I’ve long admired those who are seemingly endless fountains of creativity, unimpeded by such limiting factors as writer’s block, self-doubt, naysayers, and criticism. Let me give an example of what limitless creativity looks like: Mark Rosewater, lead designer for the card game Magic the Gathering. Here is a list of just some of the machine like production capabilities of this man:
1. Writes a 3-6,000 word blog each week.
2. Answers hundreds of questions on his Tumblr a week.
3. Does a Drive to Work podcast every day.
4. Answers people on Twitter.
5. Head designer for a game with incredible complexity and interactions.
6. Spends time with his family and multiple children.
7. Writes a comic every single day, Tales from the Pit.
The man is a machine that would make the Terminator envious. I follow a lot of people in the writer, mindset, and creative community, and he is at the top tier as it relates to content generation. Even now, sometimes I sit and wonder how one man can churn out such a high level of content, day in and day out. He is not the only one; another of my favorite people to watch is Delilah Dawson, a writer I follow on Twitter. Here’s what she does daily:
1. Her hashtag TenThings, where she helps new writers overcome problems of all kinds.
2. Answers questions throughout the day on Twitter.
3. Writes daily poems from the perspective of a dog, which are fantastic.
4. Still manages to write and edit books at a high level.
5. Manages a family as well.
How do they do it? How are they able to churn out relentless content so consistently? Do they not suffer from writer’s block or doubt? One of my favorite fantasy artists, Kazumasa Uchio, issued the following quote on Facebook, which I found to be profound. (forgive the poor translation):
“When you draw it without making it through the brain, it's going to be a good painting. When I think about it, it's full of failures, but if you don't repeat this many times, you won't be born unconscious.” - Kazumasa Uchio
Allow me to issue my interpretation of this quote: Kazumasa is saying that in order to achieve the unconscious “zone” of creativity, you have to plow forward and do it, even when it sucks, and by doing so, gradually the content will improve, because you achieve the “zone” more often. As one trudges through the suck, they start to gain a near immunity to the mire of mediocrity. In other words: To be more creative, you have to push forward by doing creative things continually, persistently, even they are total trash. I’ve noticed this in my own life. If I take any length of time off from undertaking creative projects, I can feel myself getting more inept over time. The words struggle to flow, and I become frustrated at my ineptitude, thus causing me to produce less. The process then becomes a cycle that feeds on itself, becoming an endless vortex of frustration. My thinking seems to revolve only around the most simple concepts, and I fall into a pit of consumption instead of production.
The adage “practice makes perfect” is true obviously because the more you do something, the better you will get at executing. Yet, there exists a higher level. The “zone” if you will. Every writer, artist, or performer knows exactly what it feels like to be in the zone — that sequence where the words or brushes or shots flow like an endless waterfall. The question then becomes, how does one get into the zone more frequently?
By embracing the suck.
The one consistent thing I see from the people who seem to live in the zone is that they don’t take time off. Ever. They plow forward even when they know they are not at their creative apex, and by doing so, reach their creative zenith more often than others. Science of the of the brain confirms this, where consistent artistic interpretation and processing serves to activate the neural networks within, allowing one to operate at a higher level more consistently. Essentially, to be more creative, you have to continually be doing creative tasks, as it feeds upon itself and becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
Several months ago, as I began work on my first fantasy novel, The Witchbreaker Saga, I vowed to do some level of writing every single day. Whether it be editing a chapter, or writing a new one, I decided to take no days off, no matter what. As a result, I find the ideas flow more freely, and writer’s block has not impeded me for any significant length of time. I also spend time every single day world building. Inventing new plants, animals, cultures, magic systems, all of the things required for a fantasy novel. Due to the constant creative thinking, I now have the “aha” moments far more frequently, which translates into a higher degree of confidence as I write and build. Here is the critical part: There are times when I KNOW my work is atrocious, yet I place the terrible words down regardless.
There are many ways we can optimize our mindset for creativity. Generating endorphins and serotonin in our brain can be achieved through proper sleep, diet, and exercise daily. Even if it is only walking the dog, I find that most of my best ideas come as I hash out plot points, world building items, and characters while walking the dog around the neighborhood. Even if you have to talk to yourself on the way to work, or driving to a meeting, try to stay in a creative mindset as much as possible.
Mark Rosewater did a podcast on creativity awhile back, which I recommend everyone listen to, that I will outline for you here, with several tips for stoking the creative fire.
Mark Rosewater on Creativity: Connect things that don’t usually connect.
1. Believe you can be more creative, make the mental shift.
2. Don’t approach problems the same way don’t apply previous knowledge.
3. Seek a variety of expertise to connect more things in unique ways.
4. Understand it is a stepping stone process. Use multi-step impractical ideas to lead to solutions. Answers might be multiple steps away.
5. Be willing to experiment. Mistakes are excellent teachers. Get new information by trying things. Learn what’s irrelevant.
6. Accept that there’s more than one answer, making the process less daunting. Multiple solutions create more paths.
7. Collect feedback from those most affected by the problem.
8. Play games and do puzzles. Stay mentally active. Creativity is a muscle.
9. Think about why things are. Examine multiple solutions.
10. Find more answers to a problem you’ve already solved. With the pressure off, learn more. It builds confidence to see things in action.
There you have it; I hope this helps someone inch a little closer to achieving their dreams. Let me know either here or on social media what works for you to peak your creativity. Thanks for reading!
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