There are times when I’m in the zone, you’ve been there too. You’re brain is cracking at a million miles an hour, ideas are flowing and creativity is second nature. And then there are those times when my brain is just a dusty cobweb. When my brain becomes a barren land I need inspiration. Luckily everything is inspiration if you know how to mine it for good thoughts.
Through all of the 90’s I was part of a creative team that had to create a high volume of quality ideas and then turn those ideas into something that could survive on a stage with a live audience. On our team we had actors, writers, video editors, camera operators, musicians, and producers. It was my job to figure out a way to get all of these people in synch.
I’d love to tell you that I discovered a way to make everyone creative and brilliant every moment of every day. I didn’t. But as a team we did discover a few things. One of the best things was Doug Hall’s book, “Jump Start Your Brain.” If you can bear with the silliness you’ll find gold in this book.
Hall asserts that “wicked ideas” are born by using things all around us as “stimuli” to feed our creative selves. He gives some practical methods of working in groups to take a new and unpolished idea, an “ugly baby”, and nourish it until it grows into a beautiful thing.
I’ve taken Hall’s methods and fine tuned them for my brain and work habits over the past 19 years. I’ve discovered that a few things work very well for me.
I agree with Hall that everything is inspiration and so I look at a wide range of things over a wide range of topics. Everything you do (or know) informs everything else you do (or know). Here are some of my regular mental exercises:
I read magazines, blogs, and newspapers when I have a spare moment and I budget time every day for books. I usually read for at least an hour a day. I believe that reading is one of my most important mental exercises because it allows me to experience things not possible by any other means.
If you are finding it difficult to find time to read I have one suggestion: TURN OFF YOUR TV. Do you want to crank up your creative prowess instantly, just turn off the boob tube. You won’t miss it.
Writing forces you to think. And thinking is what makes our brain stronger. You can write a blog or scribble in a journal. It doesn’t matter, just write. If you’re not sure how to write then head down to your local bookstore and buy some books about writing. I suggest Steven King’s book, “On Writing”.
I’ve been accused of loving coffee a bit too much. It’s true, I love my coffee, but there is another component that I love even more – conversation. I rarely drink coffee by myself, I’m usually meeting someone to have a conversation over coffee. I don’t think a week goes by without me meeting a friend or student at the coffee shop for a good conversation.
Sharing your thoughts with someone gives them feet. You may discover your ideas aren’t as easy to quantify as you thought, you’re friend will help you get your ugly baby back on solid ground by asking questions and helping you feed the idea. When you speak something it becomes real.
I’ve discovered that I can create best when I have music to help me along. I have a modest collection of music and it’s constantly growing. I tap into classical or instrumental music while writing and working on thought rich processes. I crank up Radiohead when I need some extra adrenaline to make it through a long shoot.
I also have a collection of guitars. I’m not beyond pulling out my Fender and strumming a few chords when I need to get my brain in gear. Learning how to play an instrument is a terrific exercise because it teaches us patience and persistence.
Live music is incredible inspiring as well. Get out and go see a band. Even if they aren’t famous you’ll have a blast and come home happier.
I study the lives of people who inspire me. How did they become who they are? What did they do? Where did they live? The questions go on and on. I try to learn everything I can about people I find inspirational so I can emulate the good and avoid the bad.
I love meeting new people and learning about them. When I travel I try to talk to as many people as I can. It helps me understand that the United States isn’t the center of the world – and I’m not either.
Elderly people are gold. Sit down and talk with someone who’s over 80 years old. Ask them to tell you their life story. Sip your coffee and learn.
I believe that you don’t know who you really are unless you’ve travelled. Get out of your town. Get out of your state. Leave your country. Go see the world. You’ll be amazed at what lies beyond your borders.
For years I wanted to visit India. I studied the history of India. I watched movies. I talked to anyone who was from or had been to India. I looked at thousands of photos. I studied maps. I thought I knew India until I walked out of the New Delhi airport and smelled India for the first time.
If you want to know a place go see it for yourself. It will change your perceptions of the place you call home because you’ll return changed.
I’m a movie addict. It’s true, I watch two or three movies every week. Sometimes more. I love foreign films and documentaries and comedies and movies of all types. But I’ve also studied how movies are made and visited sets and studied acting, writing, and directing. I’ve been involved in short films and editing.
When I watch a movie I pay attention to camera angles, color, DOF, blocking, editing, acting, etc. Sometimes I’ll watch a movie several times in a row. If I want to get a better feel of the camera moves I’ll watch a movie with the sound off. I’ll pause and rewind and replay.
Then I’ll watch it again with the commentary. Sometimes this drives Diane nuts. But I am a bit nuts.
Go to every gallery you can. Look at painting, sculpture, photography, film, and every artistic discipline available to you. Travel and see the famous galleries.
That’s right, practice. The more you do something the better you become at that thing. If you’re a photographer you’ll become a better photographer with more confidence. That confidence will allow you to try new things which will in turn make you more creative.
There are times when I’m just beat and nothing I do will produce the results that I want or need. Sometimes that means I need to work harder, dig deeper, push my limits, or get help. Sometimes it just means I need some rest. Don’t be afraid to take a day off and do nothing. You need it.
I always try to have fun when I’m working. Ask any of my students, I’m a bit of a wacky guy. I’m more motivated to continue working when things are enjoyable. Laughter is a great source of inspiration. And it’s contagious. Once I start laughing I usually feel relaxed enough to throw out ideas that are just dumb and sometimes those become a reality.
The name of our business was created when Diane and I were laughing our heads off talking about my finger snapping abilities. I was making a bunch of dumb jokes about how my snaps were going to change the world or something silly. At some point one of us said we were going to create a snap factory to manufacture cool finger snaps. We then realized that we had the name of our business.
Keeping an open mind
You never know when a good idea is going to hit you. If you keep your mind open and always looking for ideas you’ll find them much more frequently. Diane and I had been looking for a studio name for weeks when SnapFactory came from a joke.
A few months ago I was stuck at a red light when I saw a girl on a tandem bike ride across the road by herself. Why was she riding alone? Was there someone else in her past? Was the bike new? I scribbled down this experience and am now using it as the basis for a short film.
To Be Continued…
Now that I’ve described a few of the things that help me in my creative life I’ll take a break. In Part Two I’ll give you some specific examples of people, places, and things I find incredibly inspirational. I’ll name the books, magazines, papers, blogs, and more.