Digital, social and mobile proliferation have expanded the potential for creators like never before. For very little comparative investment, musicians can do live performances for online audiences, photographers and videographers can create beautiful media, and writers (like me) can share ideas and conduct interviews in real-time.
Truly, we’re in the middle of a golden age for creativity. But if that’s true, why doesn’t it feel that way?
While the tools used to generate creative output are more widely available, as society becomes increasingly connected and dependent on these tools — we’re talking about mobile devices here — there is less time available to let our minds wander, purposefully. The result is a sort of creative paradox, where it is both easier and more challenging to foster creativity.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the creative process and how to improve upon it personally because, admittedly, I’ve hit kind of a rut. As a writer, transferring thoughts to paper is an entirely fulfilling experience. But recently, it has also become a source of palpable anxiety. Instead of focusing on the quality of my work, I’ve put pressure on myself to ramp up the quantity of it to remain relevant. Of course, this approach may allow me to publish more consistently and build a bit of a following, but it doesn’t allow me to more deeply explore a concept important to me. In this new era, fueled by constant exposure and connectivity, how can one balance the need to keep up the pace with the need to develop bigger, deeper ideas?
I’ve started asking this question to many creators representing a variety of disciplines, and there is one theme that consistently stands out in each conversation — the need for space.
This was best articulated by Brent Cobb, a rising star in the country music scene. I had the privilege of interviewing him recently at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif. I noted that many country stars tend to come from small towns then asked him what about the small-town experience breeds so much creativity. He paused, then said, “There is a lot of room to dream in a small town.”
Today’s creators, regardless of their geographic location or profession, need to create more “room to dream.” For those who are struggling, here are a few ways to add space to your creative process.
1. Periodically disconnect.
In such a connected world, disconnecting periodically to recharge and gain perspective is exceedingly important to the creative process. Of course, it’s not practical to go off the grid entirely, nor is it necessary. Instead, take smaller opportunities to untether yourself from devices, media and influence, and simply let your mind wander to unexplored places.
Last month, I took a 24-hour break from all devices. I didn’t use my phone, my computer, or my television, not even once. After about 4 hours of instinctively reaching for my pocket, my more human instincts took over. I hiked with my wife and our friend to the top of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Every person seemed to be posing with their phone, attempting to capture the perfect picture or video for their digital audience. And I had nothing else to do but look around and think. Afterwards, we went to lunch, and again, I was fully present in our conversation because social engagements and basketball scores weren’t drawing my attention away. It was refreshing, and for the remainder of the week, I was far more productive. While a full day away from technology isn’t always possible, even shorter breaks, when done consistently, can add quite a bit of mental clarity.
2. Set boundaries.
Most creators have a preferred working environment, and it’s important to set up your time to maximize your potential output. Our minds benefit from routine and structure. So if you are better at creative tasks in the morning and can reserve meetings and administrative work for the afternoon, work to set up your day accordingly. Of course, be sure to also include time for leisure, exercise and rest. Everyone is busy, but it’s amazing how much time we actually have available when it’s segmented in a useful manner.
3. Focus on process, not output.
With so much emphasis placed on creative output, the process often gets lost in the details. This is unfortunate, because a quality process often leads to a quality output. Creativity is agile, and if there isn’t enough space for its process to happen organically, valuable opportunities are overlooked. Today’s creators need to strike a balance between developing to feed the need for relevancy and developing to fulfill creative potential. Sometimes those efforts will intersect, and other times they will not.
These are just a few suggested behaviors I find valuable in my own efforts. I realize that creative conditions vary wildly based on personality differences. The one underlying theme that seems to recur in my conversations with creators is the need for space, to brainstorm, to wander, to dream. In such a fast-paced world, how can you make room for more creativity?