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Simple Steps on How to Be Creative

I was doing some TRAFing (Toss, Refer, Act, or File) of a pile of stuff I allowed to accumulate in the one possible storage location in my little office, and I came across this set of notes I took from Ed Young, Jr. at a C3 conference back in 2005. Obviously, I’m about to throw the notes away, but I really want to refer back to the great points made; I also think that any creative individual can use these, too. I’ve taken the liberty to adjust the notes a bit from Ed’s “10.5 Commandments of Creativity” to something more palatable outside of the church, too.

It is super important for creative people to use their creativity. There is thought to be nothing more stifling to creatives than to have that freedom taken away – like possibly being exiled at work into the dark dungeon of a gray cubicle with nothing allowed but the phone, a computer with limited access, a pen, and maybe a picture of the family, for instance. Of course, we often find a way to get around the boundaries, drawing on napkins or doodling on notes in meetings, but there is nothing more refreshing than being given the license to think 0n a grand scale. Yet, I believe that many people stifle their own creativity even more than their employers or environments could do by not considering how they can maximize it. Rather, they limit themselves by creating undue stress, amassing projects in tight deadlines, and also by merely not developing themselves fully. Below is a list of recommendations that I try to follow in order to maximize my potential as a creative individual, though with varying degrees of success. I’m working on them, and the more they are internalized the more success I am able to see.

