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Creating a Creativity “Alternator”

I was out a driving around today on my way to pick a lens from our local lens rental guys. When I arrived at the place, I got out, picked up the lens, returned to my car and it wouldn’t start. At all. The battery was dead. After a quick jumpstart it was up and running again and I was on the road.

This made me think about creativity and how very similar it is to the way a car battery works. Car batteries have a finite charge in and if left to run the car all by itself, they wouldn’t last very long. So along comes the alternator. one of the purposes of an alternator is to replenish lost voltage from the battery. When you start your car, the battery loses charge and the alternator charges the battery until it is full again.

Creative work is kind of similar isn’t it? If not finite, Creativity is at the very least limited/drained by our constant pursuit of great work and generating new ideas. We go from day-to-day thinking up new ideas and producing new work without taking care of ourselves creatively and we expect our battery keep going and going…. The truth is that sooner or later it will all catch up to us and we will burn out and have to stop making stuff in order to fix the problem.

So I thought I’d share some ways to build your own “alternator” in your life so that your “Battery” doesn’t burn out.

1. Pay attention to what’s going in.

What goes in is what comes out. Make sure it’s good.

Our brain is constantly bombarded with new information every day. The way your brain works (or wants to work) is better than any filing system in the world. Every bit of information it takes in throughout the day is processed and assimilated into categories to be used for whatever. Your brain is doing these processes rather you’re making a conscious effort about it or not. If my brain is doing this all on its own, then I better inform it of what I consider to be important so I can actually use it when I need it.

Build a running list of the following:

Articles that apply to your field
Articles that interest you
Articles that apply to a current project
Awesome photos

And so on…

Your brain is going to soak it all up. Give it something to add charge to your creative battery. A good way to get started with this is to start collecting articles, podcasts, and videos or what ever you can find that might help you now or in the future. These resources will prove to be an invaluable well for you to draw from when you need it.
(I use apps like Feedly, Instapaper, and Pocket to store these resorcues for easy access later)

The biggest thing here, Schedule time in your day to do this. It’s important so just go ahead and make it part of your daily routine.

2. Make sure your not filing up with others voices.

Some days I log into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram 10, 20, or sometimes 30 times. It is so easy to have at least 20 people’s voices floating around in your brain and effecting your work. We want to get rid of that and hone in on our work and our contribution today. Wouldn’t it be more of a service to my friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter if I could just set aside some time to interact with them and give it my full attention? Isn’t that what we think they deserve in real-life, face-to-face, old-school-style conversations?

Let me be clear, I love social media and I think it’s brilliant and absolutely awesome for your business, sharing your art/ideas, and connecting with people. But I believe that it is absolutely impossible to spend 2 hours a day on average (If you don’t think you’re spending that much time on social media, track it. I didn’t think so either. I was wrong.) looking at other people’s work and lives and not be affected by it.

Here’s what I do:

  • I try to limit my time by using apps like 30/30 and iTrackmyTime to keep me accountable on a daily basis. This is always a good thing.
  • On weeks that I have a big project coming up (Like say photographing a wedding, or a big shoot) I just don’t log on to any platform the day before or the day of. This is one way of controlling what’s going in. I follow a lot of awesome photographers on instagram and Facebook. I love seeing their work and interacting with them. But I know that I have to show up and be awesome at this shoot, I want it to be drawing from my awesome and not theirs.
  • Repeat as necessary 🙂

I don’t have to be constantly connected to the rest of the world. I want to be able to hear my own voice when I need to. Not have it drown out by others.

3. Do something Different

Experience happens in two ways: It happens to you, or you can happen to it. I’m talking about the latter. Get out and experience something you haven’t before.

  • Plan to go to a concert, museum, dance class, or join a hockey league.
  • Put it on the calendar
  • Do it, and write about the experience in your notebook. Did you like it?

This is all about exploring new things and finding out what sticks and what doesn’t. Did you like ice hockey? (actually, I’d probably die. I suck at ice skating.) Write it all down and pay attention to how these experiences make you feel. All these experiences, good or bad, are going to give you more life to draw from when you need it in your work.

This is about preserving your creativity and adding to the creative “Juice” so that you don’t drain it all when you need it. Having these practices built into my life has helped me to experience a better ebb and flow in my work and to create better work when it really counts.

I heard Todd Henry say recently on a podcast, “If you want to experience serendipity in your life and in your work, you have to structure your life to experience it.”

Start structuring your life to better fuel your creativity and do the work that only you can do. We all need it.

What are some things that could be draining your creative battery?

Which of these systems will help you regain control and give you the creative charge you need?

What can you change today to help you on an upcoming project?

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