Blogging

2 ways to be more creative right now

I gave this as a speech recently.

I’m a freelance copywriter and every day, I work on projects that require me to think creatively. Creative thinking is a big theme right now in the world of work, and sometimes we have a hard time finding creative juice when we need it. So today I’ll share a few ideas on how to get unstuck.

Both of these have helped me in a slump:

  1. Messing up my desk.
  2. Wasting time going for a walk.

Let’s start with the first one:

  1.  Messing up my desk.

I’ll confess: my desk is always a mess. (Maybe my entire house actually, but we won’t discuss that.) I wrote this piece on a desk so messy that I had to carve out space for the keyboard. For me, a messy desk makes it easier for me to jump from lily to lily in the creative pond. Ideas don’t hide in boxes, but sit tucked away in jagged corners. A mess on my desk keeps my brain from becoming too comfortable with its surroundings.

And there’s a scientific basis for you logical thinkers out there. In one study, people were given 2 environments to complete a creative project. The first was a messy room–jagged lines, stuff strewn all over–and the second was a neat and tidy room–straight, clean lines, everything in its right place. The two groups sat in these rooms and collected ideas based on a theme.

When all of the ideas were submitted to an independent panel, who do you think had the better ideas?

The ideas from the messy room. They were rated as much more creative and innovative than the ones from the tidy room. That’s because we work more freely in an environment that encourages messy thought. We don’t restrict ourselves.

And a fun fact: Even Einstein seemed to know this trick.

  1. Wasting time going for a walk.

I’ve had some humdingers of delicious problems handed down to me from clients lately. One afternoon I was working through something so intensely that I realized I hadn’t taken the dog out for 8 hours. (Whoops.) To atone for my sin, I took him to the dog park. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there.

To be honest, that kind of break is a big waste of time for me when I’ve got a big push. But something happened to me on that walk: As I walked, I felt my brain relaxing. The structure of the problem in my head began to rearrange itself. Thoughts and ideas started coming faster and faster–so fast that I started talking to myself out loud about what was going on in my head.

(At this point, I put headphones on so I looked like I was on a call. I couldn’t be “that crazy lady” at the park.)

When I got back to my desk, my brain had somehow worked out the problem I had been struggling with for the past three hours. I looked it up and found that my experience is backed up by science:

This year, a Stanford University study found that the simple act of walking can boost your creativity up to 60 percent.

That means if you are working on a specific problem, you are measurably more creative while you are walking and for a short period of time after you finish walking. It doesn’t matter where you walk – people experienced the same effect when they walked around a drab office and when they walked on a green, tree-lined street.

So next time you’re on a desperate deadline, throw a few papers around the room and then waste some time by taking a walk. What happens in your brain might surprise you.

Creativity is a state of mind you can choose. Last year I had another big breakthrough in creativity, and you can read about that one here.

Why I don’t have a portfolio website

You’re skeptical because you’re visiting the website on my business card and you don’t see a portfolio. I’ll make it even worse: A few months ago, I made the decision to quit my stable full-time job. I didn’t have another job lined up, and I wasn’t even looking. And I didn’t care.

What a nutcase, you’re thinking.

Yeah, it was a crazy move–the best crazy move I ever made. Because I don’t have a job to go to–I make my job. Every day that I wake up, I have to create a reason why someone would want to give me a paycheck. And people do. This life has given my heart a new pitter patter, because it means I’m always creating. Creating keeps me alive.

I’m getting to the point, so stay with me.

The past 4 months have been some of the busiest and the most stressful that I’ve had. I started a business, quit my job, got married, moved, spent 3 weeks in India, and found myself without 2 strong (or at least I had thought strong) friendships that I had expected to last for a small lifetime. Along with a few other things too. I didn’t have time to create a website, and I was starting to kick myself. But when I finally got some time I realized that I don’t need a full-blown website, at least not yet. I’m busy enough.

How can I be so busy? I don’t have an online portfolio. There’s no way people are hiring me.

Way.

The thing is, a lot of the work I’ve done is confidential. Increasingly now, I work with clients who prefer to remain confidential, or who only have confidential projects for me. I can’t display any of that work, so a portfolio would look empty and odd. But I’m busy enough, with room for more.

There’s an upside to keeping a low profile, it seems. And because it’s fun, I’m continuing to “blog,” which seems to have become a verb from the last time I tweeted. When I have enough public work, I may start a website.

Till then, you can always email me and find out more about how my writing can help you, your company, or your amazing cause that I would totally fall in love with, and work for free on. (Yep, I said work for free. But you have to be really amazing.)

Hope to see you on the inside of creative.

The music inside my head

I don’t have time to polish the posts I’m writing, so I’ll post the music I’m listening to while writing them. We all need more creative fodder.

 

How to create meaningful art, or: Why I don’t want (too many) followers on my blog

If you are a creative type, you are probably disillusioned with the way the world works. Because the simple, accessible content that you create will become very popular, whereas the layered stuff will go almost unnoticed. We live in a world where Kim Kardashian’s butt has a Twitter feed and a video about cats jumping off tables get 25 million views and news articles written about it, and a tour de force novel is pressed out in the author’s blood-ink to an audience of crickets.

But as a creative, you will also find that the process of creating the most unpopular content is what will satisfy the deepest part of you. Because it’s the real stuff.

In my writing education, it’s been pounded into me that the most personal things are the most universal. To create things that are personal and universal, you must notice things that are real and have meaning. You must notice your surroundings, your own reactions to normal and unusual events, and what’s going on between the lines of everyday life. You must question why things happen.

