4 tips for a creative mind
Updated: Mar 20, 2019
2019 is the year of creating things. I am bursting at the seams with new songs, have already started planning my debut novel (a cricket themed murder mystery; yes as lame as it sounds!), and am determined to launch a cool podcast series in the coming months…
By happy coincidence, I’ve recently found myself to be coming up with new ideas more readily (and of those ideas, more that I actually like!) than over the past few years, where it seemed like I had to wait for something to jump out at me. So this got me thinking about creativity; specifically, how much of the “1% inspiration” is down to luck, and how much is down to the effort you put into looking for it.
I was recommended one of the authoritative texts on the subject, The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry (2011), and decided to download it on my Kindle (thank you Jordan!). While it sometimes feels like a book about time management, and indeed some of his techniques overlap with things that make you more organised, the focus of the book is different: it teaches you how to cultivate an environment in yourself that grows more, better ideas.
I’ve drawn out below a few of the cool things I learned and added some relevance to songwriting (because that’s what we actually do):
1) Cluster similar types of work/activity with each other
When you plan your day, the less you have to shift from very thoughtful, creative types of work (e.g. writing, composing, dreaming up ideas) into things that require different types of thinking (doing finances, sending admin emails), the less time you lose in between because of those shifts. Your creative mind is like a big machine in a factory: it takes time to power it up, and so you want to keep it running from as long a stint as possible (without burning it out!)
For a musician, this might mean planning bigger chunks of time for your songwriting, and keeping them separate from things like emailing festivals and blogs or going to meetings which you can bunch together!
2) Work with other people to generate ideas
In the songwriting world, “jamming”, and songwriting workshops are quite commonplace. I've always found working with Vedantha to be super inspiring, and get very claustrophobic when I have to work on my songs on my own for ages. Todd Henry specifically advocates the use of “circles” – getting a group of people together for discussion, and then prompting that discussion with a number of questions: “What are you working on?”; “What is inspiring you?”; “What would you like prompting on?”
As long as you’re genuinely in it to bounce ideas and help other people, you’ll get so much inspiration out of it yourself. Even though we’re all arguably fighting for space the same Spotify playlists, that doesn’t mean we can’t all help each other out and build a better world…
3) Keep a running list of things you want to read/watch/listen to
This is NOT just a list of all the recommendations that keep being thrown at you; you have to be fairly selective about what to draw inspiration from. Think about what your needs are. E.g. I read The Accidental Creative because I want to become an expert on creativity. Also think about what you are particularly curious about. It struck me the other day that I love chess, but I actually know very little about how the game was originally developed and why the pieces start where they do on the board. Finally, treat it like a diet – make sure you’re generally eating healthy food (read some Plato!) but don’t feel guilty for throwing in the occasional fast food (e.g. some trashy murder mystery about cricket that Ned wrote)
As songwriters, we all do what we do because we love music – but the biggest mistake and the biggest cause of unoriginal and impassionate songwriting is only listening to music that is very similar to what you do. Get out of your comfort zone – if you play heavy metal, try listening to August and After. If you play garage-inspired hip hop, try listening to August and After. If you play indie folk- oh wait that doesn’t work.
4) Block out time to think
Literally, block out an hour in your week to just sit, stare out of a window, and think. Like Vedantha in the picture below. Make sure you have some structure around what you’re thinking about; Todd Henry suggests having a "Big 3" list, the 3 main things you’re currently seeking a creative breakthrough on. My Big 3 at the moment could be: coming up with a song idea that captures my experience in India; how to strengthen the killer’s motive in my cricket whodunit; coming up with a theme for my podcast.
Paradoxical as it might sound, the song ideas won't come to you unless you make the time to go out and find them yourself...