. Creative professionals certainly aren’t out there sweating under the hot sun, risking our lives, or (gasp) enduring a dreaded retail position. But we are creating, and that is no joke.
It’s a different kind of hard — the kind we can’t always wrap our heads around. The inspiration comes and the inspiration goes. We pound out line after line of work, to come to the end and feel the sudden urge to trash every word of it.
We invoke the muse, sit down, and hope against hope this time we offer up something that will be well received.
In an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was asked what he plans to do after the show, which, after seven seasons, is coming to an end. He said he is going to prime the pump — spend time in the real world connecting with friends, observing, eavesdropping, and taking notes.
This reveals something about the creative process that is important. Creativity is not limited, but our ability to tap it is. We have to do the work behind the work.
But before we cultivate a plan, let’s take a look at those who are in our space and who are getting it right. Here are 8 things successful creatives do, paired with suggestions on what that can look like for you.
1. They know their own creative rhythm.
When you are beginning something, how do you feel? What about when you are in the midst of your creative flow, and when it is coming to an end? Pay attention to your mind and your body when you are creating, and act on those signals. Don’t ignore them.
2. They are aware of where they are in the process.
Half the battle is simply staying present. Sometimes the process is as basic as recognizing a deadline and sticking to it, or you may set up small victory moments along the way to complete a larger project. Wherever you are, respect that every phase is different.
3. They step away from the computer.
When they complete something, they allow themselves to truly be finished. As creators, they want to constantly edit and improve. But when they deliver a finished product, they let it go, and stand on it’s own two feet.
4. They engage in mindless activities.
When we create, we are tapping our minds in an intense way, and utilizing parts of our brain that need rest, just like our bodies. So when you are in between projects, give your mind a break. Let it wander. Turn off the running to-do list in your head (if you can), and just see where your thoughts go.
5. They spend time with people in real life.
Our altered sense of digital connection cannot replace real face time with the people in our lives. Sit down for a couple hours and just talk with someone. Listen, engage, and see what you can learn from them. Conversations are powerful, and fill us up in ways that no tweet reply or comment ever could.
6. They seek out a new environment or experience.
Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to get things moving. Your physical space can have a huge impact on your ability to create, so if you find yourself in a rut, go somewhere new. It doesn’t have to be an über-creative office space- under a tree or a new coffee shop might be just the thing.
7. They do something else.
Are you a writer? Then do a little design. Are you a painter? Grab a journal and write something down. When we are expected to be creative in one capacity over and over again, we can begin to view it as a chore. But when we tap into other creative activities, it can give us perspective, and feed our energy and love for what we do.
8. They exert physical energy.
Whenever you feel stuck, there is nothing more effective than moving your body. Research proves getting a little exercise is one of the best things we can do to stimulate our minds. Who doesn’t need more endorphins in their bloodstream? Even a quick, brisk walk can do the trick.
Eliminate the Noise
There is so much noise out there — from visual noise to information noise. Take a few minutes to just be quiet — turn off the music, close your eyes, and breathe. You’d be surprised what may come up when you purposefully take time to just be.
If there is one thing creative people are good at, it is noticing. But when we are doing the work, we are hyperfocused. When you find yourself tapping out, stop and notice. As Matthew Weiner said in his interview, do some eavesdropping. Listen to what is going on around you.
Watch people as they walk by, and imagine their backstory. Spend some time observing something small and typically obscured from view.
There is creative power in noticing the little things. Here’s to doing your best work.