I'm always surprised when I see articles that suggest that every creative person procrastinates or that real artists get up before the sun. In truth, great minds are not all alike. They are vastly different. Every one has to find what works best for them, so it is with humility that offer three suggestions to become more creative, which you can feel free to take with a grain or two of salt. It is these: Work hard, play hard, rest hard.
WORK HARD Pablo Picasso said, "Inspiration does exist but it must find you working." He should know, he was forever working and getting new ideas. So my first suggestion to anyone who wants to do creative work, is to show up and do the work. Really make an effort! Sometimes the ideas will be great, sometimes they will be poor, sometimes new ideas will be non-existent. But go into the studio, go to your computer, to your piano, to your easel, and do your job. When the economy was collapsing and bankers stopped going to work, I remember hearing world-renowned painter, Chuck Close, comment on NPR, that artists go into the studio no matter what's going on in the economy. Artist's make art because what they do, whether or not anyone buys it. Ideas inspire work and work inspires more ideas, so work, and think, and search for answers. And when they don't come right away, don't freak out, just let the questions marinate while you work on another project. Solutions aren't always immediate.
For the luckiest among us, the line between work and play is very blurry. Actors get to spend their days pretending, artist's get to try new materials and marks. Writers wonder "what will happen if...." This is the exploration of childhood. Piaget called children little scientists because they're trying things out to see what will happen, and Picasso famously said, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when one grows up."
The idea that work is not work unless it is odious, doesn't make sense to me. I think for the most part, would should be something that you should enjoy. I love the art of Robert Rauschenberg for it's fresh, whimsy and grown up humor. It's no wonder he offers this advise: "Have fun, if not you'll bore us." We don't want to look at or listen to or read anything that the artist, musician or writer found no joy in creating. Creativity requires a bit of fun, in fact Einstein defines creativity as "intelligence having fun." Fooling around is not a waste of time if it gets you seeing things in a different way and bares fruit from time to time.
Catching ideas can be like catching fish, you have to sit still and relax before they come to you. Often great ideas come in the shower, because, according to Leo Widrich, that's when our minds are relaxed and distracted with a, well, somewhat mindless activity. It's also a time dopamine is released. Many artists keep a pen and notepad on the nightstand since it is just before, during, or just after sleep that they are able to finally let go of the control enough for ideas to come together. Albert Einstein put it so perfectly when he explained it this way: "As one grows older, one sees the impossibility of imposing your will on the chaos with brute force. But if you are patient, there may come that moment when, while eating an apple, the solution presents itself politely and says, "Here I am!"
When I need to give a big presentation, I start with the work, researching, jotting down pertinent ideas. They I let all the ideas simmer, blend, clarify, and organize themselves over the course of weeks, as I drive to work or rest in the hammock. By the the time comes for me to get it down on paper, I already have all the components ready to go and it's just a matter of fine tuning. The fine tuning takes me back to the work mode, and the cycle starts over.