Being creative can be one heck of a roller coaster ride. One minute you’re up the next you are down. One of the keys to consistently producing valuable creative work is to NEVER expect to always be on a creative high. Once you’ve accepted that, the rest of your creative journey is a breeze. Okay maybe not quite a breeze, but at least you have one less troll to battle on your quest for creative enlightenment.
For me, that was a very difficult bridge to cross, because I grew up always knowing I was born to create. The desire seemed hard wired into my genetic circuitry: When I wasn’t fabricating foam kingdoms out my dad’s old sofas, I was painting masterpieces on his living room walls. Okay, maybe they weren’t exactly Monets, but for a three year old, those stick figures sure were awesome.
The thing is I was never short of creative ideas: not as a child; not as a teenager; not even through my years as a mass communication undergrad. It wasn’t until I had to eke a living out of it, that the creative trolls started scouting my mental bridges. To be fair on those trolls, they did spend enough time gulping Troll Larger at the local tavern in my head, to allow me skip across and return with brilliant ideas sometimes. But at other times when the fate of the universe depended on me, they would trudge back to my bridge, drunk and angry to scare the s***t out of my creative wits if I dared attempt a crossing.
In case my last few sentences made no sense to you, what I’m saying is that after disappointing my mother by choosing a career she understood nothing about, I started experiencing a periodic surge of creative drought. Sometimes, these amazing ideas would come at me from nowhere effortlessly sending me into a nerve wrecking creative row for hours. But at other times, just when I needed to get some high income yielding creative work on the way, guess who came to dinner?
Imagine how upsetting this can. I doubt you can though, because only the wearer of the shoes knows where it pinches (ironically, these shoes were snipping deep holes into my pockets).
It soon seemed like any time I needed to find a new way to scratch my ears, (an unfortunate bad habit), while simultaneously driving through the madness that is Lagos traffic and whispering sweet nothings to my girlfriend over the phone, I would effortlessly have a Eureka moment. But when dark elves were about to send the universe back to the age of darkness, and Chris Hemsworth was too busy starving to death on the set of “Heart of the Sea”to come to the rescue, my mind would blank out. If the fate of the universe has ever depended on you coming up with a creative idea, then I’m sure you have experienced something similar.
Though some people say we can stimulate creativity by simulating an environment that inspires us, you and I know that in reality, this is hardly ever the case. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there aren’t ways to stimulate creativity, it’s just that at the times when you really need to whip up something that’s out of this world, lying naked on the white sands of your beach house in Fiji is hardly ever a viable option.
After many years (a couple to be truthful) of failing woefully at coming up with great ideas when I needed them, the truth I should have realized from the beginning finally hit me: I was born creative; I did nothing to become that way. Several events might have prompted me to take the creative path, but those same events led others toward completely different paths. Neither my creativity nor my creative ideas were ever mine to do with as I pleased in the first place. If creative ideas come of their own accord; usually when I don’t need them; then I figured it was wiser to harness them when they did come, than to crack open my skull trying to force them out when they didn’t. I figured “why not take a basket along whenever I can cross my bridge without being harassed by trolls and bring back as many ideas as I can?” “Why not just accept that I can’t cross when the trolls come back from their drinking sprees?” Life is a lot easier when I’m not trying to save the world: the world saves itself just fine. Ask Indiana Jones, he figured that out after trying to save the lost ark that had the capacity to save itself from the get go.
Another thing I’ve figured out, is that creative ideas seldom come alone. The more time we spend in the “zone”, the more of them are likely to be poured into our laps. Making the best use of the times when they do come is our wisest possible option as creatives.
When we accept that we’re probably never going to be on a permanent creative high and that we’re more likely to run dry when we need our creative juices the most, our lives as a creatives become much easier. The pressure to be creative is suddenly lifted off our shoulders: which in itself is more often than not what puts the plug on our creative flow in the first place.
Once we realize that we do not have the power to author our creativity, we can become more responsible with it, by never allowing the flow to come in vain. Hence whenever it comes, we milk it for all it’s worth and then some. What I think wise creatives learn to do, is to take all they can get when their creative flood gates are flung open. What they don’t need immediately, they archive for later use. These archives however, are often enough to last till the next flow.
Not so wise creatives, however believe they are gods in themselves, and their pride blinds them from the truth. As such they end up wasting their flow moments believing they can recreate the circumstances in which it came and have another one at will. When the chips are down and they have to show their cards, they in one last frenzied effort to protect their creative dignity, whip up some old and often overused idea, spin it around on its head a couple of times and go “tadaa!!”, expecting no one to see the wobbly wornout legs their “creative” ideas are barely able to stand on.