7 Steps to Take Now to Increase Your Creative Output

What lies beneath the commitment to create? How can we position ourselves in ways that elevate our work?
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"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." -- Scott Adams

This post is co-authored by Eliza Wing.

We would all like, no matter our discipline, to increase the quality and quantity of our work. Some artists, writers and business leaders have established routines that help them to get into a creative mode daily. Perhaps the artist shows up at the studio every morning at 8 a.m. and doesn't leave until lunch, or the CEO takes several afternoons away from the office to write up a strategic plan. But what lies beneath the commitment to create? How can we position ourselves in ways that elevate our work?

What follows are useful qualities anyone can develop to help them along a creative path.

What do you see? Photo courtesy of Amy Neumann.

Question Authority

Who knows what is right? The Creative will not accept what is; he will look at a situation or an image and work to make it his own. Consider one child carefully coloring within the lines of coloring book and then another, blank paper laid out and an array of colored pencils, spread before her like so many pick up sticks.

Many creatives would rather the call of the blank page than the thought of painstakingly filling in someone else's blanks. Wouldn't you?

Don't Act Your Age

Some people report that as they grow older they still feel 8, 13, or 11 years old inside. No matter your "real" age, the ability to connect with all that is wonderful about youth is key to enlivening your creative work. "The young know less, which is why they often invent more," Jonah Lehrer tells us in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. A child radiates energy, wonderment in the face of something new, or perhaps rebellion -- add your own words here. What quality do you wish you could retrieve from your childhood?

Perhaps take back the elasticity of time; remember how endless some days felt then. Delve into a project (whether it is written, visual or business-related) and lose sense of time. It is in those moments when connecting with the process of creating, not watching the clock, making to-do lists or other responsible "grown-up" things one "should" be doing, that we often create the best work.

Give Generously (To Yourself AND Others)

You must take care of yourself first; your health, your sleep, and your psyche should all be nourished. You can ignore all of the above, but you truly cannot operate in a deficit for long. Give yourself space to create, a place where you can dictate the rules. J.K. Rowling wrote in cafes because she knew her baby would fall asleep on the way there -- it was ensured "quiet" time. Know what you need in order to create and do not relinquish the parameters you have set.

Once you have created an environment and a schedule that works for your circumstances, whatever that looks like, you can and should turn to others. Even though you will find yourself with seemingly less time, the more you expose yourself to others and what they offer in terms of idea exchange and experience, the more you open yourself to the world. This isn't to say that you should say yes to everything. Take your temperature before agreeing to something. If you are the sort of person who agrees to things and then resents the commitment, go back to the beginning. Perhaps you haven't given to yourself enough.

"Creativity originates from several basic life elements, one of which is generosity and a heart curved outwards toward the world. Giving time and attention to others, listening intently to them, and taking in all the beautiful, interesting aspects of life - these set the stage for the birth of creative ideas." -- Ann Tran, @AnnTran_

Respect the Practice

Consider the phrase "the force of habit." We can position ourselves to think and act creatively, hoping that inspiration comes like a crack of lightning and a song, as Carole King says in describing "You've got a friend" to Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "That song, pure and simple, came through me," she says. "I sat at the piano; the song came..." The key? She sat at the piano, just as a writer must sit at her desk day in, day out. The only way to create a habit is to start doing something habitually. As writer of the best-selling Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says, "discipline is the path to freedom." Setting expectations for yourself, forcing yourself to show up regularly and articulate what was just a wisp of a thought at the edge of your mind is what gives you a lift over your hopeful brethren -- you know the ones -- who are left wondering why they can't ever write more than the first chapter of that novel they know they have in them.

Be Truthful

There is no point in creating something if it doesn't ring true to you. Of course, truth is relative and personal. No two people will describe a scene or experience in the same way. This is not a case of finding consensus. The real Creative is always observing and questioning and testing the perceived reality. A fine copy of an artwork is just that -- a copy. Under the first layer of our output is another, more subtle line that emerges. That is where the truth of your work resides. It should make you uncomfortable and excited. It should make you look over your shoulder to see if anyone has noticed that sentence you just wrote. You should be a little worried. Maybe even very worried. Keep digging and sorting through those uncomfortable thoughts. Shakespeare was right of course. The truth will come out.

Pay Attention

Twyla Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit , tells of a friend who goes out every day looking for a face to draw. He doesn't come home until he has found the face and adequately captured it. Think of all the faces you pass by and don't see. Can you describe what your neighbor was wearing when they took out the trash this morning? You may have waved to them but did you really take note? Details and response to your environment are what make your work sing. This is true for any creative project, it is the attention and understanding of the world around you that lifts your work above the rest.

Be a Dreamer

With all the talk of habits (good and bad) and practice you must also leave room for staring meaninglessly into space, for stopping in the middle of your walk and watching the trees move with the wind. You should grab a nap and let your mind drift in and out of consciousness. Let your mind come and go and notice what it does at the edges of your dreams. If you can't imagine it, how will you do it?

"Surround yourself with great people, be visionary and determined about your future, and always do your best ... and then some! Life is too short to not give it all you've got. Let the world see the amazing person you aim to become." -- Sean Gardner, @2morrowknight

Eliza Wing, the former president and CEO of Cleveland.com and president of Sideways, now runs Wing Consulting. Wing, who is also a writer and a painter, brings extensive online editorial and digital expertise to her clients. She strives to integrate creativity and creative thought into all that she does.

Amy Neumann is a social entrepreneur, writer, speaker and consultant on social good marketing. Check out her CharityIdeasBlog and follow her on Twitter @CharityIdeas.

For more by Amy Neumann, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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