The Psychology of Creativity and How to Use it to Your Advantage

A guide to staying sane as a creative in the modern age

A few centuries ago, making a living as a creator was easy. Well, it wasn’t easy. It still required expert skill, arduous work, and a lot of trial and error. But that was all.

Now, however, it isn’t quite as simple. Being good enough isn’t good enough. In the modern world, we’re tasked with the responsibility not only of becoming masters of our craft, winning our creative battles and pushing past mental blocks. We also have to learn how to market our work, gain exposure, and sidestep all of those pesky algorithms.

In short, the landscape has changed. And it’s terribly confusing. While being good at what we do is still a priority, there’s far more to it than just that.

And in the minefield that we now find ourselves in, it’s incredibly difficult to lose sight of what matters. Creating.

That being said, here’s a brief overview of the psychology of creativity and how to use it to your advantage.

A Beautiful Mess

D. B. Dillard-Wright put it best,

‘The creative life is a beautiful mess. We have to get our hands dirty by working with the materials, but we also have to keep in mind the vision that first inspired the process. Too much mess, too much confusion, and we fall off the path. Too much craving for beauty, and we become afraid to work at all.’

It is a mess, really. A beautiful one, but still incredibly messy and perplexing.

Some of us get so wrapped up in the perfect end-product and become so bogged-down with the specifics that we never make a start. Others forget all about quality, focusing solely on pumping out content, but without providing any genuine value.

And some of us find ourselves comfortably in the middle of both extremes, neither here nor there, and not sure where to turn next. In truth, most of us aren’t really sure what we should be doing.

All of this is incredibly confusing, especially when all we want to focus on is the thing we love doing — our work. There are so many different questions to be asked. So many unresolved decisions. Should this go there? Should I delete that? Will anybody like it if I do this?

While these questions are important ones to ask, they’re also crippling. Paralysing. When we’re not sure which way to turn, sometimes we just freeze, and we don’t turn anywhere.

This, of course, isn’t a good idea. Sitting and waiting for the right answers to fall into our lap will only hinder progress. Acting now is vital.

Listening to the Muse

Rather than waiting until we know exactly which way to turn, it makes more sense if we begin anyway. By making a start, the answers will come to us as we progress.

That’s what Steven Pressfield says, anyway. And I’ve found his words to be true in my own work time and time again.

In his book, The War of Art, he speaks about creativity in terms of the muse — key figures in Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey.

When ideas come to you out of nowhere, Pressfield says that that’s the muse whispering into your ear, imparting knowledge onto you to be used in creation.

Pressfield explains how the muse only begins delivering its pearls of wisdom once you make a start, though. Unless you begin, the answers to those ever-confusing questions will never come.

Whether or not you believe in these ideas doesn’t matter. The principle behind them is what’s important. Until you start, you won’t have the answers you need.

Sitting and waiting for the right ideas or answers to come to you only prevents them from actually coming to you. Because until you’ve started the process, you simply won’t know which decisions to make.

Whenever I’m writing, sometimes I get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. My phrasing or intro might be a little off, and then I’ll make necessary adjustments. But if I sat around waiting for the perfect idea to strike without beginning in its absence, I’d never know. I’d never improve.

See, in many ways, the process of creation is a process of learning. We learn what to do and what not to do only by actually doing it. By making mistakes.

The Process of Creation

To create truly meaningful work, work that makes us feel proud and fulfilled, we have to love what we do. We have to love the process of creation.

Whether or not we feel motivated, we have to continue creating regardless. We have to sit down every day and produce the work we feel passionate about.

As Simon Sinek puts it,

‘What good is having a belly if there is no fire in it? Wake up, drink your passion, light a match and get to work!’

When we make a start, even if we don’t feel like it, we open a window through which the muse can communicate with us. We allow ourselves to conjure up great ideas.

Pushing past those difficult times and mental blocks means that, once we make it through, we can enjoy those feelings of elation and inspiration that await us on the other side.

I write every single day. Sometimes twice a day. Do I feel like writing every day? Absolutely not.

My partner is terminally ill. I rarely get a full night’s sleep. My back aches, my wrists are sore and, sometimes, writing is the last thing I want to do. But does that stop me? Nope.

And some of my greatest articles and best-performing pieces have come from those bad days during which I’d seriously contemplated quitting.

The more we get out of our own way, the easier the process of creation becomes. Often, we’re our own worst enemy. It’s vital that we rethink our decisions and start acting like our very best friend.

The Takeaway

The world of creativity can be incredibly confusing. Whether you’re a writer, photographer or artist, understanding which way to turn or which steps to take can be difficult.

Many of us wait for a long time without ever starting. But the thing is, until we begin, we’ll never find the answers we’re looking for.

Even if you’re having a bad day, lacking motivation or just can’t muster up the willpower to sit down and get to work, just do it. As soon as you do, you’ll find that flow you’re looking for. The answers will come. The muse will be in touch — but only when you sit down to actually create.

Often, that’s the hardest part. Get past it and you’ll become unstoppable.

Owner of Mind Cafe | Let’s chat on Instagram: @adriandrew__

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