How to be creative in 6 words
These days every son of a bitch is writing a book on creativity.
Some are good. Some are dirty money grabs.
It seems like there are at least 90% of these books written by enterprising WASP-y looking white dudes with those round glasses (y'know the ones I'm talking about) that think that just because they worked at McKinsey for 3 years and like discussing post-modernism over IPAs that it gives them the right to write a book about creativity.
To hear them say it... Creativity is the panacea for everything from writing thank you notes to marriage problems to the systemic breakdown of American democracy.
These books usually give you all sorts of "exercises."
53 exercises to jump-start creativity. And then the exercise is something utterly banal. They’ll say something like “go out to a swamp and stare at a frog for 3 hours. Then, write down what you observe.”
And this is all well and good. I also dabble in these books. I go to hipster bookstores and I look at these books and think "hmm this would look wonderful on my nonexistent coffee table."
90% of creativity books are just fine. They're mid.
But that 10% of books about creativity that are actually good?? Man those are amazing. I love those books the most. They talk about how beautiful creativity can be. They talk about how it can be useful to solve problems but don't make it seem like it's the shortcut to a happy life. They sometimes give exercises, but they're well thought out and explained in depth.
If you have any interest, you should read these books today.
But they all boil down to a fundamental habit. Once you this habit, everything else follows.
The fundamental habit is related to a question I always get asked.
I've helped teach writing before. I've talked about creativity. I've read an insane amount of these books.
And I get some form of this question multiple times:
Question: “How can I be more creative?”
I answer: "Easy. Build a phone line to God."
This answer is great because it has the benefit of pissing off (hopefully in an endearing way) just about everyone who's asking.
The rationalists are confused because they hate the woo-woo and they're looking for ACTUAL writing advice.
The godly folks are confused because the fact that the almighty God is going to whisper what you should do to your character in Act 2 Scene 3 seems to go against the whole notion of an almighty God.
And the Genz are confused about what a phone line even is and why they can't just text God (I'm getting older so I need to start practicing my boomer humor)
Creating a phone line is learning to listen to life's cues. It's learning how to LISTEN in general. We're all so fucking terrible at listening. We hear what we want to hear. We respond to a partner's question only to hear back: "What are you talking about? That wasn't my question."
Most of the creativity, joy, and beauty in the world does not come from some superhuman effort. It comes from your ability to be open and listen and witness the joys around you.
Creating a phone line to God means dedicating some time of your day to sit around and listen to what life is trying to tell you.
What exactly does that look like in practice?
Julia Cameron suggests morning pages. it's an exercise where you write 3 pages long hand first thing in the morning.
Countless philosophers like Nietzsche liked long walks in nature where they didn't listen to podcasts or music or anything. They just walked and observed and thought whatever they thought.
Many directors have talked about how they get their best ideas when they're driving. They're listening to nothing, simply driving on roads they've driven before or don't require rapt attention. Then their mind wanders.
Salvador Dali used to sleep while holding something in his hands and when he'd doze off the object would drop and then he started painting.
And David Lynch does transcendental meditation.
This is the first step. Listening.
The second step is doing it at a similar time every day. This tells God when he should speak to you.
If you wait by the phone at random times of the day and wait for God to call you... maybe it's because you're missing his calls.
If you're free every day at 7 pm, then God knows when to call.
This is simple advice. I know. But I've found the most profound advice is the most deceptively simple.
The hard part is the consistency.
The hard part is the emotions.
The hard part is your own limiting beliefs.
To wait for a call to God requires a lot of waiting. It requires NOT being disappointed when He doesn't call. In fact, it's not expecting a call at all.
You have to meditate, drive, walk, journal, and listen because you want to do that in it of itself.
It'll feel "un-useful" but that's the point.
This is the hardest part.
Can you be brave enough to be un-useful? Can you quiet the workaholism and listen to what the demons inside of you are saying?
Eventually, you’ll experience life better. Deeper. You’ll be more alive.
But initially, when you start to listen, you may discover why you weren’t listening.
You may discover that you don’t listen to your partners because it’s easier to be bad listeners than realize that sometimes you get bored with your partners and them with you. It’s hard to realize that love requires sustenance and gardening. It’s hard to realize that even though we’re connected to them, we’ll never truly understand them or they us. And we’ll always be alone.
When you start to listen, all the unheard and unfelt parts of you will roar back. You’ll feel pain, sadness, and anger. You won’t know where it’s coming from. All the unloved parts will ask for love, and it’ll take you a while to realize how to love them.
This is God speaking through you.
As you clean out the debris and get better at listening, the creativity and aliveness will come too.
The deepest most nefarious mindset we have is that we believe we always have to be working hard, be useful, or be productive.
Let yourself be unproductive.
It's only when our need to be productive powers down, that our creative sides can power up.
Creativity is not productive. It's as random, chaotic, and as unexpected as life.
Anybody who's suffered loss can attest that grief attacks at the most inopportune times. You can never expect or predict grief. It strikes and you must surrender.
So it is with creativity.
Tell God you're ready to listen.