Let’s talk about creativity. Just you and I.
I get a lot of questions about “creativity” from a lot of different people, from students who are wrestling with a paper to business people who are looking to shake things up…and everybody wants to know basically the same thing: How can I be more creative?
Listen: Creativity is an elusive muse. She’s transparent and flits carelessly between trees and skyscrapers and gym lockers, and if you’re lucky you just catch a glimpse of her. But that’s the beautiful thing about her: all you need is a glimpse. You just get one look at her dead-on in the eye. And then she’s gone.
Too many of us forget the nature of creativity. Too many of us sit at our Very Important Desk and try really hard to come up with something creative. We start to sweat, our forehead gets furrows in it and our eyes get all squinty. Basically we look like we’re pooping. And there’s nothing less creative than pooping. When you look like you’re pooping, what comes out of you is probably going to be poop.
This is why chapter 4 has so much corn imagery.
That’s our problem: we go after the creative muse like she’s a big game animal; we arm ourselves with special paper and razor-sharp pens and just the right kind of Lapsang souchong tea and Coltrane’s best album and settle in to our temperature-controlled animal blind waiting for her to come by so we can shoot her, tie her up, and force her to give up all her secrets.
It’s supposed to be fun, and a lot of you are sucking the joy right out of it. You’re trying too hard.
Now, this is the point at which most creative guys like me will tell you: just relax, dude, let it flow, become one with the multiverse and the ideas will come to you.
But that, my little ones, is a big fat lie. In fact, relaxing and letting it flow probably a worse decision than trying to hunt the bitch down. Waiting is passive, waiting is uninvolved, waiting is weak. Waiting for her to show up at her own timetable is a great way to find yourself hanging out on reddit for a month looking at cat videos.
You know you’ve seen it.
Creativity is a muscle. You’ve got to exercise it. “But wait!” you say, “You’re telling me if I go into full beast mode I’ll scare her away, but if I do nothing, my creative muscle shrivels up until it looks like Olive Oyl’s bicep. That’s not fair!”
Good point. Your problem is you need a problem.
Remember: the entire reason creativity exists is because we need to solve problems. That’s where creativity came from in the first place. It’s not about writing a great story or coming up with a better way to sell inflatable pool slides, not at a fundamental level. It’s about your ability to solve a specific problem at a specific time. It’s about finding a creative way around a problem.
Want to exercise your creative muscles? Here’s a problem for you to solve.
How did this happen?
No doubt you’re thinking of answers right now. The pot is bubbling. That elusive muse is peeking around the side of your door, giving you an idea. Don’t look right at her or she’ll disappear.
Now we go one step further. We offer her a chance to stick around. You already came up with your idea of how this happened (the most common answers? There is a road, bridge or farm truck just off camera from which the animal jumped). But here’s how you get that creative minx to stick around. Ask this question: what is the dumbest possible reason this happened?
Now your creative survival brain is really engaged. Now it’s a competition.
Take a crack at this problem. If you’re really stuck, ask some friends. You’ll be surprised how fast those muscles start flexing.
I’ll give a iTunes gift card to whoever comes up with the dumbest answer.
A.R.Witham is the creator behind Black Jack, the world’s first animated novel for iPad.