How can we inspire our imaginations? Creativity.
It’s a wide-ranging term that seems to have been claimed by ‘artists’ as if it’s some mystical power that only touches certain people. But is that really the case? Everyone has an imagination.
So we can all be creative in our own ways. We may not all be artists. But we can all create art. The question is how to find the inspiration that fuels our imagination? In this article we’ll look at some practical steps from half a century ago – and we’ll have a chat with a writer.
An equation for creativity
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula for coming up with ideas? Well actually, there is. Admittedly it has its roots in the advertising world – but still, it’s an interesting place to start. James Webb Young was a legendary American advertising executive who published a book outlining his creative process in 1939. It was called A Technique for Producing Ideas and these are the broad strokes:
Step 1: Research. Research. Research.
Pull together all the information you can about a subject. In advertising, that would mean background on the product and target audience. But if you wanted to write a screenplay or a short story, for example, it means researching the subject you want to write about – reading, Googling, jotting down your own experiences or any anecdotes you may have heard.
Step 2: Think. Hard.
Mix and match different bits of information and see how they fit. See if you can string 2 or 3 random elements together and see if they connect into some kind of story or set-up. Write every idea down, however terrible it might seem. And just keep going and going and going and….
Step 3: Do nothing.
When you’re totally exhausted, put the pen down. Close your laptop. Step away from your desk. Go and do something completely different. Have for a walk, take a bath, fix that thing that’s needed fixing for far too long.
Step 4: Let the magic happen
While you’re busy doing something else, you might not be consciously thinking about coming up with an idea, but your subconscious will be. Then suddenly – Eureka! An idea should pop into your mind.
Step 5: The boring bit
Hopefully, you have the kernel of a good idea. Now you need to tweak it, refine it and keep criticizing it – until it’s ready for the world. If you’re a practical person, try those steps and see what happens. But what if you’re not?! Is there a more general approach we can take?
An interview with an artist
Emily Bevan’s a British actress, best known for a starring role in the BBC’s BAFTA award-winning show, In the Flesh. Soon she’ll be publishing her first book, The Diary of Losing Dad. It’s a poignant, honest, bittersweet journal of – as Emily puts it – “a daughter losing her father… and slightly losing her mind.”
Let’s start simple… where does your inspiration come from?
I’m most inspired at times of emotional upheaval, where I have a compulsion and need to spill out my messy thoughts and feelings on to the page in order to try and make sense of them. I also feel inspired to write when absurd things happen, or I want to bottle a particular moment (positive, negative or amusing). To record things I don’t want to forget. I try and start with writing stuff based on my own experience… and allow new ideas and characters to bubble up and join the party.
What about if you just don’t feel particularly inspired. What do you do to put yourself in the right mindset?
The greatest challenge to inspiration is focus. Once you’re truly focused you can get in the ‘zone’ and then you’re off. But there are so many distractions! I can’t focus surrounded by mess so a quick clear up is essential for me. Shutting down browsers, social media etc, phone on airplane mode all helps. Research can get your head into the right place. Reading around the theme. Articles, essays, books. Or even just picking up any book and leafing through can spark an idea and help get the juices flowing.
What about other artists? How do you use their work as inspiration without mirroring it?
By drawing on the scaffolding of other people’s writing rather than what hangs on it. The use of style, tone, timing, use of structure – rather than straight up mimicry.
Is there a piece of art – a painting/ album/ movie – that you constantly return to find in inspiration? I’d love to say yes but the truth is that what inspires me is constantly changing and evolving based on the project that is in front of me. Each individual project and medium you write in, requires a fresh approach. ‘If you’re looking for bone, all you will see is white’ - and if you’re looking at a particular theme it will pop up everywhere!
Is there a particular place you return to for inspiration?
Not a physical place but perhaps a mental place. Sounds cheesy but trying to connect with WHY you are doing this. What could it lead to. Where does it feature in your journey as a writer. Placing your work in perspective is a good motivator and definitely a source of motivation and inspiration.
Inspiration can strike from anywhere
There will always be a mysterious alchemy to inspiration and creativity. And the beauty is it can come from the strangest places. Tinker Hatfield’s been Nike’s shoe designer since 1981. Arguably his most famous trainer is the Nike Air Max 1. And it was inspired by a building – the Pompidou Centre in Paris!
Going out and experiencing the world or diving inside and embracing your emotions have always been bountiful sources of inspiration. And when the moment comes, don’t lose it: pick up a pen… flip open your laptop and write down your idea however mad it may seem.
You never know where it might lead.