You’ve woken up today and see a very fancily written “Once upon a time” at the top left of an otherwise entirely blank piece of paper. It’s been there for a year, and you call this “decent progress” on your novella about…what was it again, you ask? Let me help you: “Once upon a time, there was an artist who failed to wage the necessary war against their lazy and relaxed tendencies that consistently holds them back in most, if not all, of their pursuits.”
You’re going to start being creative. Daily. Here are three ways to make it through the artistic trenches and come out on top.
1. Talk to Yourself
I’m sure you’d cringe if you thought about how many hours of your life is spent getting from one place to the other in your car: in 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic on their way to or back from work.1Anyone who says this isn’t another form of human waste is doing themselves and the world an injustice: this is untapped time for the creative mind, my friend.
Think about that long, lonely commute to work. Instead of listening to the radio (or even ridiculously trying to curl your lashes with the risk of poking your eye out or causing a major traffic accident), try having a conversation with yourself about your creative projects and recording it with your phone. Psychological studies that verify the benefits of “self-talk” therapy–you create a distance between you and your thoughts in the process. Giving yourself a fresh perspective could really get the creative juices flowing, and you’ll develop your “self-editing,” being able to weed the good ideas from the bad.
If you’re a writer, talk about your thoughts to give them a little rubber and bounce. Challenge yourself, explain it, list off alternatives. If it’s a visual project, you can engage in a similar process. For just about any other form of art, it’s just a great way to generate inspiration.
Worst case scenario, you look like Jim Carrey in Me, Myself, and Irene.
2. Be Curious. Complacency is Death.
If “living” to you is going about the daily routine, seeing the same thing, and thinking the same thoughts, then you wouldn’t fit what I define as living out an artistic lifestyle. What happens in the creative process is a deconstruction and regrowth, creating the new from the old, and a consistently curious disposition in life will reinforce this architecture of an artistic mind.
Being curious involves breaking the automaton of your mind that keeps your imagination trapped like a glorious and defeated beast. In Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius, Erik Wahl says of the relationship between the two: “In our early years…curiosity ruled our senses. Enthusiasm ignited our actions. We did not fear what we did not know – instead we thrived on the process of discovery.We were endlessly creative.” These discoveries can lead to a dramatic unfolding: the epiphany that drives a story arc or an innovation in craftsmanship.
In being curious, you move from the surface of what “is,” what you think is true to why something is. For the visual artist, they may ask what make us drawn to contrast? How does contrast show up in our daily lives and how can it play a role in my paintings? Or for the writer, think about your rote assumptions of people. Man, that barista who serves you every morning is a grump. Try asking yourself: what’s the story of that somber glare as they froth the milk for your latte?
So. Questions. All the time. No exceptions.
3. Every Day, Try One New Thing
Alright. This one’s pretty difficult. But listen, it’s not about going sky-diving every day or pursuing novelties to the point of keeling over from an adrenaline rush. This “thing” doesn’t have to be a particular activity, meeting new people, or reading the next up and coming online publication. Maybe you decide to say hi to someone who looks lonely as they’re walking down the road. Maybe you try and talk to the lone wolf at work and eventually discover that he is a samurai on the weekends, or better yet, that he’s from Florida and henceforth has lived out many wicked and disturbing episodes of life. Maybe, you just take a new street to work and see some new houses.
In reality, we can’t all book a trip to Kenya and have this incredibly moving seance with the local elephants. We don’t have the financial capacity to even try to emulate the experiences of Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, a book I personally refer to as” White Lady Takes a Trip to Ingratiate Herself in Foreign Customs Only to Make the Same Mistake that Built Up to Her Life-Crippling Existential Crisis in the First Place.” So, while academic research has shown that people who have new experiences more often retain more positive memories and emotions, you don’t have to do a “new thing” in the lavish and excessive way Elizabeth Gilbert did. I mean, do you really want to?
Our lives are not so easily uprooted, nor do they change that much. Stability, although illusive, is really a beautiful part of life that should be tended to like a magnificent garden. But just remember: there are probably an infinite amount of ways to look at a single rose. And when you’re on the threshold of a new perspective, you’re that much closer to making your next masterpiece.
1. Dooley, Erin. “Here’s How Much Time Americans Waste in Traffic.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.