You stare at the page. You look at the problem from every angle and…nothing. Somewhere in your mind there’s a huge trunk of delicious, sexy, beautiful IDEAS, but that trunk is locked and you’ve forgotten where you put the keys. You have creative block.
You’ve tried everything to get something out, but you feel apathetic, lost, dry. There is a lot of great advice about how to break through creative block, and many of these suggestions will help you to feel better. But when it comes to producing, whether it be writing, designing, composing or creative problem solving, feeling good about yourself is not quite the same as actually getting it done.
When you’re on a deadline and you need to get something out, there’s only one thing you need to do. Maybe only one thing you can do.
Yes, I have hacked creativity and it’s just one very simple step away. I’m going to take away all the pain and free you from this eternal suffering. Come, take my hand.
Produce crappy work.
Oh, I can feel your hand tighten in mine.
Write a bunch of rubbish.
Feeling confused, maybe even scared?
Design like an amateur.
No, no don’t let go just yet. Listen.
Create something that is so vile, so contrived and ugly that the thought of anyone seeing it makes you feel physically sick. Use photos of your cat in your ebook design, write clichés, make a video of your lame coaching presentation. Design clothes to be worn exclusively by David Hasselhoff’s back up dancers in his next comeback tour.
Do awkward, do kitsch. Oh yes, do tacky, do repetitive, do weird!
If you’re feel ambitious, do the worst work you’ve ever done. There. It’s magic! You just went from producing NOTHING to producing loads and loads of truly awful ideas and corny creative work.
In fact, if you apply this one very simple hack to your creative endeavours, I guarantee you will never, EVER be stuck with creative block again. Not convinced?
Here’s How I Learned This Sorcery
If you don’t know, I’m passionate about writing fiction. My idea of the perfect Saturday includes sitting in my favourite café, wrestling with a manuscripts for hours.
One Saturday, years ago, I had the dream situation of about four hours to lavish on my very first attempt at a novel. But as I sat there sipping my coffee and staring at my laptop, I realised I had absolutely nothing to write. I’d been working on the project for several months, but my plot was not coming together, my characters were being cagey with me and I was starting to resent the whole damn thing.
A horrible sinking feeling came over me. I realised I’d been feeling off about this creative project for some time!
So instead of going home in tears of frustration, I started to write as many fart metaphors as I could squeeze in (or out, tee hee hee).
Yes, I have the mind of small child. I find farting, fart jokes, even the word fart hilarious. No I don’t plan on submitting a manuscript with 56 fart jokes to a literary agent any time soon (one or two will suffice really.) However, this challenge of writing the most stupid, unusable material kept me writing when all I really wanted to do was pull my hair out of my skull.
Instead of lamenting how little imagination and creativity I had, I was looking for opportunities to insert another reference to farts into the descriptions and dialogue. (Turns out I can introduce farts into just about any situation, see this post for examples.)
I tricked myself into writing even when I didn’t want to, even when I felt like I couldn’t. I gave myself permission to write a horrible, unsalvageable first novel. And you know what I finished it…and I haven’t looked at it since.
But shortly after that I had an idea for another novel, which I also finished after a year. Then a novella, which I finished after that. And then I got an idea for another novel that I’m currently working on. No matter how good or bad the writing is at times, I can keep writing because I’m not afraid of getting it wrong.
Why This Hack Works
If you ask me, there’s only one thing that chokes creativity: inhibitions. Fear that what we produce won’t be good enough, fear that we can’t do it, fear that it won’t be like the vision we have in our heads, fear that our ideas are inherently flawed or stupid.
The ideas haven’t stopped, we’ve just stopped putting them out there because they aren’t perfect. If you find yourself at the point where you won’t even let your stupid ideas out in the intimate place between your own pen and a piece of paper, then you my friend need to wake up to yourself.
What I’m saying is that you’re taking yourself way too seriously! It’s time to loosen up and see what happens.
What Science Says
You’ve heard that creativity is correlated with being in a relaxed state, maybe you’ve even read that laughter can help you solve problems.
In the book, inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, Stanford Professor, Tina Seeling writes about an experiment with jazz musicians who were asked to improvise a piece of music while having their brains monitored. While the musicians performed, the frontal lobe of their brains (associated with judgement) “switched off,” unleashing the flow of creativity.
There’s now research (Northwestern University) that suggests that creativity is even driven by distraction.
All this suggests that you have a much better chance of producing more creative work if you stop judging your ideas and output during the creative phase of work. By focus your energy on creating bad work, you force yourself to let go of judgement and the pressure to perform – you get to play again, which is what creativity is all about.
A Lesson From the Master
I visited Paris for the first time earlier this year. Yes, I swooned like the every woman on the planet is destined to when she arrives in Paris. One of my favourite experiences was spending hours with my husband in the Picasso Museum. Picasso’s creative output is staggering. Over 75 years of practice he produced 13,500 paintings and designs, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations, 300 sculptures and ceramics.
But what I loved most about the curation of the museum was the positioning of his most iconic and innovative artwork side by side with his workshop experimentation. He stuck feathers on pieces paper, he made little cardboard men, he drew naive sketches, he tore shapes out of loose pages from books. He didn’t just experiment, he played with his materials. And so much of his tinkering and the silly little things that he made remained in his studios until the day he died.
He had no inhibitions, he didn’t seem to judge his work as good or bad, he just continued to create. Maybe that’s why he is the most prolific artist who ever lived?
Will You Try it?
Creating “bad work” is about liberation. It’s about getting off that hamster wheel of striving for perfection and allowing yourself to make mistakes – loads of them.
If you’re in a slump, come take my hand again – I give you permission to create the worst work this world has ever seen.
And when you do, maybe you’ll be distracted from thinking about your limitations. Maybe you’ll exercise those creative muscles that have begun to atrophy. May you’ll stumble out of the dark and find real solutions to the big blockages you’ve faced. Or maybe you’ll just have fun with your work again?
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