• Ben Stranahan

Taking Control of Your Creativity

With responsibilities to both work and family, it can be hard to find the time of day to be creative. It weighs on us when we must suppress our creative passions in order to fulfill our obligations. However, creativity doesn’t always have to take a backseat. Here are a few tips about making time for and taking control of your creative energy:

  • Leave Work at Work

  • Try not to daydream about your creative pursuits on company time; low work performance can jeopardize the source of steady income that a young artist or creative needs to survive on. Instead, maximize your productivity during work hours to allow yourself total freedom to be creative once you get home.

  • Though this is often easier said than done, condition yourself to leave the stresses and uncertainties of the office at the office. Many people need to be calm and clear before they can get into the Creative Zone.

  • Ritualize Your Creativity

  • Creative inspiration does not have to come randomly. Though artistic construction is not exactly as simple or mathematical as Poe would have you believe in his (likely facetious) Philosophy of Composition, he was correct in his claim that art is not solely the result of some euphoric, imaginative frenzy. There are steps you can take to increase your creativity (or at least to remove self-imposed barriers to it).

  • Set and Setting. By setting yourself in the right mindset, both consciously and unconsciously, you can open your mind to the muses with more control and consistency than ever before. If your schedule and living situation allow it, try to engage in your creative pursuits at a specific place and time every day. Respectfully request that you be left alone during this time to allow yourself the space, calm, and quiet to think and create.

  • Use a Transition Ritual. Find some specific action that you can perform each day before you transition out of Work or Family Mode and into Creative Mode. Soon, you will find that ideas come easier to you in this time and place.

  • Try out a Technique for Producing Ideas. Over 80 years ago, way back in 1940, advertising executive James Webb Young published his seminal book A Technique for Producing Ideas. At only 64 pages, the book can easily be read in a single sitting, but its impact will stay with you for years. Young’s five-step technique (which I will only provide a brief overview of) is simple:

  • STEP 1: Read and research. Gather new information, both specific (pertaining to the task at hand) and general interest (covering a wide range of subjects). This is the raw material that your unconscious mind will use to form the idea.

  • STEP 2: Actively and consciously think about the materials. Analyze, evaluate, make connections; turn them over and over in your mind.

  • STEP 3: Forget about it. Stop thinking about the matter entirely. Distract yourself with something exciting or relaxing.

  • STEP 4: Once you have stopped straining for an idea, they should begin rolling in, as your unconscious mind has done the work of connecting and combining old elements into a new idea for you.

  • STEP 5: Mold your idea into something useful. Share it, workshop it, and polish until complete.

  • As stated, this is only a brief overview of Young’s technique, and you’ll get a much better handle on it from reading the actual book (and it’s a really short read!). What’s so great about the technique is that it can work for almost anyone, and it can be applied in a wide range of situations. I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone looking to gain more control over their creativity. Read it and read it again.

  • “Writing on the Train”

  • Some people’s schedules don’t allow them a nice, clear-cut window for creativity. However, you don’t need two hours every day at the coffee shop to be creative; you can find your way into the Creative Zone almost anywhere. The application of their creativity is easier for some than others; screenwriters, novelists, poets, and lyricists can make progress on an actual work while squeezed between two strangers on the bus, but painters and choreographers and contortionists will probably have to wait until they get home. However, these types of artists can still contemplate their current projects or ideas for the future, writing down or sketching out ideas to try later. Valuable ideas can come at any time, and you never know when you’ll find the right combination of elements; write down every idea you get, no matter how trivial.

Hopefully these tips can get you thinking about ways you can change or improve your schedule (or some underutilized portions of it) in order to increase your creative output.

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