A Writer's Worst Nightmare
So there you are, sitting in front of your computer or holding your guitar, maybe banging away at piano keys or staring at a clean blank piece of paper. But nothing is working. Writer's Block. Sometimes it can grab ahold of you for days and weeks. Nothing new or original comes out of you. You begin to question your ability to create, wondering if all of your creative successes were just flukes. Accidents that you stumbled upon, completely detached from any talent or ability.
I Have The Power!
Other times, it all just falls together. Songs write themselves. Melodies fly from your guitar. Words populate the page as if your fingers have a mind of their own. You have been endowed with creative super powers! How could you be the same person, who yesterday was ripping out that beautiful new haircut from your head in frustration?
Creativity is an elusive thing. It comes in bursts. Sometimes you are overflowing with it and other times it's like a dried up ancient river bed in a desert. How do we harness it? How do tap into it when we need it? And how do we overcome our creative road blocks? It may come down to playing a mental game of chess, against yourself.
Play Mind Games on Yourself
Everybody is creative, even those who claim not to be. You are being creative in just about every decision you make. Picking out an outfit for the day, making breakfast, taking a detour to avoid traffic are all examples of creative problem solving. Give yourself credit for this. Your mind is a very impressionable thing. If you tell yourself you are not a creative person, you will believe it and behave as if you are not. You will look to others for answers. You will question your decisions and become paralyzed by indecision. Reinforce your creativity in your thoughts and you will begin to believe that you are, in fact creative, and you will then begin to behave that way.
Kill the Critic
Our mind is said to be divided into two portions, the left brain and the right brain. The left side is your logical side and the right the creative side. When you are in the early stages of creativity, you want to be more right-brained. Nothing kills your creativity more than your inner critic. That inner critic is the voice in your head that is questioning everything you do. Is this a good chord progression? Do I like this melody? Is this a good first sentence for my research paper? If you allow this inner voice to be heard, you will undoubtedly come across writer's block. It is because that part of your mind is comparing your brand new, embryonic idea to all of the completed, polished finished products you have ever see, heard or read. It is the voice that says "this simple little melody I just wrote is nowhere near as good as 'Yesterday' by the Beatles." It's like having a race between a week old infant and an Olympic track star. Your idea has not been refined and edited countless times. It doesn't stand a chance.
When you are first creating something, kill that critical part of your mind. Operate in the mindset of quantity over quality. The goal is to get ideas down. You will have plenty of time to decide which ones are good later, but for now you need to collect ideas to work with. If you are working with the idea that you are going for quantity, you will come up with more things to choose from and therefore train your mind to be more creative.
Part of the reason I think that Ableton Live is such a great creative tool is that it is divided kind of like your mind. The session view is your right brain or creative side, and the arrangement view is the left brain or more logical side. After you collect your ideas in the session view, you can then become critical of them and decide which ones are worth bringing into the arrangement view. Just because you recorded a clip in session view doesn't mean it has to make it into the final arrangement. And if it doesn't, it will always be there and it might be just the thing you need in a future project. Hence the importance of simply collecting ideas in the beginning stages of creativity.
How To Be More Creative
So the best thing you can do to boost your creativity is to recognize the stages of creation.
The very first part is to collect ideas. Don't judge them, just collect them. Music and art are so subjective anyway. Something you love today may put you off tomorrow and something that doesn't resonate with you today may truly speak to you next week. In the early stages just focus on gathering ideas. If you focus on the quality of your initial ideas, you will eventually get down on yourself because you will be comparing those baby ideas to the great, refined ideas of the world.
The second stage comes after you have plenty of ideas to work with. From there you can put on the critic hat and decide what can stay and what can go, what fits together and what doesn't quite blend. It is crucial you do not move to this stage to early!
I hope this helps, it is probably my number one secret on staying productive. How do you foster and nurture your creativity? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.