After a decade studying how creatives do what they do the answer is simple: they work. No one wants to hear this, but creativity is best thought of as a kind of effort, not an abstract thing – it’s what goes on when you are trying to solve a problem. The problem could be writing a poem, making a song, designing a website, anything. But no creative person in history was creative in a practical sense without applying effort to some kind of project.
The biggest difference between you and Picasso, or Beyoncé, or whoever your creative heroes are is that they out work(ed) you. They spend more time in front of a canvas, or guitar, or computer, working away at applying their minds and souls to specific things. Even if that thing is just trying to get what is in their head out into rough sketches or handwritten ramblings.
Want to be more creative? Pick a problem you care about and get to work. If you don’t care about anything, your problem isn’t creativity, it’s apathy. If you start things and give up, your problem isn’t creativity, it’s dedication. Can’t focus for long? Then learn the skill of concentration. Find yourself blocked? Learn about incubation and stepping away to let your subconscious do the work. Are you waiting for an epiphany? Study how they really work.
Few people in history that we call creatives today read books or took courses on creativity. Instead they apprenticed with masters in a craft and worked with them. They did the grunt work until they had the skills needed to do more sophisticated work. They learned how to develop ideas and deliver finished work by working. Often doing work that was not very good until their skill caught up with their ambition. There is no other way.
Don’t believe me? Pick any creative hero, and any creative work they’re famous for, and investigate how many sketches, or drafts, or attempts they had to make to get it right. They may have had flashes of insight here and there, but those came while they were working hard. Ideas are cheap, it’s the commitment to make ideas real that’s rare.
- The Dance of the Possible – my short, fun and inspiring book on how to be creative. (Free excerpt so you can can give it a spin).
- Creative Thinking Hacks
- Saving Your Creative Soul
(Note: originally posted on Quora)