Thursday, June 10

Being Creative: Five Tips To Find Inspiration


I might be teaching "Editing and Proofreading Your Work" at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this weekend, but past experience tells me to expect one off-topic question. It makes sense, I suppose.

Despite my adopted style for blogging, which leans more on journalism, students tend to notice how much acrylic I've accumulated for creative work. (That was before I grew tired of dusting symbols of affirmation and stopped entering.)

"How do you find inspiration?"

I never really liked the question. Or, more accurately, maybe I never liked my answer. Since I have hundreds of techniques that work for me, but not necessarily for you, the best answer always seemed to be that it becomes part of your nature. And chances are, if you are going to be any good at it, it's already in your nature. Yeah, I know. Sounds like a cop out.

So this year, I decided to craft an answer and share it here first. Hope it helps. Or, if you're so inspired, offer something better.

Five Tips To Find Inspiration.

Embrace Pop Culture. Advertising can be, but doesn't have to be, like original literature. It often blends in pop culture or builds upon what is already resonating with people. Keep tabs on the top ten everything: books, movies, television shows, recording artists, plays, fashion, trends, politics, etc., etc. It's the single best way to gain insight into millions of people.

Trust me. The movie The Blind Side (2009) was a hit for a reason. It's a story of hope, honesty, and perseverance. We need some of that nowadays. It's also quite the contrast with Apocalypse Now (1979).

Find The Fringe. You can't always rely on what is popular. You have to pay attention to what is bubbling below the surface. Stuff that never quite makes it to the mainstream, but has an undiscovered quality that is unmistakably refreshing or long since forgotten.

More importantly, you have to consume content well beyond your personal preferences. I usually have a long list of things on my future reading list. Some are are recommended by friends. Others are just shots in the dark. Books aren't the only tool. The fringe can be found anywhere. You know, stop ordering the same sandwich at your favorite restaurant for once.

Listen Everywhere. If you want to know what people are thinking, take some time to listen. I touched on the difference between hearing and listening yesterday. Don't limit yourself to online conversations. Listen to how people interact: in a grocery store checkout line or in a restaurant.

The real advantage to the skill is that most people don't even hear other people, let alone listen. They are too busy talking. Trust me on this. If you're always talking, you'll never learn anything.

Experience Life. Go out and do things. I tend to adhere to a rather rigid schedule. There have probably been too many weeks in my life that blurred together. Even so, I try to sneak in some random stuff every now and again. For example, I'm not a ballet buff by a long shot, but I was happy to go when my wife suggested our kids could use some culture in a city not known for it.

But there are plenty other things out there if ballet doesn't strike your fancy. I've done a lot of different things, ranging from rafting to horseback riding (in search of wild mustangs no less). My family tends to plan vacations the same way. We take at least two small vacations every year. At least one of them is someplace we've never been. And even if we have been someplace before, we load up on sights and experiences we've never done before.

Become An Insider. This has practically become pat in my Writing for Public Relations course. Stop hanging out with communicators all the time and hook up with the people in your industry. You'll often learn more from them anyway.

I once met a communicator who worked at a utility. He always told me that he had a hard time relating to the non-corporate side of the company. (Utilities are cool. They have two very different cultures in one company.) It was fair, I suppose. The non-corporate guys had a hard time relating to him too. Me, on the other hand, I toured every power generation plant in southern Nevada. And when I needed to interview anyone, I did it in person. (It was a great excuse to get out of the cubicles and hang with dynamic and sometimes salty people).

Maybe my initial answer wasn't a cop out.

Looking back over the list, I suppose my answer wasn't such a cop out. If you do those five things, creativity will likely become part of your nature. If you follow some of the more popular advice, on the other hand, you'll likely kill it.

At least, that was my conclusion on those the heaviest hit by inspirational advice posts. One suggests stealing ideas outright. Another pointed toward finding purpose in life. And yet another was just a big long list of my first tip, expanded to include blogs, quotes, and all that.

Those tips are so far away from the truth, I couldn't bring myself to link to them.

Real creativity isn't an exercise in transposing things on top of one another. It's much harder than that. You have to see beyond the surface and focus in on what really makes things tick. Simply seeing an abundance of floral patterns and deciding floral patterns are "in" is not enough. You have figure out why floral patterns are in and then work from there.

Or better yet, try those five tips on for size. Like I said, if you do them enough, you probably won't have to look for inspiration. It will already be bottled up inside you, waiting for the right moment. At least, I think so.

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