I Do My Best Thinking When…

I have a friend who can sit down and just be creative. It seems like a rare skill. To me, it seems like telling someone to tell a joke out of the blue, you know “hey you; be funny now” – “hey you; be creative now”. Even though my job often includes improvising music, that method has never worked for me. I’ve never been one to be creative on the spot.

In reality, creativity doesn’t just happen in a void. There are two important aspects to creativity that often go overlooked. Performances and products that are viewed to be creative usually didn’t just happen in that moment, but had been rolling around, in one form or another, in the creator’s mind for some time. Also, creativity is usually the result of practice. The more you practice the act of being creative, the better you get at it.

You may have heard someone make reference (sometimes in jest) to ‘doing their best thinking’ in the bathroom (shower, toilet, etc.), or they might mention some other mundane activity. You’ll find it’s always a mundane activity that is done on a regular and frequent basis. There is a reason for this. These activities don’t require a lot of thought, practically none at all. They are blocks of time when you can usually be left to you solace. In that privacy, you allow yourself to think, imagine, even daydream. There’s no need for editing or filters. You are alone with yourself. It’s this space that often allows for the best thinking.

Now, I’m not advocating bringing your camera into the shower with you (unless you’ve got a waterproof camera, and you think you will create something interesting – just look out for lens fog :-)). But there are other situations when you can’t have the camera nearby. So, one of two things has to happen. You’ll either need to remember the ideas that come to you when you are away from the camera, or you need to be able to put yourself into that creative mode at will… or, preferably, both.

Many people I know in the arts (musicians, composers, writers, comedians) keep some form of notebook. It’s a place to jot down ideas as you have them, in whatever stage of development, so you can reference them later. Over the last decade I’ve developed the mind of a steel colander; I forget things almost as fast as I can think of them. So, recently I’ve started carrying around a voice recorder. (In the past I’ve carried around a little note pad and found that to be nearly as effective.) This way I can approach the idea later, when my circumstances are better suited to taking a good look at it. I also tend to get a lot more done in general with this tool.

Back to my friend at the top of this writing. He does, in deed, just sit down and (in his case) compose. He has developed the skill of putting himself in the right head space to be able to do that. This didn’t just happen. He has been practicing that skill for more than 10 years. So now, he can just find that creative place and start working. A good portion of being creative, is the practice of being creative. It is the practice of putting yourself in the right frame of mind that makes it easier to get there again.

There are occasions when, in the moment, one is seemingly struck with divine inspiration, when some brilliant idea comes from out of the blue, but these are rare. More often, it’s the preparation and the practice that yields the best results.


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May 2010


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