Tips for Realizing Your Creative Potential

Realize your creative potential by adopting the work habits of successful writers, artists, and scientists. 

“Even the most energetic and original mind, in order to reorganize or extend human insight in any valuable way, must have attained more than ordinary mastery of the field in which it is to act, a strong sense of what needs to be done, and skill in the appropriate means of expression. It seems certain that no significant expansion of insight can be produced otherwise, whether the activity is thought of as work or not.“- Brewster Ghiselin

In The Creative Process, Brewster Ghiselin analyzed the working habits and attitudes of 38 well-known writers, artists, and scientists, including Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amy Lowell, Rudyard Kipling, Max Ernst, Katherine Anne Porter, Henry Miller, Carl GustavJung, Mary Wigman, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Henri Poincaré. After analyzing the creative processes of these world-renowned innovators, Ghiselin suggested that creators often share similar working habits:

They worked tirelessly on their projects.They experienced periods of time when they let their projects “incubate.” Psychologists have theorized that during these periods of rest our subconscious continues to work on the problem while our attention is diverted.They experienced a “eureka” moment–an exciting rush of inspiration that frequently occurred while they were contemplating an unrelated matter.Following an exciting insight, they returned to working hard on their project while exploring the implications of the insight. They then attempted to repeat the process, again enriching their work with periods of incubation, eureka insights, and project development.

Brewster’s depiction of the creative process matches a lot of what we know about the working habits and attitudes of successful writers, as described in Understanding Writing.

Avoid Self-Destructive Behaviors

Contrary to popular writing myths, being creative is not necessarily the same as being quirky. You don’t need to adopt negative, self-destructive behaviors such as binge writing patterns or using drugs–such as excessive caffeine or alcohol. Instead, keep a written record of creative insights. 

Read Widely/Find Exemplars

Thoroughly research your topic, seeking exemplars. Find out what others have said about your subject. Analyze the research methods they employed to generate knowledge about your subject. Contrary to the myth of the crazy artist in the garret, your creativity can be sparked by what you read and by engaging in discussions with others. You can enhance your opportunities for being creative by researching the creative efforts of other people [See Research].

Play the Believing Games

When your goal is to be creative, you need to emphasize the positive. Be flexible. Give your creative abilities time to grow. You can energize your work by engaging the generative nature of language, the remarkable ability of the human mind to synthesize and develop ideas. Exercising our creative abilities involves quieting the editorial voice–the voice within you that critiques whatever you do. While creating, you need to soften this editorial voice.

Play the Doubting Game

Being creative doesn’t mean impairing your critical faculties. Inventing involves critically examining our work in relation to the work of others and being receptive to critics. Creative people may delay or avoid asking critical questions when first nurturing a topic, but they do realize that they must eventually ask critical questions, such as: “So what?” and “Who cares?”  or “How is this original?”

Use Visuals

Experiment with visual language to stimulate your thinking.