How to be Creative
There are three main modes in which creatives work:
PLAY – The child-like imaginative mode in which you are riffing with new ideas.
PRAGMATIC – The grown-up, knuckle-down let’s-get-this-done editing mode.
FLOW – the absorbing focused mode in which one relies on instinct.
EVERYONE has the capacity to be creative at some level. Those with the artist gene are able to go more easily into a state of play, but it is available to everyone with practice. Play is fundamental to creativity in the arts. It is the mindset of new ideas. Where the mind is divergent and where previously unconnected ideas become connected. Despite what your school teachers may have told you, valuable ideas really do come from daydreaming.
In the artist’s studio, one has to be able to find time to playfully daydream and then flit into pragmatic mode. At its best, a state of flow is going from one mindset to another, moments of instinct, moments of play and moments of pragmatism.
Hemingway wrote that one should “write drunk and edit sober”. After a couple of decades composing and producing and working with hundreds of artists (and people who think they are artists) I understand the sentiment.
Hemingway means that one must be free and easy to create without fear of editing. You must suspend the critical mind in order to stir up and catch ideas. In play mode, all ideas, good or bad, could lead onto a good idea. You are riffing and improvising. There is no critical mind stopping or blocking the flow to say “that’s not good enough”. Every idea must be followed with “yes and” to spurn more ideas, good or bad.
Then one must be able to sober up and become one’s own editor. To kill the poor ideas and to lovingly nurture the good ones. Being great at creativity is being able to go back and forth from the playful you to the editing you. The creative technique is becoming two opposing personality types. Is it any wonder why writers go mad?
Writer’s block is the inability to separate those two modes. To be stuck in critical mode and demanding your imagination comes up with a masterpiece from the outset. One mode is literally blocking the other.
It’s worth noting that many creatives, myself included, feel that procrastination is a vital part of this process. Even if deadlines are tight I will factor in 20 minutes every three or four hours to do the washing up, rearrange my sock draw or play Tetris. When you occupy the conscious mind with a menial task the subconscious is free to unpick knots. A procrastination session will to allow your unconscious mind to fix any problems in the writing process. If you are working on a huge project sometimes procrastination can take days. Seasoned creatives learn to allow this to happen.
Sadly, creativity is often the dividing line between art and business. Although Silicon Valley is changing this, many old fashioned businesses look down upon daydreamers and procrastinators. Even though million dollar ideas come from these modes.
To be considered an artist, one has to create new ideas. To be in business, your idea doesn’t have to be new, it just needs to fit the market. “Product market fit”. In the film world, studios can keep releasing the same old blockbuster superhero and franchise movies and the market will still show up. The force of the market has overtaken the drive for new culture.
The force of the market doesn’t care for culture or society, it cares for profit. And since piracy and streaming we have seen a change in investment in new ideas, downturn in new culture and an uptick in old franchises and remakes. The exception that proves the rule is Netflix, where new ideas are king.
In music, many artists believe it is wise to walk the well-trodden path. They fit the current market and sell. Others create new paths and new markets. This is the fork in the road which all artists, authors, composers and filmmakers are confronted with eventually. The easy buck or the courageous art life?
At The Rattle we like the pathfinders.
Originality is hard. But it is infinitely more rewarding. For those born with the artist’s curse/gift it is the reason for being. To surf someone else’s wave is hellish, to create cultural waves is to become immortal. It is the path to a rewarding career.
At The Rattle we are fascinated by what conditions are best for nurturing creativity. We’re driven to help artists pursue new ideas alongside those who wish to bring new ideas into the music business.
It’s a cool place.