6 things to avoid if you want to be creative

dual monitor black and white

After writing for this blog for a few years, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m stumped for topics. Recently it’s not even occasionally – it’s frequently.  I don’t get writer’s block, since once I have a topic I can usually fly away with it, but I do get stifled on overall themes and ideas. I came up with a list of ways that my creativity gets stifled in order to fight that tendency. Here they are:

I write for a living…technically. The kind of writing you do in a corporate environment does not encourage any creativity whatsoever. Here is a lovely gem I put in an email years ago: “John Doe – Based on your note, I think the 5/31 date needs to be revised for the 2nd and 3rd issues, and the first issue (negative admin credits) still appears to be ready to be closed pending whatever verification is necessary. These will need corrected close dates, revised action plans if necessary and an updated open/closed status by 6/15 at the latest.”

That is not exactly the kind of writing that would draw visitors back to this blog, I think.

I watch TV. I have given up watching cable TV and only watch Netflix and various other online services.  But it’s still far too easy to watch to much TV. I try not to be tempted, but something about flashing lights and loud noises draws me in. I find these shows fill up the empty, creative and quiet places in my head and replace them with light and fluffy cotton candy-like filling. Even great shows like Breaking Bad still crowd out my own thoughts.  You can argue that they might inspire creativity later, but really they tend to push your creative process back.

I read too much. I have just finished speed-reading through the three (real) books of the Foundation series (which are wonderful books) and I’m currently reading Snow Crash. I have hundreds of blogs in my Google Reader, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even read children’s books daily (obviously). Trying to pull in and process all of that information can crowd out creativity. I did quit reading any news that was not business or sports-related a few months ago, so at least my attention is not distracted by the latest developments with Paris Hilton. All of this is on top of my work-related reading, which is full of gems like this one I got in a memo once: “If applicable, does the appendix include a listing of all applications processes included in the assessment process and the process conclusion for said processes?” Read that again. Yes, I have often had to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

During my commute, I listen to podcasts or audibooks instead of brainstorming.  I like to spend that time listening to comedy podcasts or tech podcasts, since it makes the commute pass much more quickly, but I really should use it to let my mind wander and make notes of that wandering. I find that once I’m home there are too many other distractions – at least until everyone else goes to sleep – to properly brainstorm.

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about nine years ago, I wrote a virulent political blog that was a huge series of links and videos and random comments and thoughts on almost a stream-of-consciousness basis. If I read an article, I would throw out a link and two lines of commentary, and then move on. Being creative means taking all of the influences you receive during the course of the day and processing them and creating something new, not just consolidating information. Many blogs just turn into link fests, but my favorite ones are usually written by people unafraid to present their own ideas rather than linking to others’ ideas.

Football.
I used to be a sports fanatic, following the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball. I even watched the Tour de France and most tennis Grand Slams and golf majors. Other than hockey, I seldom missed a game of any sort on TV. SportsCenter was the wake up call and the goodnight lullaby. Those days are gone – the demands of marriage and fatherhood have crowded them out. However, I still love the NFL so much that I make time for it. I do realize, though, that spending time reading about NFL roster news, watching the games and buying Jets merchandise are bad, bad habits. Nothing about football will help me write this blog, be a better person or be more frugal. Still, I have loved the NFL since becoming a fan of the almost-great Browns teams of the 80s (Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, anyone?). I have to admit I am a footbaliholic. That barrier to creativity will probably remain.

Learning to overcome these barriers to creativity is part of what I am enjoying about the blogging process; having a small idea and then seeing the words spill out on the page once I get underway writing is a tremendous feeling.  Creativity is a mental muscle that many of us exercise far too little while we hammer away at our TPS reports.