No matter what your outlet is, you can only work creatively in small bursts. Forcing yourself to write for hours, or to paint all day, or to write a song when it’s just not coming is not only frustrating, it’s COUNTER-CREATIVE. Your juicy little mind needs a time out now and again to be able to do what it does automatically. The river in your brain will naturally take you to where ideas are most fertile. But to do this, you have to stop paddling the canoe.
Most of us know about the differences in RIGHT (random/intuitive/subjective/holistic view of the world) and LEFT (logical-sequential/rationale processing/analytic/objective) brain activity and how that affects creativity. Throughout the day, we actively move back and forth between these two for many things we do, maintaining something of a personal balance. But some activities rely more heavily on one type of brain activity than the other. Here’s a fun test I found on youtube to see which side dominates your thinking (don’t take it too seriously, though).
The ARTS demand a lot of our RIGHT sides, and after a while, the river can run dry. This is the main reason why smart artists generally only work for a few concentrated hours out of the day—at least on their creative work. You can’t really learn to turn the switch ON, although so many of us have tried. But when you learn to turn it OFF, and to recognize the creative quiet, you will start to hear the gurgle when it starts to flow again.
Whatever your creative energy is, you have to look for its complement to throw the shut off switch. If you write mellow songs or paint landscapes, then do Zumba (or some other group workout), run a marathon, play a competitive sport or go to a picnic or a conference—something noisy and energetic. If instead you’ve just written an angry poem or scene, or you’re a heavy metal guitarist and you burn energy, then your shutoff switch will be something quiet, like meditation, swimming in a pool or lake, gardening, home repairs, or crafting.
Just as you need sleep every day to function, your creative spirit needs a respite to rejuvenate. An hour spent doing something soothingly uncreative will help you bounce back with a much more powerful creative energy. So here are 11 general ways to temporarily flip off the creative switch for just a little while:
1) Work out
3) Walk the dog
4) Play an instrument
5) Take a short excursion (run errands, explore, drive a friend somewhere)
6) Enjoy a phone break
7) Clean your house (this one really works)
8) Full Shut Down Day – (Bike Marathon, Hike, White Water Rafting, Family Gathering, Go to an all-day Event)
9) Help somebody else (volunteer at Church, a Festival, a school event)
10) Garden (I don’t like this one. There are bugs, it’s hot and dirty, but it works for some)
11) Meditate (especially good for busy minds)
And here are specific suggestions for how quiet your type of creative noise:
DEAR PHOTOGRAPHERS: Leave the camera behind for part of every day. The camera doesn’t see, you do. If you don’t keep your mental equipment primed, then you be producing the kind of photos anyone else with that camera and subject will capture. You have to actually see the whole world before you choose how to frame it in a photo. Sunset happens every day. Watch it through you own lens sometimes. Let the kids play in the water without your camera. You will definitely miss some shots, but you mind will begin to see the opportunities and rise to a new level to create something beyond the scope of your camera lens, and even the horizon.
DEAR MUSICIANS: Get some sunshine, and exercise (even indoors, if you have to). Take time every day to shut off the music by making your body focus on the mechanics of survival. Some people might suggest yoga or meditation, but I think musicians’ minds are too noisy to cut through with these soft tools. And while playing music is a physical activity itself, it uses only specific parts of the body, so it easy to become physically unbalanced. Musicians need to break a sweat, and to do it in something nonmusical. Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity comes to mind. You can work outdoors, among other people who don’t care who you are for a day. Choose something physically challenging and repetitive, like swimming laps, or karate. You don’t want your mind to wander, but rather to focus on something demanding and physical.
DEAR FINE ARTISTS: You are day people (this is why I am not a painter—and possibly the fact that I have not enough talent.) You need to work with natural sunlight, but you often capture it through the window of the studio. I don’t paint regularly, largely because I more creative at night, but painting is one of my off switches, because I don’t invest in it. Therefore, I would suggest that painters and sculptors switch off by turning outward at night. Go out socially, eat wonderful foods, listen to music, watch movies, and feel the evening air. Take days off from painting to go to sporting events, or better yet, go hiking, skiing, or swimming yourself. You need to reconnect your mind and your body to be fresh again for the studio.
DEAR WRITERS: Writing is a solitary art, and so many of the suggestions for fine artists apply to you as well. But the intensity of writing can also confuse the mind the way music does, so the idea of breaking physically applies as well. The main thing is that you need to LEAVE the computer (or notepad, if you are Provincial enough to still write by hand). More than any other art, writing is about observing. And specifically, it is about observing people. A song, poem, or painting may focus beautifully on a mood and a place, but a novel or screenplay uses these only for background. Writers need to jump into the little moments of life wherever they can, so they can take in the full breadth of life’s experience. You need to turn the lens outward toward the world again. Take a train ride, go to a store, do another job, join a group, or volunteer somewhere. Observe people living as they do. When you stop writing stories, you can hear the rhythms of life again. While it’s healthy for your body, you really don’t need long walks or meditation to be creative. You need connections. Don’t forget to make them every day
You may have other ideas that work for you, so let’s hear them!