How To: Creativity Hacks (Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Creativity)
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
Some Tips and Tricks to Help You Hack Your Creativity.
As artists and writers, we have all experienced the feeling that there is something inside of us that we need to get outside of us (*Cue the chest ripper scene from Alien).
Whether it's in music, film, writing or general art, we know there's some genius inside of us just waiting to make an appearance. This "almost inspiration" can be very annoying, if not downright maddening. Having a creative block can also cost you time and money as an artist.
It's my aim in this post to try and give out some of the tools I employ in my own processes that help keep me on track creatively. I will go over some amazing things you can do to boost creativity, even in your sleep.
Let's get into it.
You can't force inspiration, but you can nurture it.
The first thing that comes before creation is inspiration. The moment something clicks into place and your vision suddenly has direction. This kind of instant connection and recognition can be nurtured once we understand our brains a little bit better.
All of our thoughts, feelings, ideas and creativity are the product of our neuron connections.
Our brains have the ability to access and cross reference data within itself. It then creates pathways and connections to other bits of information which creates a self referencing system. This is why I can say "Firetruck" and you might think "Red". Your brain is giving you information it has already linked to other bits of information.
This is the basis behind convergent and divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is when your mind considers multiple subjects and finds a common thread between them, while divergent thinking is extracting multiple ideas from a single source. In creative writing, the more we can use both, the more flexible our minds become which ultimately allows us more creativity.
Divergent Creativity Exercise
For this exercise you need something to write on and a few random objects to write about.
Set a short timer and choose an object then write all the uses you can think of for that object. Try to come up with things it is not used for, or creative ways to use it.
After your time goes off evaluate your work by how many uses you came up with, how fast the ideas came, how different each idea was from each other and how original the idea was.
The Science of Creativity
Studies have shown divergent thinking exercises not only promote creativity but increases the gray matter in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Gray matter is composed of tightly packed neurons and synapses (brain power). The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been implicated in several complex cognitive functions including empathy, decision making and emotion- all important ingredients of creativity.
Convergent Creativity Exercise
Again for this exercise you need something to write on and a few random objects to write about.
Set a short timer and choose two objects. For this method you will try to think of all the similarities and connections you can think of between the two objects.
Evaluate your ideas as above.
Using Convergent Creativity
Problem solving is a huge part of the creative process.
How do we get from point A to point B?
When we ask ourselves this question and then find an answer, we just used convergent thinking. The answer is there, once all the necessary information converges we will be left with the answer.
Neuroplasticity - your morphing brain
In the early 20th century the scientific community found a way to help ease patients who experience life threatening seizures - a hemispherectomy, which is literally taking out half of the patient's brain.
The miracle of neuroplasticity allows surgeons to perform hemispherectomies and let people still live normal lives afterwards. After these operations some people lose speech and simple body functioning among other things, but since the brain is plastic and malleable these functions can be regained relatively quickly. MRI's have shown these half brains work just as well and some are possibly more interconnected than a normal brain.
Since we now know our brains are plastic (meaning malleable and moldable), we can do exercises like convergent and divergent thinking in order to strengthen our neurological connections to give us some extra creativity juice.
Ok, Let's Get Into Some Writing Hacks
Now that we have some exercises to keep our creativity muscle strong, let's get into some breakthrough techniques for when you can't seem to get the creativity flowing.
Writer's Block or "Creative Constipation"
I find that one of the biggest symptoms of writers block is actually also the antidote - Just starting to write anything at all can remove the blocks. I call it creative constipation. Sometimes the hardest part is starting, but there's creative juices that just need a little help finding their way out. (You're welcome for that)
Often once the proverbial dam breaks, the creativity flows freely... and once the dam breaks, it's like a light switches on. Is that too many metaphors?
Just beginning to write down anything can flip your emotional state and refocus your mind which allows you to access creativity more freely. Your mind becomes more focused and quiet which is what's needed for cultivating originality and creativity. Your thoughts go from varied and disjointed to orchestrated and singular pretty quickly when it flips into that mode. This is flow. Once you start the flow, creativity becomes easier as it pours out of you.
It is no surprise that a creative exercise like visualization should help with creativity. When I am trying to come up with lyrics or a story line, visualizing various things about the subject can help put me in the right state of mind to start generating original ideas.
To be able to mentally put yourself in the place of your subject is a wonderful tool for the sake of art (and arguments). It allows you to understand new ways of seeing and thinking about the subject. This is when empathy can play a huge roll in your process. If you can call on your empathy and start to feel how your subject feels, your subconscious gets the image and will start to work with you. Since your subconscious communicates mainly with symbols and images, you are in effect letting it know you want ideas about that image.
For deeper visualization pay attention to things like smells, temperature, time of day, textures, sounds, and emotions.
Tip: supercharge your brain with deep breathing during your visualizations. This stimulates your vagus nerve which activates your parasympathetic nerve system and brings you out of the fight or flight state. Creativity is squashed by the fight or flight response as all of your energy is diverted to survival instead of creativity.
When I am just starting a writing project and need to clean up all of my various thoughts about the subject I will write out a word collage.
Come up with all of the relevant words or phrases that relate to your subject and write them at the top of the page, on a whiteboard or anywhere else you can easily reference during the writing process.
This is when your convergent and divergent training kicks in. You want to be able to make loose associations and then pick and choose the most appropriate direction. This also helps during writing for inspiration. Sometimes a single word can create a whole new meaning for your story.
Découpé or the Cut-Up Method
This is more for the songwriters but can also be used for any creative writing.
For this method you want to create a word and phrase collage and then take it a step further. On a piece of paper, list all your words or phrases and then cut them into individual pieces. Then take the pieces and rearrange them into new combinations.
