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Stimulating Creativity When You're Not Feeling Creative
For those in a creative career, forcing creativity when you're not feeling creative can be grating, even painful. Here's some of my tips and tricks that I've developed over the years.
What is creativity? Dictionary.com defines it as
The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.
Here’s my simpler definition: We usually understand creativity as the state of being we enter when we are making art or are developing new ideas.
Over the years I have experienced writers block, procrastination, and things getting in the way of connecting with my creative core.
I’ve argued that putting words on the page is not the only type of writing in the past, but when you make the move from hobbyist to professional creative, you’ll find that all of a sudden you can’t let it just “come to you” like you used to, and word counts do start to matter. Your employers won’t appreciate it if you don’t make your deadline because you “couldn’t get in the zone”.
Are you new here?
This is Manon de Reeper’s newsletter about her journey towards making her first feature film, wading through the messy Hollywood waters and trying to make sense of it all. It’s probably interesting to other screenwriters, directors and producers who’ve embarked on the same journey.
For my spec projects I still let creativity just “come to me” and write when I can and want to. But for the gigs I am hired for, I’ve had to develop some tricks to get there.
Infuse Your Creativity
Here’s the obvious ones: yoga and meditation. Scientific studies have backed this up, and for me, they really work. When I’m writing, I need the extra focus and the exercise and calm really help with (at least temporarily) letting go of any performance-related anxiety.
For years now, I journal on a very regular basis. Daily, every couple of days or weekly, depending on what I need. When I’m on a deadline I journal after yoga to reflect on my to-dos and schedule for the day so I’m well prepped. I also reflect on any lingering feelings, positive or negative. If I’m stressed about my deadline, it helps to write it down, to acknowledge and park the feelings so they won’t get in the way.
A side note: I try not to beat myself up if I skip yoga, meditation or journaling. I’d say being gentle to yourself is as important as any of the tips mentioned here.
Another trick I’ve found really helps me is to do something creative that isn’t as high stakes as writing. I recently picked up drawing again, something I really enjoyed in the past. There’s no worry about it needing to be “good” or financially viable. It might be something else for you, sadly I’m not musically gifted, but it could be playing some guitar, or singing.
Moreover, it allows me to get in a flow state and when I’m done drawing, I’ve stimulated the parts of my brain that I’ll need for writing later. Finding a creative outlet that is low stakes and enjoyable to you is very helpful. This is probably stating the obvious, but don’t turn this into a side hustle. Don’t put it on social media. This is just for you.
Lastly, something I’ve also discovered recently that really helps increase my creative energy: learning a new language. I’ve been in Spain for the past month and I’m back at practicing Spanish. Practicing Spanish on Duolingo every morning and interacting with people in Spanish has really amped my creativity. I’m also watching Dark Winds at the moment and listening to the Diné language is extremely enjoyable as it sounds so different from most languages I’m familiar with. It makes my brain tingle!
Music helps me focus and sparks my creativity in so many ways. For me, it’s metal music that really helps me focus and it’s very cathartic, but I know from research that this may not be the case for people who don’t already enjoy this type of music (give it a try though, who knows!). There’s also some electronic music that does it for me. No lyrics (or barely understandable lyrics like in some metal) tends to work better.
Since I’m a filmmaker and screenwriter, I’ve also found that creating and listening to playlists with scores from films similar to what you are working on can be helpful. Video game scores can be particularly stimulating as they are often made with boosting performance in mind. I absolutely love the score of Portal 2, I wrote my master thesis and several spec feature scripts with that practically on repeat. It’s spacey and a bit dark which was fitting for those projects.
Find what music works for you and let the music change your brain waves.
Remove Anything That Kills Creativity
I am on a break from Twitter/X. Last week, the former president I shall not name (Trolldemort?) returned to Twitter and the American political debate ahead of the elections in 2024 (!) is heating up. Add to that the mass shootings and racial hate, I was so overwhelmingly triggered that I finally made the decision to take a step back from the platform, maybe permanently.
It’s probably a good thing, because I’ve noticed in the past that if I spent any time on there, my positivity and creative energy would just plummet. In my opinion, social media, but especially Twitter, is a time suck and is where creativity goes to die. I hate that it has become such a vital part of any creative’s career.
News has a similarly bad effect on creativity. I cut consuming news from my diet in 2012 cold turkey (with a relapse during COVID times). Research has shown over and over that news media thrive on negativity. They generate fear and stress and are generally bad for your mental health - and that applies to most news media no matter their political leaning. Anything that’s important and applicable to my life I will hear from friends and family.
Somewhat in the same vein is managing distractions, particularly phones and their notifications. I try not to look at my phone in the morning - though I often fail. I give myself a pass for Wordle and Duolingo. But I’m trying to be more intentional with my phone use by cutting apps and websites that encourage infinite scrolling and by making it harder to get to apps. I recently installed a minimalist launcher on my Google Pixel which has made my phone a lot less interesting. I’ve disabled most notifications and have it on silent permanently. I decide who and what gets my attention, and when.
Lastly, I avoid playing video games before I do any creative work, as I get too deeply sucked into them. I’ll find myself wanting to go back to the game before finishing my work and I hate that uncomfortable, addictive urge. I prefer to use it as a treat for a job well done. I could write an entire article about this, but rewarding yourself for creativity can also really work.
Be Kind to Yourself
I would seriously suggest cutting anything that stimulates negative emotions when you need to be creative. Surround yourself with positivity and calm, other low level creative outlets and music that works for your brain, and I think you should be good to go.
And a final reminder: always be kind to yourself, never beat yourself up - that’s a surefire way to kill your creativity.
What do you do to get yourself in a creative mood? Please share your own tips & tricks below, I’d love to hear!
By the way: today, September 2nd, is my birthday! ^_^
Things I enjoyed this week
Music: I’ve been obsessed with Electric Callboy’s album TEKKNO, my summer jam!
Games: I finally finished the main story line of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and I’m grieving the loss of purpose.
Podcast: Sweet Bobby
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This newsletter is written by Manon de Reeper.
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