• Advice

Creativity hacks for people who think they're not creative

First of all, stop saying you’re “not creative” – because you’re wrong.

Think back to when you were a kid: did you sit blankly looking at walls? Or did you play and draw and sing and lose yourself in your imagination? All of us start out as creative individuals – and then, perhaps when you were very small, a sharp-tongued classmate told you you “weren’t very good at drawing/singing/playing.”

Perhaps a well-intentioned teacher told you you “were more left-brained/more of a numbers person.” You – poor, sweet, vulnerable you – decided to clamp down on your own creativity in the face of your own judgment (or the judgment of others). You labeled yourself “uncreative”… and now, when you feel an impulse to create, you despair.

You think you can’t do it. Perhaps you feel blocked and stymied and stupid. But the good news is that creative, unimpeded child is still within you, and she/he really wants to do imaginative things! All you have to do is remove a few obstacles to explore that creativity – and 3 easy steps will help you along the way.

1. Do something stupid

The primary thing that stops us from accessing our creativity is our capital-J Judgment – our insistence on constantly evaluating (and often rejecting) everything we do.

A professor of mine once advised my neurotic, perfectionist undergraduate self to “embrace the suck.” This means that when you find yourself stymied by your own internal editor, you should intentionally TRY to do something bad. Throw objective measures of “quality” out the window, and explore your impulses – odds are you’re not very good at being objective anyway, and the exercise will help you break through your own criticism.

If you’re having difficulty accessing your creativity, spend some time pursuing the most stupid, awful ideas possible. Draw a terrible drawing. Write one page of a truly horrible novel. Come up with absurd, unworkable solutions for a problem. WITHIN that terrible, horrible, impossible work, you may find the seeds for a real solution – and at the very least, you’ll sidestep your own self-judgment.

Sacrifice your perfectionism on the altar of your creativity for a bit. Do something really stupid.

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2. Do something silly

Another factor which trips up our creativity is too much pressure – whether it’s internal or external. When our ego is too caught up in doing a creative task Correctly, we tend to clamp down and stress out… and while that can help you to meet deadlines short-term, it’s not conducive to accessing your best unfettered creative ideas in the long-term.

Again, children are a good example of this: a kid who’s allowed to play and explore will often automatically make more creative, interesting, imaginative choices than a kid who feels scared, intimidated, or pressured to do well.

Free your inner child by doing something silly. Yes, I know how irritatingly New Age that sounds, but trust me – this really works. If you’re staring at a blank page or facing a seemingly unsolvable problem, walk away from it for a bit. Do something nonsensical; your subconscious will keep working on the issue, and you’ll get out of your own way.

Dance around your living room – preferably to the bad, bad music you’re ashamed to like. Play a practical joke on a friend. Take yourself out for ice cream in the middle of the day. Do something – ANYthing – absurd to break up your routine. Signal to your brain that it’s okay to try new things, that the pressure is (temporarily) off – you’ll be surprised how many creative solutions pop up when you’re researching whoopee cushions.

3. Do something inspiring

If your problem is less functional (“I can’t do this”) than motivational (“I can’t do this because I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW”), kickstart your creativity by going back to the source – by actively pursuing that which inspires you.

Go to a museum. Check out a really excellent film. Read a fantastic book. Watch a heart-shaking play. Yes, the masters will intimidate you. You may find yourself thinking “I can’t do that. Why even try?” You may feel despair, envy, loss, and pain. But you will FEEL SOMETHING, which you can then use to jumpstart your creative process. You will NOT stand in front of something really beautiful or moving or lovely and feel indifferent. You will have an opinion and an impulse, and you can choose to act upon it.

Every creative person (and we are all creative people) feels lost and uninspired sometimes. The key is to focus on the path forward. Channel that emotion – yes, even that jealousy and despair – into your own creative work. None of us is guaranteed a shot at immortality; you may never have somebody stand in front of your painting and weep from frustration. But the great masters, themselves, all stood in front of masterpieces and thought “I can’t do that. Why even try?”… and then they USED that energy to TRY.

Every one of us is creative. None of us is “not creative”. Ignore that mean classmate or that teacher; ignore even your own judgment, for a bit. Go out and try.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.