A global pandemic likely qualifies as one of the worst possible settings for honing creativity. Contrary to what the boldest of us may have claimed in the early weeks of COVID-19, more time doesn’t equal more inspiration. We’re tired, overwhelmed, and unmotivated, all peppered with random shocks of anxiety. At least I am, and a good deal of my fellow creative friends find themselves in the same nerve-racking spot. The question is — how do you keep your creativity alive when you’re the actual representation of the “this is fine” meme?
Instead of succumbing to despair, the key is to embrace the philosophy of creating your own inspiration through curiosity and audacious experimentation. Don’t wait for the muse to glide down on your shoulders and grace you with creative energy — instead, embody her.
Start with your comfort zone
A wise, random Tumblr quote once read, “Your comfort zone will kill you.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past ten years of stumbling through the world of words as a writer, it’s that writing alone will indeed kill my creativity. It’s warm, familiar, safe, and cosy — and that’s exactly why it would be the death of it.
To prevent my craft suffering from loneliness, I periodically dip my tentacles into both neighbouring and conflicting disciplines. I’ve performed ad hoc in front of thousands of people, directed zero-budget music videos, and taken poorly-composed 35mm snapshots with a dusty Konica C35 film camera.
At a glance, some creative endeavours might seem to have little to do with writing, but they can make a difference. Making music enables me to grasp the subtleties of pace, rhythm, and cadence; visual arts force me to show, not tell; live performances scare the crap out of me while nourishing my confidence as a creative.
If you’re a painter, try your hand at music production to get a better understanding of structure. As a singer, dancer, or writer, you might want to dabble in photography or videography to study your craft through a visual lens. And if your job has no connection whatsoever to the arts? Try any and all of the above. We’re stuck at home these days anyway, and you just might find your new passion in the process.
Think of art forms as a colour wheel, and always reach for those reckless complementary tones. Deconstruct disciplines. Integrate insights. Rebuild your primary craft. And repeat.
Engage all five of your senses
When I sit to bleed out a new story, for example, I set up a shrine of sorts for full sensory immersion. It sets the tone, blocks out the real world, and locks me into the narrative from multiple angles.
For the visual, I drape my office in LED strip lights and tweak the neon shade according to the atmosphere of my story. Blue for melancholy, red for fierceness, purple for serenity. I create visual mood boards for my characters, plot, and setting. Any creative project can be framed similarly, helping set the emotional tone for you, the writer, to spread it onto your work.
For auditory mood setting, I curate playlists for stages of the story and listen to them religiously while I write. If my protagonist is an angsty teen in early 2000s suburbia, I’m blasting emo and alternative music to fit the mood. Listen to your imagination, and trap your muse in sonic hypnosis.
Smell works too, which, for me, is an odd blend of smoke and scented candles. For you, it could be lighting incense or diffusing essential oils. Regardless, choose your scents like you do your battles, and invite them to waft into your craft.
What you put into your body is highly personal (for me, it’s hard liquor or coffee — there’s no in-between), but take it into consideration and do what works for you. Sip hot cocoa if it sparks childhood nostalgia while writing your memoir. Drink green tea if it’s something the subject of your song would do. Taste your way into your project.
If you’re aiming for a cosy mood, quilted blankets and soft pillows might set a warm mood, where silk, satin, and lace could be added for sensuality. Paint with big brushes for broad movements for added drama, or slam the keys of a typewriter to feel the urgency of your story. Wrap yourself in the vibe you’re projecting in your creation.
Embrace spontaneity with creative prompts
As Steven Pressfield once said, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” (If you haven’t read The War of Art yet, do it. Like, now. You’ll thank yourself tenfold later.) To defy Resistance with a big “screw you,” snatch the reins and experiment with random creative prompts.
Grab the first book near you, turn to page 37, drag your gaze down to the third paragraph, and stop at the second sentence. Write, dance, compose, paint, create — starting from this very sentence. Alternatively, close your eyes and plant your finger smack-dab in the middle of any page like you’d pick a spontaneous travel destination on a map. Or use a random word generator. That specific word is your creative prompt. The crazier it seems, the better.
Set a timer, and resist the urge to judge the process or the quality of work that comes from it. The result can be pure visual or verbal diarrhoea — or it can be the start of a new masterpiece. It doesn’t matter — but the fact that you did it does.
Armed with this mindset, I’ve penned love letters to fictional characters and written imaginary stories behind photographs and paintings during dark nights. Overcoming creative blocks is possible, no matter how much we writers moan and groan about them over one too many drinks.
You’re in control of your inspiration; not the other way around. To harness your creativity means to challenge it. Today might not feel like a good day for experimenting, and that’s ok. Maybe tomorrow will be, or the day after, or later this weekend. Or maybe right now. You’ll never know if you don’t try.