A lack of creativity often boils down to overwhelm, the wrong approach, or too many inputs. It's an easy problem to solve.
Years ago, I struggled with writer's block. I wanted to write a book, but I'd no good ideas to use for my book. Whenever I had free time, I put off sitting down in front of the blank page because I didn't feel creative.
I believed I lacked creativity.
This mindset was unhelpful because it prevented me from improving at my craft, through getting feedback on my stories, even if they were badly written. After studying how other creatives work, I discovered they employ proven strategies when they feel uninspired or out of ideas.
If you're experiencing a lack of creativity, fear not. Your creativity quotient is something you can easily train. You can easily overcome this problem with the right strategies.
1. Learn To Say No
It's not rude, impolite or anti-social to say no. Creative People say no all the time :
Charles Dickens wrote over a dozen novels and numerous short stories and essays. He did it by saying no and by focusing on his writing:
“‘It is only half an hour' – ‘It is only an afternoon' – ‘It is only an evening,' people say to me over and over again; but they don't know that it is impossible to command one's self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes – or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day.”
Next, there's the Canadian-American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow. His secretary explained:
“Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people's ‘studies.' “
I also like the Japanese author Haruki Murakami's explanation for why he says no in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running :
“I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me.”
2. Hold Brainstorm
If you're out of ideas, holding a brainstorming session can help you or even your team with idea generation. They don't take too long, and most people are familiar with the technique. Basically
- Pick a challenging topic
- Write in on a whiteboard or piece of paper
- Write down every possible solution, no matter how outlandish
- Continue for at least twenty five minute
- Stop, review and refine the best ideas
Read our brainstorming guide.
3. Mindmap A Creative Idea
Mind mapping is another technique geared towards the creative mind. It's similar to brainstorming, although it works better if you're working alone rather than collaborating with a team.
If you're a student or educator, this creative technique can also help with learning and recall.
You can use markers and paper or dedicated ming mapping software.
- Write down the topic at hand in the centre of the pages
- Draw related ideas that branch of the main idea
- Use colors and images to inject a visual feel into your mind map
- Review and extract useful ideas
Read our mind mapping guide.
4. Free write
Freewriting is a powerful method of idea generation. Open up a new document using your word processor of choice.
Alternatively, use a notebook and pen. Pick a single topic and write about whatever comes to mind for at least twenty five minutes or one Pomodoro. Don't stop to edit yourself, refine your ideas or question anything.
The goal is to extract as many ideas as possible from your creative mind, no matter how outlandish. A writer teacher first introduced me to this technique. I also learnt about it from Natalie Goldberg's writing book Writing Down the Bones.
Read our free writing guide.
5. Review From a New Genre
Have you ever read a boring book and kept going to the end? Or do you read a lot of books from the same genre? If you're past page 50 and don't like the book, put it down and move onto something more exciting.
Similarly, breaking out of comfortable genres will introduce you to new voices and ideas.
Creative people go in search of fresh and challenging ideas. They find them in unexpected places.
6. Curb Unproductive Habits
Do you stay up late at night watching television? Are Facebook or Instagram taking up hours of free time at night? Or perhaps you're spending your attention checking emails on your phone?
These unproductive habits are draining your mental energy. Consider only using social media at predetermined periods and removing email entirely from your phone. Commit to your creative work over all else.
If you spend a lot of time shallow reading, i.e. social media and the news, use software like Freedom App to restrict when and how long you can access these sites. Then, take advantage of this time to write, draw, paint or create.
7. Try a New Tool
Confession: I love new writing apps and software.
I've spent hours testing writing apps, online services and even the perfect desk and chair.
Like lots of writers, the tools of the craft are exciting to try out.
Some tools help me become creative and productive. I couldn't imagine writing a book in anything but Scrivener. However, some creative projects require different tools.
Recently, I tried writing Haiku for a new book without much progress. Turning to pen and paper helped me get into this genre a little more.
Remember, writing tools are side-attractions. Don't let procrastinating them get in the way of your work.
8. Manage Your Commitments
If you're a professional writer , part of your job is to tell your editor about your commitments.
Then, if your editor asks you to work on something you can politely decline and point to your commitments.
Do less but better.
If your writing is more personal, make it clear to friends and family members that you write at a certain time every morning or every night.
Stephen King describes this in On Writing, saying writers must “write with the door closed”.
At first, family may come to you during these times to ask a question or make a request, but here's the kicker: If you explain your passion and if they see your commitment, the people close to you will respect the time you're spending creating.
9. Get Advice from Other Top Creatives
It's easier than ever to study how other writers, musicians, painters and even comedian approach their craft. You can take a course from them on the likes of Masterclass.
If online courses don't suit, sometimes it's motivating to read a good quote about creativity. They can serve as fuel before a challenging writing session.
Lack of Creativity: The Final Word
Many aspiring creatives face the problem of how to find good ideas. It's not easy, but you must come up with a lot of bad ideas first. Getting these ideas out into the world or in front of a more experience creative is the first step towards finding a really good idea.
With these strategies, all you have to do is start.
Lack of Creativity: FAQS
What is a word for a lack of creativity?
Banal. Dull. Bland. Sterile. Unimaginative.
Can you lose your creativity?
Creativity isn't something you acquire or lose. Think of it as like a muscle that you grow over time. If you don't do the work it will gradually atrophy. However, if you write, draw or paint consistently, your subconscious mind will naturally find original ideas.
Interview: Overcoming a Lack of Creativity with Dr. Roger Firestein
Dr. Roger Firestien is a creativity consultant and senior faculty member at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo State College. He’s also the author of Create in a Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation.
In this interview, Roger explains:
- How creativity works for writers (Discover more about this in my Forbes post here)
- Why it’s important to force connections between different ideas
- What to do when you feel blocked and uninspired
- What his writing routine looks like
And lots more.
I start by asking Roger about his new book Create In A Flash: A Leader’s Recipe for Breakthrough Innovation.
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