How to be more creative according to Seinfeld, Ogilvy, King and Virginia Woolf.
My first dance with creativity was at nine years old.
My teacher, Mrs. Woodall, asked me to write a story and draw pictures to go along with it.
At the time, I was obsessed with piranhas.
So, I wrote a story about piranhas and drew a bunch of pictures of the tiny Amazonian fish.
From both an anatomical and factual standpoint, the story and pictures I brought to life failed… miserably.
But, I was onto something creatively.
My piranhas were a rare undiscovered (mythical) species that had massive razor sharp teeth that looked like they belonged to Sabertooth Tigers. They could swim at 100 miles per hour and their scales were beautifully decorated with zebra stripes.
When I felt pleased with my story, I gave the pages to my teacher and waited and waited and waited.
Eventually, around Christmas time, she handed me a beautiful glossy little book titled, “Piranhas”.
Fifteen years have passed and while I never became an artist, I did become a writer. And, as I make a living as a storyteller for brands all over the world, I still find myself dancing (and at times stumbling) with creativity.
Here shortly, I’m going to share with you how to do more dancing than stumbling… but first, let’s define what creativity is.
What is creativity?
Creativity is a complicated subject and one you can approach from a wide array of angles.
Creativity is designing a rocket ship.
Creativity is writing a poem.
Creativity is cooking something spectacular with the leftovers in your fridge.
Creativity is playing the fiddle.
Creativity is building a business from the ground up.
Creativity is asking a girl to marry you (someway other than on the big screen of a professional sporting event).
Creativity can wear many hats and to pick apart the stitching on each one of those hats we would need an article far longer than this one.
So, for the sake of brevity, we are going to approach the subject of creativity simply from a business standpoint. The shit that can make the wild brands we run money.
For the remainder of this article, we shall rely on the following definition of creativity, coined from an executive creative director in the late 70s working at an agency called Benton and Bowles…
“It’s not creative unless it sells.”
In other words, while playing the ukulele is certainly creative it’s not in the context of this article because playing the ukulele can’t sell our products.
Now, when it comes to creativity, most individuals in business lack it. This is because they are often reprimanded for being creative and are heavily distracted… constantly being barraged with emails, social media notifications and more pings than Ma Long could ever pong.
However, we need a meatier less ambiguous reasoning than the one I gave. So, we shall look to the late great David Ogilvy…
“The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn't even verbal. It requires a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious. The majority of businessmen are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked.”
So, there you have it. Business people aren’t creative because their imaginations are blocked. So, to be more creative, it might be as simple as unblocking our imaginations.
That’s wonderful… but how does one go about unblocking a blocked imagination?
How to unblock a blocked imagination allowing your creativity to flourish.
At Honey Copy, I get paid by brands to be creative. So, to keep making a living in this game, I have to avoid catching the disease Ogilvy describes as a “blocked imagination”. Here are a few ways myself and far more creative people than myself keep their creativity racing and running free like wild horses.
1. Don’t break the chain… focus on consistency rather than inspiration.
For a long time, I had the misconception that creativity was sparked by inspiration. I’ve since come to discover that this is anything but true. Creativity is sparked by consistency.
I once wrote an entire piece comparing the differences between inspiration and consistency. You can read it here.
In short, the amateur creative thinks she can only be creative when she feels inspired, while the professional creative knows to be creative she must be consistent.
There’s a reason the professional gets paid and the amateur doesn’t.
Business and brands keep beating on, regardless of whether or not your inspiration decides to strike.
I laugh to myself when I think of how a client might respond if I said…
“I won’t be able to get your ad copy to you for another month, the inspiration just isn’t there yet…”
The professional creative knows she must show up every day at the same time, sit down at the page and bring something to life.
It’s funny when you have to be creative to put food on the table, inspiration takes a back seat.
Seinfeld was a master at consistency. When he was first writing jokes he’d challenge himself to write a joke a day. Every day he successfully wrote a joke, he’d draw an “X” in his calendar. After two to three days, he’d have what he would call a “chain”.
