Want to be more creative? Remove the variables.

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth a post of its own here: limits breed creativity. That’s the plain and simple idea behind this concept – work harder, get better, have more creative solutions.

For me to streamline my creative process I like to establish the variables that are present. It can be as simple as the kind of camera I am using. Or, where I am standing. Or, what time of day it is. There are a ton of variables and choices when we set out to create something and I like to start with the least amount. It lets me focus and completely explore an idea – to turn it upside down, inside out, and hopefully come up with something beyond my original vision.

Here are 4 variables I try to control when kick-starting my creativity:

Variable 1: Tools. Substrate, raw materials, or technology can cloud the possibilities with more . . . possibilities. Try stepping away from the keyboard/easel/Wacom and sit with a #2 pencil and a blank pad. Leave the digital rig at home for the day and shoot with your SX-70/ Holga /film SLR.  And, whatever you do, don’t consider the things you could be making “if I only had the right tools.” This exercise is about getting out of your comfort zone so often that it becomes comfortable.

Variable 2: Time. Put a time limit to the process and stick to it. I have surprised myself on occasion when in the weeds, on a tight deadline, I miraculously deliver a product that has surpassed even my own expectations. That’s a good feeling and it can only come from digging in and doing the hard work, pushing yourself to do it quickly. Your creativity will become supercharged when challenged by time limits.

Variable 3: Habits. When it comes to creating something over and over like a photo, illustration, painting or design, most of us have a process or go-to starting point. That’s important, especially when professional creatives are valued partially by their ability to be consistent. But it’s all too easy to start from the same point and fall into the habit of producing the same work. That’s not part of being consistent. That’s just boring. And while there are many famous artists that have well documented rituals they stick to religiously, it’s safe to say they developed them over long careers. It’s a trial and error process. Change your habits to find new and more effective ones.

Variable 4: Criticism. Whether from others or yourself, criticism in the early stages of the creative process is a killer. Shut it out. Don’t listen. And if it’s coming from your own head, remember that no one ever has all great ideas. Forget what others have done even if it feels like you’re not being original at the moment. Just the fact that you recognize what an original idea feels like should make you pretty happy. That recognition leads to more.

You’ve got to work through a lot of ideas to get to the ones that stick. That means understanding and embracing the bad ones just so you can get to the good ones. That means having a lot of ideas. Having a lot of ideas means working at having them. Then doing it all again. When Hemingway would quit writing at the end of his day, he claims to have had a great anticipation to start again the next. That’s a pretty good way to feel about “work.”

Holga photo © Gary Allard