A few months ago, a friend asked me for tips on being creative. We ended up talking for a few hours about the whole creative process from start to finish, and some of the ideas that we bounced back and forth were great tidbits of information that I hadn’t really thought too much about before. After reflecting on what we had talked about, I thought other people might benefit from our conversation. So without further ado, here are some tips on how to be creative and for the creative process in general.
Everything’s Been Done Before
First and foremost, it’s very important to realize that 95% of creative ideas have already been done before in some form or another. This should be a liberating thought, not a debilitating one! Ideas aren’t created from the void, they’re formed by combining other, already existing ideas in new ways (More on that later). Don’t stress about things like “this has already been done before” – Whatever you make will be a completely new experience for many people, and your unique take on the subject matter will breathe new life into it.
Just Get Started
Staring at a blank page can be intimidating, but I can’t stress how important getting started is. Every great novel started with a single word, every work of art with a single mark on the canvas, every AAA video game with a single line of code. You don’t have to make that huge novel or painting or game all in one sitting.
When making longer stories, it helps to start at a high level, then break it down piece by piece. For example, if you’re writing a book, start by writing a few sentences about what the whole book is about. Then try breaking it down by chapter. Next break down what the first and second halves of each chapter will cover. Once all that’s done, actually do the work of writing the chapter. Use your breakdowns and notes as a guide, but don’t forget that those are just tools to get you started – It’s okay to deviate from them if you come up with a cool new idea.
Most creative people I know are really good at starting projects, but they tend to struggle when it comes to finishing them. There are many reasons projects get abandoned – Life getting in the way, perfectionism, moving on to new, more exciting projects, or simply because finishing something is hard work. That said, finishing is hands down the most important piece of advice on this list, especially if you’re new to creative pursuits and are trying to get a job. It’s better to have a single flawed, finished project than a bunch of perfect, unfinished ones.
If you ever get stuck working on a problem, the best suggestion that I have is to take a break. I know it sounds crazy, but stop working and go on a walk, get some sleep, or just think about something else for a while. You will continue to unconsciously work through the problem and a creative solution will very often present itself. Brains are cool like that! All that said, don’t forget to return to the project after taking a break – Don’t let this be what causes the project to remain unfinished!
Easy Ways to be Creative
We’ve talked a lot about the process of making something, but how does someone actually be creative? Here are a few easy ways to create new ideas:
- Combine two things to make a new thing. A + B = C
- If you’re having trouble coming up with a useful C in this example, start with random As and Bs and see if they lead you somewhere useful.
- Still having trouble? Try an idea generator like this one.
- Copy/steal from other creative works.
- Don’t plagiarize, but use other works as inspiration. As long as you don’t literally copy/paste, whatever you borrow will become something new based on iteration, your own thoughts or edits, or the world you put it in. It can also help to take things from other mediums and see how they can fit your medium of choice.
- “Good artists borrow great artists steal.” (See what I did there?)
- Choose a theme and make decisions based around that theme.
- Examples: Fear, library, greed, time
- Or push this further: Choose two themes and combine them to make a cool new thing! For example, Zelda: Link’s Awakening = Nightmares/dreams + music.
- This uses the tip above about combining things! A + B = C
- Having trouble coming up with good themes? You can find theme generators online as well.
- Brainstorm/play with the problem.
- Creativity is just playing around with thoughts and ideas.
- Playing with a problem, especially using humor and doubly especially with humor and other people you’re comfortable with, is a huge help when trying to think creatively.
So there you have it, my tips for being creative and the creative process in general. My background might be in game development, but that’s just a medium. These same tips work for writing, painting, crafting, or any other creative endeavor. What are you waiting for? Go get started, but don’t forget to follow through and finish it!