Anytime he had the urge to take the day off, he’d remind himself… “Don’t break the chain”.
At Honey Copy, I don’t get paid to write… I get paid to write well. And, in order to write well, I have to be consistent, I have to be writing every day.
I would encourage you to do the same when it comes to fueling your own creativity… make it consistent… make it something that happens daily.
And, in the moments when you feel inspired… well, that’s just icing on the cake.
2. You are what you eat, keep your creative tank full with good creative nutrition.
There is a saying. I don’t know who the hell said it. But, it’s worth writing down. Do you have a pen and paper in front of you?
You are what you eat.
Our minds aren’t unlike our bodies.
If we shove our bodies full of sugar, salt, carbs and fat we become heaping mounds of sugar, salt, carbs and fat.
The same goes for our minds and our creativity.
In order to get the most out of our minds and to be the most creative we can be… we must be consuming wildly creative things. And, preferably, wildly creative things in our creative niche.
Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of all time, is a voracious reader. He reads constantly. He always has. This is no coincidence. He has written about the importance of reading for the writer in one of my favorite books of all time, On Writing…
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
King’s words are obviously tailored towards writers, but they hold true for creative directors, graphic designers, savvy growth hackers, product photographers, entrepreneurs and freelancers… if you’re in a creative field you should constantly be consuming creativity otherwise you have no business expecting to be creative.
While it’s more beneficial to consume creative material specific to your niche, there is some benefits in looking to other creatives outside your niche.
I’ve drawn a ton of inspiration for Honey Copy from devouring creative works from Bon Iver (a musician), Ernest Hemingway (a novelist), Aaron Draplin (a graphic designer) and Seth Godin (a modern-day philosopher).
It’s not enough to be consistent and to show up every day. The creative must be consuming good creative nutrition from good creative sources.
3. Walk away from your work… give your creativity and your ideas time to marinate.
I adore Virginia Woolf.
“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
Anyway, Woolf like so many other great writers was very aware of the importance of stepping away from one’s work. She was known to go on frequent walks when she was feeling stuck in her writing.
Creatives seem to do less walking nowadays. Both figuratively and literally.
We live in an age of growth hacking and it has been cancerous to creativity. We suddenly feel as though we need to be doing something ultra-productive all the time. And, as a result, we’re constantly texting, slacking, emailing, etc.
Creativity runs free when it is undistracted –– both undistracted when the creative is working and when the creative is not working.
If your imagination feels blocked when you’re working, power off the phone and all other forms of communication. And, like Woolf, don’t be afraid to step away from your creative pursuit to let your ideas marinate.
At Honey Copy, if I have a big project come through, I will look at it a day or two before I start working on it.
I will study it.
I will research it.
I will think long and hard about it.
Then, I will forget it.
I will let it marinate in the back of my subconscious for 24 to 48 hours. I’ll go for walks. Watch movies. Read books. Play ukulele. Then, when I eventually sit down to the page, ideas seem to hit harder and fire faster.
When it comes to creativity, while walking away might be the last thing you want to do, it might be the very thing you need to do.
A few final thoughts on creativity.
The last thing I would say about creativity has to do with the original definition I gave…
“It’s not creative unless it sells.”
Through all of this, it’s important to keep this idea top of mind… especially if you’re thinking about creativity in the context of business… which I imagine most of you reading this are.
I take great pride in my marketing and writing newsletter, Sticky Notes. It, in many ways, is a work of art. The layout is lovely. The wording is thoughtful and exactly how I want it.
Every week when I sit down to write it, I let my creativity run wild, beaming at the wonderful privilege of sending it out to thousands of marketers, entrepreneurs and snow cone vendors.
But, I never forget that I am trying to sell, too. Why? Because I am running a damn business. That’s why every newsletter is creatively funneling readers down to either working with me or buying my copywriting guide.
So, while I would encourage each and every one of you to work to become more creative… I would also encourage you to sell like hell, too.
But, that’s a conversation for another day.
By Cole Schafer.
You gotta check this out –– Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.