This method has been used by music artists like David Bowie and Thom Yorke,
Take Creativity Breaks
Just like your muscles, your creativity might need some rest. Sometimes it's not only hard to force creativity but can also be a little depressing. I know these are hacks to be more creative but I think to rest is important. I see creativity as a cycle with ebb and flow. I try not to beat myself up mentally when I am going through a creative drought because I remember the ebb and flow of creativity.
Many artists and writers throughout history have held onto a belief that inspiration can lie outside of us and descend onto us. They claim this is why two completely different writers or artists will create a similar piece at around the same time with no knowledge of each other.
Whether or not inspiration lives in the ether, your brain still needs breaks.
The relaxed state of mind that comes from not worrying about being creative opens up your mind and relaxes your nervous system enough to be receptive to creative inspiration. Again, breathing deep will help access this calm state easier.
The 10,000 Foot View
As a songwriter it can be very beneficial to allow yourself to detach from what you are writing to go back and listen to the whole song. Being a producer taught me how to listen with an ear for what is missing. Making a conscious decision to only listen can be a powerful tool for inspiration.
As a writer that could be revisiting what inspired you to write in the first place, or even just reading over your outline.
This is the 10,000 foot view. The artist paints up close, but he steps back to evaluate his work.
Tip: Try to periodically step back and experience your art as if you are seeing it for the first time. If you have trouble with this feeling, show your work to someone else and think of what they are seeing. Eventually you will be able to create the "first impression" feeling when you want to.
This is a songwriting tip I learned from Grammy award winning songwriter Randy Thomas (Butterfly Kisses, Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That) - yeah that's my dad.
The usual process of writing a commercially viable song is you write the whole thing, or at least the hook or chorus and then extract the song title from the lyrics. Usually whatever is the most catchy or the most used line in the song becomes the title.
So to start backwards in any content writing process one simply has to start with naming the work and building out the content from there.
Shower, Walk or Work Out
This is another state of mind hack. When we are doing mindless or repetitive activities it allows our minds to wander which opens us up to new original ideas.
Cognitive scientist Scott Kaufman says that 72% of all people get creative ideas in the shower because showering facilitates a safe feeling and relaxed state of mind. Likewise working out and walking create the same mental calmness.
Start With The Melody
This pertains more to songwriters during the lyric writing process.
My whole life I wrote songs this way and until recently did not think it was anything unique until watching a film documenting the rise of the 90's pop writers from Sweden. Songs like "Hit Me Baby One More Time", "I Want It That Way", "I Kissed A Girl" - All written by Max Martin, A Swedish songwriter.
One of the reasons that these songs are so powerful and popular is because they are so well composed with the melody as the driving component. That's why half of their lyrics can make no sense at all but people still love the songs. The emotions in the songs are conveyed through the melody and composition.
So to practice this, write the melody completely and know where each syllable will be, and then find words to fit in those spaces. You can even use filler words as placeholders. The Beatles are famously to have said the lyrics for "Yesterday" were originally "Scrambled eggs". So just put something down, you can always change it later.
As a singer in rock bands while growing up, I would record myself "jamming" with my band on new songs- basically half way freestyle singing. I might have one or two key phrases but for the rest of the song I would have no lyrics. When it came to the part with no lyrics I would sing the melody with whatever syllable sounds I felt like held the most impact. I was literally singing made up words because I could hear in my head how the song should go even though I didn't know what it was going to say. I would then record the whole practice session and later go back to listen to my nonsense singing and try to form words out of the shapes you made with your phrasing and melody.
For example a piece I wrote purely from listening back and filling in the words:
"Cold water’s hard to find
when I’m running low on the good life
Blue moon is on the rise
When I give it all away
I’m so low that I’m feeling high
I’ve been running this town my whole life
So soon you wont realize
When I give it all away"
The lyrics don't actually make a lot of sense but within the context of the song it conveys a sort of nonchalant confidence that gives the listener a feeling of empowerment. You get a feeling of excitement from listening to the song which you would never get from reading the lyrics.
Sleep On It
An overlooked but powerful tool in our arsenal as creative thinkers is most of us have the power to dream. I describe dreaming as "some part of your consciousness watching your subconscious do a little dance".
When we sleep, the conscious and subconscious are in close communication. This can be utilized to our advantage by asking our subconscious mind to do our work for us as we sleep. Many people find that when they wake up after giving their subconscious a problem to work out- they wake up with the answer.
I did an interview with music producer Joe Chiccarelli where I mentioned the power of asking your subconscious to do your work for you and he exclaimed "I used to do that!" and told me about in his early years as a producer and engineer he would come across problems he couldn't solve, so he would ask his subconscious and would get an answer the next day.
To do this, before you go to bed think of your problem from all angles. Make sure to visualize the concept in some way - your subconscious communicates through symbols rather than language. Once you have a clear concept of the problem, ask yourself (your subconscious) to figure it out for you. Then, come back to the problem within 10 minutes after waking up. If you wait any longer you will not be in the correct hypnagogic state between waking and sleeping and the answer might be harder to remember.
While it may not be so easy to force yourself to be creative at will, there are a few key things you can do to help yourself strengthen your creativity as well as tricks to help kickstart your flow, and also some hacks to let your subconscious do it for you. The key is to never try and force yourself if you are creatively exhausted because that causes more headaches than it solves and you will usually come up with subpar content for your medium.
Be sure to share this with all of your creative friends and let me know which one of these tips helps you the most. If you have any creativity tips of your own, comment what it is and I might include it in this post!
If you are a singer you might be interested in How to Sing Like A Rockstar