Help! All the creativity has left me!

Why did I choose a creative profession!? I’ve been staring at a blank document on my laptop for hours. Well, it’s intermittent staring. I’ve gotten up to make tea, to get cookies, to do laundry, to make more tea, to dance around in the living room, to eat lunch, to make tea, to hang the laundry, to stare at my screen from a different angle and to call my mom. But in the meantime, not a word. Not a single word of story has gotten into my brain, through my fingers onto the screen. Nada, zero, nothing. Why did I choose a creative profession?!

If you have a creative profession yourself or maybe even more so if you don’t, you’ll know the dull, lifeless, rag doll-like feeling of being uninspired. The creative block. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes up out of nowhere. You’re in the flow creating something beautiful and all of a sudden it stops. It’s almost like you’ve used it all up. That was it, you’ve now exhausted your last bit of creative ability.

Other times it’s like a dark cloud following you around. You have a vague memory of producing something at some point in the distant past but it was probably pretty shit anyway. Because you now know: you suck! Better go work at McDonald’s, hopefully, they don’t require a written application.

Let’s get a little insight into what creative block versus creative flow is. I love this talk by John Cleese. He talks about two different modes: the open mode and the closed mode. The closed mode is the one in which we cannot experience creativity. It’s active and somewhat anxious, it’s purposeful but there’s a lack of playfulness. The open mode, on the other hand, is signified by relaxation, humour and curiosity for the sake of curiosity.

The open mode is where our brain can wander freely to explore options and find solutions. However, we need to be in the closed mode in order to implement our ideas efficiently. Both modes are vital. It’s hard to be around people who are always in open mode just as much as people who are always in closed mode. For the openmoder, everything is always possible, including making me wait for 1,5 half before cancelling our appointment. For the closedmoder nothing is ever possible at all, certainly not storytelling in business.

Creativity is a fickle thing and we’ll never have full control over it, which is a big part of its beauty. We do, however, have figured out some tools to stimulate it. To get the juices flowing, so to say. For some reason, we are all created as individuals so not everything works for everyone. Let me discuss a few different techniques here, find out which ones work well for you. Please do let me know in the comments if you have some secret exercises you use to be able to create the magic you create.

  1. Just get the heck started

It’s idyllic to be the misunderstood, tortured soul when you never actually produce anything. Staring at a blank canvas/sheet of paper/Word doc/stage/fill in your own… Willing the brilliance to come to you and simply waiting for it to happen. NOT GONNA WORK! We’ll actually have to produce something to produce anything of value. Just do it. Allow it to be absolute garbage. Redo it. Grow, learn, evolve! When there’s no creativity, make something absolutely uninspired but just keep at it.

  1. Nature is pretty darn magical

I, personally, only really discovered the intense effects of nature at 26 years old. I am what they call a city gal. I understand cities, drop me in any city and I’ll manage. Plants, on the other hand, seem extremely unpredictable to me. Last April, however, I decided to broaden my horizon. I went on an 800 km hike. This took me 7 weeks and much of it was through nature. Fields, mountains, forests. I will never forget the surge of inspiration I got from touching a horse’s nose for the first time. Exhilarating! Later I heard that most people just venture out into nature for an hour or two. Get in touch with nature, touch a horse’s nose if, like me, you’ve never done that. Maybe it will help you find the inspiration to write a blog post about inspiration!

  1. Marvelling at others’ creativity

For me, this can honestly go both ways. Sometimes, when I’m admiring the product of someone else’s creative process, I feel like a complete and an utter failure. I will never be able to produce something like that, why even try!? At other times, art in any form can lift me up. Makes me want to create, do, become better. It doesn’t only inspire me, it also motivates me. Some of my personal favourites: Hamilton the musical (haven’t actually seen it but know the lyrics by heart), I’ve fallen in love with Botero’s art here in Colombia and books ranging from Harry Potter to 1984.

 

Reading back this article I see it’s dripping with arrogance and insecurity. Two things I, apparently, very much associate with my creative process. When it’s flowing, I feel on top of the world. I feel like nothing can stop me and I will create magic. When it isn’t going I feel miserable and worthless. This brings me to my last point: try to disconnect your creative process from your sense of self-worth. When you can do that, it can be OK to be blocked. You can just walk away from it all, do something else and come back to it later. I still have enough work to do in that respect, I can’t always do it. But just every now and then I can keep believing that I have good ideas and produce valuable work even though it’s not coming right now.

And if all this fails, we can always change professions.

Off to an interesting start; don’t kill your chances with a boring opening line.

“I spent 4,5 hours trying to figure out the perfect opening line and I haven’t gotten any further than ‘Welcome. My name is John and today I will teach you all about bitcoin.’ ”
I seldom have to spend any time convincing people of the importance of a good opening line; your opening will determine how your audience is listening to your message. The more difficult thing for most people to understand is how easy an opening can be. It’s safe to say that 4,5 hours is definitely overthinking it!

Yes, it does matter

When you kick off your presentation with a catchy opening, your audience will listen with their entertainment ears. They’ll be relaxed, expecting it to be fun and captivating. It is easy for them to believe what you say and to bond with you as a speaker and person. In other words, your audience is in the perfect mode for you to influence them.

However, start off with a sentence like John’s and they will be listening with their fact checking ears. Your listeners have their rational brain turned on and ready to think critically. This is a good mode for them to be in to learn new facts but they will also be more likely to question what you say.

The opening question

Many people who are trying to escape John’s opening, resort to the opening question. “Who here has ever stood in line for more than 15 minutes?” “Who here owns a car?”

You know what, opening with a question is not bad! It really has its perks: it can help you calm down when you’re nervous by making it feel more like a conversation than a presentation and it will get your audience to be more active rather than passive.

The downside to it, in my opinion, is that it’s done so often. Yes, cliches are cliches for a reason and all that but if you can build up the courage, go for something else next time.

The any-old-conversation-opening

We tell stories all the time. We might not be aware of it and granted, some are better at it than others, but we do! You tell your wife about this weird dude in the office. She tells you about that awkward moment she at Starbucks. Honestly, presentations are not that different. It’s just a conversation in which it’s unacceptable to interrupt you. Perfect! So start off your story in a way you would start off any old conversation. “You won’t believe what my boss said today!” “Last weekend I was talking to my brother about parenthood.” “Let me tell you what happened yesterday when I was doing my laundry!”

These types of sentences are a promise of a story so your audience’s entertainment ears will be wide open.

The catchy phrase

And then there are the catchy phrases. Something the audience doesn’t expect to hear. Often a bold statement that amuses them, intrigues them or even upsets them. You could make a statement that contradicts the general opinion: “Donald Trump is the best president the US has seen in over 100 years.” (He’s not… really not.) You could use a powerful quote or even an absurd statement: “I know we all believe cucumbers to be an inferior produce.” Your audience will certainly want the explanation for this and their entertainment ears will be on!

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that it is bad when your audience is listening through their fact checking ears. Especially when your audience exists of peers, people who can talk about your subject on the same level as you do, you want them to listen in a critical manner. Nonetheless, it is really effective to ease them into your presentation with an entertaining opening to help them connect with you as a speaker. The facts come later. The facts always come later.