Those observations and thoughts prep your brain for the creative process. And when you end up hitting that nerve of creativity and start speeding down tunnels, there is nothing like it – it’s the crack that will remind you why you were born. No cat video comes close to that, and I’d wager that Ms. Kardashian has never felt it. If you only focus on gaining an audience, you will never hit that nerve. Your audience will leave scrolling comments on your videos, exhibitions, blogs, and you will wonder why you do not feel fulfilled by your own creation.

It’s because real art is created without any audience in mind; it is created to satisfy the artist’s desire. This kind of art is rare and dangerous, because it has a high probability of containing original thought. And the entire world fights against that originality by pumping out more and more stupid, distracting content.

Like I’ve said before: Find artists who ignore their own fame. They are the ones who make art that you have to gaze into for a long time before figuring it out (if you ever do figure it out), and music with lyrics you can’t understand without listening three or four times. That is time spent, not wasted. You’re processing all of the layers, and it will teach you about the world or yourself. You are one step closer to creating things that are real.

And when you create things that are real, people will find you – whether you want them to or not. It will just take longer.

Beethoven said all of this even better. This is directly quoted from Project Gutenberg:

The world is a king, and, like a king, desires flattery in return for favor; but true art is selfish and perverse—it will not submit to the mould of flattery.

When Baron van Braun expressed the opinion that the opera “Fidelio” would eventually win the enthusiasm of the upper tiers, Beethoven said, “I do not write for the galleries!” He never permitted himself to be persuaded to make concessions to the taste of the masses.

And unless you post funny cat videos for a living, you shouldn’t either.

The most important question to ask yourself before starting a project

A friend of mine is an entrepreneur. He asks himself a question before starting any project:

“How does this make the world a better place?”

Most people blog to make money or gain an audience. I’m not here to do either. I’m here to satisfy my own desire to create. My content will be as thoughtful as I can make it, so it won’t happen as often as the bloggers who pound their keyboards with fervor, into a vortex of explosive comments and likes.

Every creative has a choice: To produce a lot of content with very little thought put into it, or not as much content with a lot of thought put into it.

Thinking this through with my blog as an example:

If I produce a lot of content, I will have high page rankings, traffic, and probably ads. I will probably even make money. But most of my content will have little or no meaning, and simply add more digital trash to our world. There will be some oddballs and idiots who will show up, but smart audiences will ignore me. 

Most of all, I will look back on all of that work with shame.

If I produce occasional content – no matter how fantastic – I will be ignored by fellow bloggers and almost all SEO metrics and page ranking algorithms. Very few people will read what I’ve written.

The thing is, not many people want to read, look at, or spend time with things that make them think; this keeps my audience inherently limited. I’m also competing with many distracting things online. If you’re spending time with me, then I want to respect that time. If I inspire one person with anything that I’ve done here, I have improved the world.

And I will be happy with it – which is what matters to me. And ultimately, that’s what should matter to you – because you grow when you pay attention to better content, better writing, and better art. My ultimate goal is to create something that brightens your world and gives you ideas. I’d love for you to read me on a Sunday morning by yourself, with your first coffee.  

Along that thread, I have shut down comments. I don’t want to write with the goal of churning responses from people.  If you really want to tell me something about anything I’ve said here, send me an email. I’ll be thrilled to hear from you.

So, welcome to the inside of my head. I hope you like it here. Let’s make the world better.

Yesterday

I’m in the UC Berkeley Extension writing program, and I was invited to read a piece of my writing at an event yesterday. I’ve done a few readings before. They always give me a ton of anxiety, but I love doing them. This one was different, because my piece was different. It was a highly personal essay, about the journey I’ve been on the past few months. I’ve never shared anything so personal before, and parts of it were scary to read.

But I knew it would be that way – I planned it that way. I don’t see much point in sharing something that feels comfortable. The whole time I read, I wondered if people were bored and sitting politely waiting for me to finish, wondering why I was reading some version of my personal diary out loud. Since I’ve never shared anything personal that didn’t have a plot of any kind, it’s hard to know what others will find interesting.

After the event was over, a dark haired woman approached me and told me that she’d like a copy of my piece. “When it’s finished,” she said.

I was struck dumb that anyone would want to read it again, or share it with anyone. It was about me. All about me – no other characters, no plot, nothing. Just me, and something tough that I’ve gone through in the past six months. “You can have this copy,” I said, holding up the printout that I’d brought for myself.

She smiled big. “Really? You’ll give me your copy?” I felt like I’d done something for her personally, changed the course of her day, helped her, without even doing anything. I handed her the stapled pages, so surprised at the conversation I’d just had that I didn’t even ask her name. She asked for my blog address, which I gave her.

As soon as she walked away, I felt like an idiot. I suddenly hoped that she would never visit this blog. The only things I’ve posted about here are utter crap, and I couldn’t imagine them inspiring anyone. I started this blog with such a sense of obligation and frustration. I wouldn’t want her – or anyone – to be inspired by something I’ve written, only to feel disappointed upon further investigation into my work.

As I sat there by myself, I realized that I should be writing in this blog. If I inspired her, then it must be true that pieces of writing, about people, can help other people. So I’m going to start posting, and I mean REALLY posting. Before I went to sleep last night I realized that I had thirteen ideas swirling around. So, Ms. Brunette, if you do end up coming to my blog and reading this, I want you to know that you inspired me. Thank you.

I’m doing a little research, though. I may migrate to Blogger in the next few posts. I’ll update if that’s the case.

Onward and upward for me now. I’m not resisting this process anymore. Maybe this project will get some good work out of me.