  1. Realize that God created creativity. Look in Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created…” From the very start of time, God made it a point to put Himself into the creation. Hence, all that we see on earth and scattered through the universe is the very fingerprint of God. Wow! So, if God is creative, and he created the human race in His image (Genesis 1:27), then every human being is creative in some way or another.
    What do I do to be more creative? It all starts for me with God. As I connect with Him, He becomes my primary source of inspiration. Naturally, for me, themes of love, honor, giving, beauty flow somewhat naturally – it’s all a matter of the source. Can I deal with evil and dark themes? of course I can, BUT due to my worldview I’ll readily contrast the darkness with the light that God provides. After all, what is darkness? but the absence of light. What is evil? but the absence of the perceived presence of God.
  2. Determine your target audiences. In advertising, it’s generally accepted that one primary audience should be sought. I agree with this, but maybe we should think a bit broader and to consider others outside of the target audience. For instance, art may appeal to children, but there should also be something that draws the adult, too, whether through a sense of simple sophistication or through a theme that is also impacting to the older audience. In the Christian arena, a drama, speech, or sermon in church should speak to the thirds, according to Ed Young. Focus one third of the presentation on core/mature Christians, one third on young Christians, and one third on non-Christians. Doing so is appealing to all, and it keeps everyone engaged while either rewarding familiarity or instilling curiosity. Beer commercials are likely some of the best at reaching multiple target audiences. I can remember the “Bud-Weis-Er” frogs, “Whaz up!” and a myriad of effective ads that showed up on the TV screen from my developmental years. To a kid, stuff like this is entertaining. The entertaining ultimately builds a brand of fun and enjoyment that ultimately results in a sale down the road. It’s all a part of speaking to multiple audiences over just one.
  3. Follow stepping stones. I recently spoke with another filmmaker about taking on a project, but he would not do so without seeing the script and the budget. Why? Well, he has goals he wants to obtain, and he is not wanting to take projects on that will take him backwards in pursuit of where he wants to be. Yes, at first most artists are willing to take on just about anything to keep food on the table. Ultimately, though, if you want to survive, you need to create a niche for yourself – something that defines you and your work. From here, others will know what to expect. Rather than doing watercolors one day and then a collage the next, you’ll need to demonstrate that you are great at one or a family of items and build your reputation on them.
    Life, your relationships, and Divine providence are all going to lead you on a path. It is your choice which steps you will take you, though. The further along you go, the more identity you should have. In doing this, you have the opportunity to define who you are, rather than allowing others to define you. Yeah, getting high and running over people’s mailboxes in Beverly Hills is one of those bad choices that defines you. The choices you make will ultimately either get you to, or deter you from, where you want to be. Choose wisely. Keep in mind, the best stepping stones may require leaps of faith to get to them, but use judgment before jumping to what could be the back of a crocodile.
  4. Take a break. We’ve all heard the story of the two lumberjacks who set out to remove trees, and the guy who took time to sharpen his axe cut down more of the woods than the one who kept working. This is a very true element that most learn the hard way over and over – me included. I’ve been there burning the candle at both ends, hoping to get to the end, only to find performance drop and to reach the end of a project totally exacerbated. You are built to take a break, and you will function best when that happens. Honestly, God ordained one day of rest every week, and just doing this might be just what you need to begin to gain back your creative edge.
    There’s a word that many creatives are guilty of, and that’s procrastination. Procrastination leads to frustration on many sides of life, and avoiding this one thing may just bring you the rest that you crave. Of course, if you are a procrastinator, than you will only learn this through your own experience; nothing I put here will deter you from it. Moving on…
    When you really need to put extra time into something, it’s likely best that you plan it out first, not just let it happen. Schedule the extra time out from your family so your family isn’t waiting until the wee hours of the morning for you to return; stress is alleviated this way, and expectations can be drawn. It’s much easier for a child to know that his dad won’t be able to make it to a certain little-league game than to have his dad constantly apologizing for missing the passing moments of life. Along with scheduling, be sure you build up to get adequate rest as you lead up to the challenging event. This ensures a sense of focus and dedication to the task, maximizing your creativity. Finally, weigh the results of the time spent in overdrive with the results if you weren’t doing so. Will the project really impact others? Is there a solid set of goals that will be accomplished? Will the project be a true stepping stone to something better in the future? Is there a way to recover lost time with family and friends following this project? All of these need to be considered.
  5. Plan with a team. Honestly, I think Tom Hanks did a good job being stranded on the island with his volleyball, Wilson. Contrast that story, though, with the astronauts and ground crew of Apollo 13! Through successful thinking and strategizing, many hands can indeed make a daunting task into lighter work. Yes, dream, create, build, but find some people you trust in order to provide direction. Just a couple weeks ago I was working on a set of promotional videos, and I felt that the clips were too “clean.” I experimented with a touch of grunge added to the mix, only to find that when I showed the clips to someone else for input, the clean look was preferred. There is definitely power in the numbers.
  6. Perfect the ideas of others. “There is nothing new under the sun.” This is very true, and it seems that everyone is constantly repacking what everyone else has done. Rather than claiming to be Mr. Roark with your buddie Tattoo by your side – creating worlds and experiences from nothing – tap into work that has already been done. See how you can use it or manipulate it (legally) to fit with your project. Also, just observing what others have done is great fuel to stay up-to-date and to provide an edge on your work. Essentially, treat the work of others as a booster rocket. They got so far, but now you can go even further!
  7. Work hard. Being creative can be difficult, especially when you are needing to create on the clock. Often times, creatives have strange schedules, as something could show up in a thought, something they hear from a friend, or even a concept that jumps at them in a dream. Suffice to say, determine a schedule that works best and stick with it as much as possible. When on the job, it’s not time to merely socialize with others, but it is time to connect with your environment to create.
  8. Be predictably unpredictable. I love this! Ed Young says to “be consistently inconsistent.” The full gamut of possibility is on the line. Choose the colors; pick the theme. Re-create tomorrow with something new and fresh! Even in the theoretical box in which you may find yourself there are ways to be creative.
  9. Drive on simplicity. One of my favorite ads was in a full page spread in the newspaper several years back when the company placed one single gold-fish cracker on the printed page and then placed just a few words just under it. Amidst the sea of text-filled pages around it, this page had a TON of white space, but it spoke volumes.
  10. Be yourself. Know your limits. Increase your ability to create. Seek to grow in new avenues. However, don’t sacrifice who you are to become something you are not. This also involves your standards for projects. A compromise on your part will impact your credibility and will also cheapen the place to which you have gained. I’m not saying not to experiment with genres or styles; I am saying that you should not make yourself into Spielberg or Coppola if you are not them. Set your own niche. Be you.
  11. Set a high bench mark.It seems today that everyone wants a piece of the pie. One guy makes a video with auto-tuning and everybody wants to do it. A movie blockbuster has great 3D text and a series of indie films do it, too. Again, we can admire creativity, but why does everyone have to do the same thing? Rather than settling for doing what everyone else is doing, set your standard. Create your look, your sound, your edge; listen inside of you and let the still small voice of God-given creativity begin to resonate until your sound is clear and unmistakeable. I love the words of Eric Liddel in “Chariots of Fire” when he said, “God also made me to run fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” My bench mark in creativity is the pleasure of God Himself (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). When I create something in which I know He is pleased, then I am content. Yeah, it’s a bit lofty on the surface, but again, He created us to be creative; why should we give any less to be creative for the mere pleasure of others?
Well, there you have it, a set of great guidelines to follow in your search for creative excellence. Feel free to comment.
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