7 ways to stifle your creativity

After writing for this blog for a few months, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m really stumped for topics. I don’t really 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 was trying to come 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: “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 regular TV and only watch Netflix, but every now and then I will be distracted by something someone else is watching at our house or someone else’s house. 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. The advertising pounds away at your senses and fills your head with jingles and multiple jarring images. I have a different experience watching a good movie on DVD, since it can inspire me to think about deeper issues and is not broken up every 10 minutes by commercials asking if I have heartburn or want to buy a new car.

I read too much. I have just finished speed-reading through the seven books of the Thomas Covenant series (which are wonderful books). I read about 70 blogs per day, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even the occasional children’s book aloud. 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 today: “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 to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

During my commute, I read instead of brainstorming. I have a huge advantage over many people in that most of my commute is on public transportation. The trains on the particular route I’m taking to my current client are seldom very crowded, so I have a seat. I like to spend that time reading, 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 do not write ideas down as soon as they occur. Too often, I have a great idea and tell myself “excellent post idea! Write an article about it this evening!” only to forget it by the time I get home. I make an effort to carry around a small notebook all day and write ideas in it as they occur, but I still sabotage myself constantly by thinking “remember to write that down when you get back to your desk.”

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about four 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’.

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.

12 Replies to “7 ways to stifle your creativity”

  1. Interesting. I noticed that I just need to start writing something and edit later including adding some creativiity if it is missing. If i don’t just start writing I will just stare off into space and dream of having a cold beer on a Hawaiian beach or something.

  2. I find it hard to be creative and notice that I do better when I walk home from work. I can’t easilyread or write anything down and my thoughts tend to randomly drift. I find that the level of switched-off-ness I get from doing this improves my overall creativity.

  3. I find that reading books helps my creativity, and I haven’t been reading enough books lately. Reading blogs definitely gives me information overload, though.

    And I think it’s very important to carry a notebook or something, so you can easily jot down your ideas. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought of a great blog post, didn’t write the topic down, and then forgot about it.

  4. Well done! You have some first-class ways of stifling creativity. However, I think you have missed a couple. I suggest being an adult is the default way of severely reducing your creativity. Graduating from college is a high-risk procedure that normally leads to excessive conformity. But to live in society we suffer these sorts of things and if we have some experience that allows us to unlearn the damage done by our educational system, then we run the risk of being authentic and creative. Stamping out creativity is usually the first goal of any bureaucracy. Organizations are very skilled at nipping any creativity in the bud.
    I would be careful about reading though. One can readily incubate creative ideas when reading. I think not reading would be much safer. Also, be sure to stay away from art and theater. Do not on any account let yourself take a theatrical improvisation class. I did and my creativity quotient shot up. Be careful.
    Of course slowing down (www.SlowDownNow.org) is the thing you must stay well away from. Keep busy. Keep active. Make sure you are doing more than one thing at a time and you’ll be safe from any siren call of a muse.

  5. I actually thought of one more (well, two more depending on how you categorize it) – eat well and exercise (thanks to plonkee’s mention of walking). I imagine if I can sit around and be a little more creative I could expand this list to 101 ways to stifle creativity – between all of you and particularly Christopher I’ve got at least another 10 or so already! Thanks!

  6. It's interesting that you say reading is a reason for stifled creativity, for I find it to be just the opposite. I think the more I read, the better I am at coming up with ideas. It is when I pursue other activities that require less brain cells to do that I feel my least creative.

    But, in the way of football, perhaps you can find a way to incorporate it with this blog. Discuss what you would do with the salary of your favorite player or even compare personal finance to one of your favorite plays. I'm not suggesting that it be an all the time thing – unless you want it to be – but if it is a passion, then you'll probably come up with even more ways to use it then the two I've mentioned here.

    BTW – that email you received and were so kind to share had my head spinning…I'd wager the individual who sent that to you did not proofread!

  7. I thought there were six books in the Thomas Covenant series, was a new(er) one ever written/released. I need to check that out

  8. @Victor – yep, two new ones were released in the last couple of years: “The Runes of the Earth” and “Fatal Revenant,” with two more planned.

  9. I thought there were six books in the Thomas Covenant series, was a new(er) one ever written/released. I need to check that out

    1. @Victor – yep, two new ones were released in the last couple of years: “The Runes of the Earth” and “Fatal Revenant,” with two more planned.

  10. @Victor – yep, two new ones were released in the last couple of years: “The Runes of the Earth” and “Fatal Revenant,” with two more planned.

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