How to Be Creative

Fresh off an amazing week of new play development for the How I Learned to Write Festival with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative process and the creative mindset. So when I signed up today for the Making Learning Connected project and saw the first Make Cycle had a “How To Be” theme, my mind immediately went to the topic of how to be creative.

The irony doesn’t escape me that I’ve attempted to create a formulaic approach for a process that is often the opposite of formulaic. In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit that I nearly deleted this post more than once because of it. I kept asking myself, “Who am I to put forward a list about creativity?” or, “Is a How To Be for the creative process even feasible? Or useful?” To push through this doubting voice, I repeated one of the suggestions below like a mantra – BE OPEN.

In my own artistry, the nagging voice of doubt is something I struggle with every day. Through my work as an educator, I know I’m not alone. This How To Be list below, while not at all comprehensive, is a compilation of many of the tricks and tactics I’ve used or suggested to my students as a means of clearing away self-doubt and bringing in the creative confidence.


A Comfortable Space. Physical room to create is important, but also think about space in terms of time. Allow yourself enough time to create without feeling rushed, and remember that it often takes a few minutes to really get into the creative flow.

Simple Pleasures. Think in terms of the five senses, and give yourself some things that help you relax and enjoy yourself. Is it a certain kind of music, or is it quiet? Is it your favorite incense, or a scented candle? Is it a cup of coffee, or a nice cold glass of water?

Flexibility.  Every creator is different, and every creation is different, so every creative process is different. What works for a room full of people may not work for you, and what worked for you fifty times before may not work the 51st time. That’s okay. In fact, it might be a sign that you’re on the brink of a big discovery, so go with the flow!

Creative Community (optional). Some people are more productive while working on individual projects when they are creating alongside others, because they find the energy, artistry, and conversation inspirational. I experienced the joy of creative community a few weeks ago, and I am excited to experience it again this Friday!

One of the favorite images I've ever collected.
One of my favorite images I’ve ever collected.


Collect Things. Cut out photos, write down things you hear, keep a jar of ideas, bookmark articles you read…in general, take note of things that peak your interest or make you think. You never know when a curiosity may bloom into something bigger.

Pick Something That Matters. The topic you choose to tackle can be lighthearted, serious, controversial, spiritual, or anything in between, it just needs to matter to you. If you pick something that matters, you’re far more likely to see the creative process through to the end.

Pick How You Want to Get Hands-On. While you may think watercolors are incredible, does the idea of painting one yourself light your creative fire? There are the art forms that we are curious about as observers, and then there are the art forms that we are curious to try out as artists. If you’re excited about the medium, you’ll be far more tenacious if challenges arise.

Loosen Up. There can be a lot of pressure in the act of creation, and many artists worry about how the final product will turn out as soon as they get started. To put your mind at ease, take five to ten minutes before you start to do something that brings you pure joy and/or releases any tension.


Be Authentic. “What will people think?” is another worry that can plague artists. Sharing oneself artistically can feel very vulnerable, but remember you don’t have to share anything until you’re ready. Take comfort in that fact, because it means there’s no reason to censor yourself during the process.

Embrace Your Style. You may love Robert Frost, but you are not Robert Frost. You have your own unique style, and while it may feel clunky or awkward at first, if you embrace it you’ll eventually find your stride and you’ll start to feel comfortable playing around with your unique voice.

Give Yourself Some Rules. Starting with boundaries can help you, whether it’s in terms of scale, style, structure, or other limitations. Guidelines can give you a sense of the “shape” of your creation, which will help you focus your creative choices. If you can’t create rules for yourself, ask three different people that you trust to each give you a rule.

Fearlessly Move Forward/Backward. If you find yourself spinning your wheels because you can’t get something just right, fearlessly move forward to get out of your own way. If you wish you could hit the rewind button, fearlessly do so by taking a few steps back to allow yourself to make a different choice. Creation can be a linear process, but it often isn’t.

Be Open. It’s easy to ask yourself questions like, “What am I thinking?” or think things like, “I shouldn’t be doing this…” but ultimately it’s not productive. This thinking will make you shut down possibilities instead of exploring them, and often the choices you make outside of your comfort zone will yield the greatest returns.


During my break writing this blog post, I took this picture.  I put these pencils in this container the other day while cleaning, and tonight it caught my eye and I really liked how it looked!
During my break writing this blog post, I took this picture. Art is everywhere!

Break and Breathe. By now you’re probably knee deep in your creation and it feels a little intense. First, take a break – brain research shows that periodic breaks make our brains more productive. Go exploring, eat a good meal, do anything that shifts your energy. Second, when you return to your creation take a moment to breathe, to smile, and to remember to enjoy the process.

Embrace Being Stuck. Artistic speed bumps are natural, and are not a reflection of your talent or ability. Instead of shrinking away from a block, meet it head on by changing your approach. Try looking at your creation from a new perspective or point of view, try breaking one of the rules you gave yourself, try deviating from your intended plan, or try making a choice that’s completely new.

Filter Critique. If you choose to share your creation before it’s complete, take a moment first to remember your goals as an artist. What do you seek to convey with your creation? Use that as a guide as you receive feedback by asking yourself, “If I follow this piece of feedback, will it help me better achieve my artistic goal?”

Know There’s Always a Next Time. When many artists are near the end of a project, they often experience a moment of, “It’s almost done, but it doesn’t ______.” Instead of receiving this nagging thought as a sign that you should go back to the drawing board, try receiving it as a sign that you know what you want to tackle on your next drawing board. One creation can’t house all the amazing ideas you have as an artist!


Remember, each of us is unique in how we create and what we need in order to create. So take a moment now to ask yourself, “What are two things I really need in order to feel inspired and comfortable while creating?” Add those two items to your list, and consider sharing them in the comments so that other artists can benefit! For me, ritual is important to get me in the creative mindset, so I always take about ten minutes to set up my creative space just how I like it. What do you do?

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