Never start creating by staring at a blank page and waiting for ideas to come to you. That’s death. You might as well plan a party and invite the Grim Reaper.
[Note: as always, I will speak about writing, but this applies equally well to other creative pursuits, such as music, art, design, etc.]
10 Ways to Kick Start the Creative Process
1. May I Ask a Question?
It could be something you wonder, or something a person asked you recently, or a problem you are trying to solve. Listen to the questions you are asking other people. Get curious. And dance with the curiosity. The interplay between you and your curiosity fuels creative ideas.
2. Someone Once Said
It could be a passage in a book, or a section of an article, or a post from someone’s blog. Extra points for something unrelated to your usual work. Pick something small. Write it down. Memorize it. The fun is working with the quote, working against it, turning it upside down, taking it to a higher level, etc. (If you are not yet in the habit of reading, you should consider adding a reading plan to your creative lifestyle.)
3. First Thoughts
Sometimes waking up in the morning is like walking in on a conversation that’s been going on all night in my head. And these are often the best creative sparks that come to me all day. Plan for this by focusing on something interesting before you go to bed. Then put a notebook next to your bed and capture your first thoughts of the day, whatever they are. Even if they are not magical, they can be useful. Note: the practice of writing as clearing is a well-honored discipline in creativity (see Morning Pages).
4. Space Out
Go somewhere and spend time just noticing the space. What’s here? How does it feel? What used to happen here? What wants to happen here? If this space were personified, what would its characteristics be? What message does the space have for you? Create from the gift of this space.
5. Better, Stronger, Faster
Start from something you already finished. How can this piece be improved? Turn it upside down—what would it be like to create the opposite piece? Where else could this go? What would happen if you added something unrelated to the mix here (like shoes, or bitterness, or humidity, or grace)?
Start with something you can’t stand, something you really disagree with, something you can’t live with. Then challenge it—why doesn’t it work? Then try it on—what works about it?
7. Listening to the Air
Quiet your spirit. Get comfortable. Pay attention to your slow, steady breathing. Notice what you are thinking about, and then put your attention back on your breathing. If it’s noisy in there, write down what’s going on to clear out your head, and then jump back to meditation. Stay quiet. As the noise settles, listen for a clear voice. If you hear something, create from there. If you don’t, create from not knowing.
8. Golden Conversations
We talk all the time to lots of people, but not all conversations are created equal. Take a look at the people in your Focus 50 and pick out a few gems—the people who offer the richest, most meaningful conversations. Take them out and spend some quality time talking. If this seems awkward, you have the wrong person. When the conversation is over, spend an hour writing down what was valuable about this connection. Create from that value.
One way to become a great creative is to live a great life. Go do something really adventurous, something way outside the box. This may take planning, money, and commitment. Good. This cost is your way of honoring your creative spirit. It’s worth it. I learned the value of this from a “Golden Conversation” with Wynne Miller. Check out her wild adventures.
10. Mix and Match
Combine two of the above ideas. What would it be like to try “Not” with “Space Out”? How about starting “Golden Conversation” by reading something “Someone Once Said”? What if a “First Thought” was the starting point for an “Adventure”?
Whatever you decide to do, start the creative process away from the screen and then come back to your workspace with a running start. You’re going to have fun with this, I can tell.