I’ve read a lot of advice about how to spark creativity. Everyone’s creativity takes a different form, so helpful advice varies from person to person.
For example, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be efficient and productive. One of my struggles is to allow myself to spend time on activities that don’t pay off in some direct way. Creativity often involves play, digression, exploration, experimentation, and failed attempts; it doesn’t always look productive.
These are the strategies that work best for me:
1. Taking notes. I have a compulsion to take notes as I read. I write down quotations and bits of information that catch my interest. In fact, all my book projects have really been ways to justify taking the notes that I most wanted to take. I used to fight the urge to take notes that weren’t related to a specific project, but no longer. All this note-taking is time-consuming, but in the end, highly satisfying. Along the same lines, I…
2. Follow my interests. Why do I keep reading more and more about St. Therese of Lisieux? I’m not sure, but I’m not stopping myself. Instead of staying focused on what I “ought” to be doing, I allow myself to wander—by buying an odd book, poking around the internet, or exploring an unusual place.
3. Allow myself the “fun of failure.” This catchphrase has made a HUGE difference to me. I’m very ambitious and want to succeed at everything I try, and that makes me very anxious—which isn’t a creative frame of mind. Telling myself that I can enjoy the “fun of failure” has made me more light-hearted about taking risks.
4. Buy supplies. I don’t like making purchases, but in keeping with my resolution to Indulge in a modest splurge, I encourage myself to make an occasional creativity-supporting purchase. A few months ago, I bought a beautiful set of magic markers and an oversized pad of drawing paper. For some reason, I just craved them. And indeed, when I got home, I sat down for a spell of…
5. Idea-mapping. This is a process of writing down ideas in a way that helps you see new relationships and possibilities. I begin with a symbol or word in the center, and then map out my associations with that word—using single words and colored pens to keep the ideas vivid and clear. I’ve done this lately when I get stuck on a happiness question.
6. Read random magazines. Every once in a while, I pick up several magazines that I would never ordinarily read. It’s surprisingly interesting and useful. And I love the feeling of possibility that I get whenever I browse in one of those stores that carries 500 different magazines.
7. Gather ideas. I was fascinated to read in Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit that when she has a new project, she starts a cardboard file box to collect all the materials that inspired her—everything from a toy to a CD to a photograph. The first thing she puts in is a slip of paper with a stated goal for the project—something like “keep it simple” or “something perfect” or “tell a story.” “Everything is raw material,” she writes. “Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.” I gather my ideas with my notes, but some people’s ideas couldn’t be distilled in a computer document.
* So many people have written to ask for a starter kit for launching their own Happiness-Project Groups in their own area! I think this is a great idea for boosting your happiness.
I’m working away on creating something to send out — I want the materials to be terrific.
If you’d like to add your name to the list, email me at gretchenrubin [at] gmail [dot com]. (Sorry to write in that weird way — trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Happiness-Project Group” in the subject line. I’ll send you the kit as soon as it’s ready.