One thing I’ve learnt as a writer and creator is not to force it. Creative inspiration is spontaneous by nature and it’s best to experience it that way. It’s normal to be uninspired. Creativity is fragile so it needs to be fed enough inspiration. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you or your capabilities.
Idea formation comes from two different modes of human thinking; focused and diffused.
The focused mode involves deliberate deep work, flow state, and highly productive sessions where you see tangible results and the diffused mode is when we form connections and subconsciously mull over problems in the guise of a break. I use both modes in such a way that they feed into each other.
Image by Talenthouse Artist Vuwani Rambuda
I have regular brainstorming sessions to come up with essays to write and on the other hand, I get ideas when I’m doing things that have nothing to do with my craft, like taking a walk, taking a shower and even watching certain TV shows. Creativity often arises at the intersection of ideas. When you're still and in relaxation mode you're not actively thinking, which allows the dominant left hemisphere of your brain to give way to the right hemisphere with its greater capacity to see the big picture and make imaginative leaps.
History is littered with examples of serendipitous discoveries and ideas that combined diffuse and focused thinking but I want to focus on the different activities creatives engage in to induce the diffuse mind to come up with ideas. So I spoke to a few creatives to understand their line of thinking.
Image by Talenthouse Artist Deandra Lee
Dan Rice, a cartoonist, describes how he gets away with the purpose of idea exploration. “When I am blocked I'll intensely study the subject matter or similar work I admire,” he says. “Then get away from it and find something that consumes my mind and body (i.e. a walk, ride on the scooter etc.) as my brain will eventually drift towards new approaches to the same problem.”
“I like taking my computer outside to compose music.”, Nicole Russin-McFarland says. She is a film composer that engages with nature to get new and fresh ideas.
“It’s the opposite of what most people do.” she says, “Newbie composers on Instagram brag about having rooms full of gear they often barely use. Composing outside is very minimalistic and contradicts everything we’re supposed to believe about music being made. Particularly in film scoring, it’s like the more money you spend on a room full of gear, the better you are as a creative and that isn’t true. I just go to places to eat or anywhere outside like grassy areas. If I am lucky to be near a beach I’ll go there. If I am to get lucky someday and work with a full orchestra for a movie, this wouldn’t change because I would write the material on my computer before taking it to them.”
Image by Talenthouse Artist Robert Orji
I also spoke to Alice Row, a musician, who detailed how an exhibition inspired a track she wrote. “I wrote this track after attending an art exhibition in London 'Alice in Wonderland - Curious & Curiouser', she says. “The concept was about a girl who struggled to survive the confusing world of adults, she also struggled to come to terms with life and learnt that there are many layers/ mysteries. It is thought that Alice and several other characters secretly suffer from mental health issues which helped me to come up with the lyric 'behind closed doors you can't see, nothing is ever as it seems', this is a metaphor for the many doors Alice opens in Wonderland and also for real life where you never know what's truly going on.”
After Alice attended the exhibition she felt that the concept fit with her current thoughts at the time and it felt right to explore that. She then created the project. The artwork is also inspired by one of the pieces of art in the gallery that she has in my home studio. “This track is really exciting for me as I feel like this is where I found my sound,” she says.
Image by Talenthouse Artist Hafis Mubarak
Similarly, in terms of places that inspire ideas. Dan Rice describes a place he visits to induce original ideas. “There is a small field by a little river near my house,” he says. “I know the place well because there is a tree that lets off these huge clumps of what looks like cotton wool caterpillars and it always makes me sneeze. But it’s also a great place to work. I go there and write two sides of an A4 paper filled with ideas. I then walk home and evaluate which works and which doesn't. It's driven a number of content ideas including the style I used combining real-life craft materials with cartooning in a kids book, it also lead to my series of cartoons on chaotic and complex characters.”
Moreover, Nicole talks about her approach to a creative block. “Mental blockage isn’t really that much of an issue if you think about it as a diary. Take whatever you’re feeling and mix it into what you have to make. That goes for any type of work creative or corporate. People need to remember that all fields of work were once done with pen and paper.”
Creatives have to maintain a careful balance between activities chosen to facilitate both focused and diffuse modes of thinking. Taking a break from consciously working on a creative problem and engaging in an unrelated task improves subsequent creativity, a phenomenon termed incubation. When the ideas stop flowing and diminishing returns set in, do something which is conducive to mind-wandering. These opportunities for mind wandering are the perfect mind space to engage in activities that’ll lead to ideas. A rule of thumb is to remember that creative inspiration will always come. It’ll be easier if it comes to a mind of ease than one of worry.