Creativity is a mysterious phenomenon. While there are people who claim they’ve hacked it, for most of us, access to creative flow can be fleeting and random. Sometimes, an idea appears out of nowhere, fully baked, leaving you sprinting to your laptop or notebook to capture it like a firefly in a jar. Other times, you torture yourself at your desk for an hour trying to make something only to leave empty handed.
And that was the status quo even before COVID-19.
Right now, many of us are inside sheltering in place to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of the novel coronavirus. As far as creativity goes, there are pros and cons that come with this new normal. On one hand, you may have more time on your hands to create; on the other, whether you’re having trouble focusing or you’re feeling frozen by anxiety, being at home can be challenging.
During our recent Weird Stream-a-thon, a fundraiser for creators affected by COVID-19, our CEO, Jack Conte, laid out some tips on getting creative during a global pandemic. He wasn’t able to tackle all of them during the livestream, but shared them with us on Hang Time, our monthly creator community meet-up. Check out Jack's talk on Crowdcast or YouTube.
To help boost your creative spirits during this unprecedented time, we’re sharing them with you now.
1. Find your inspiration system.
Don’t go into creation cold. Before you even start creating, devote time to getting inspired whether that’s with a podcast, TED talk, or an uplifting book. Warm up and get in the zone, much like an athlete does before a competition. Try everything, and whatever works becomes your new inspiration system — build that into your routine so it can be replicated every time you’re ready to create.
2. Learn something.
If you’re experiencing creator's block, consider taking a different approach to accessing your inspiration. Instead of trying to make something, try learning something new, instead. You can find how-to videos on ANYTHING on YouTube. If you’re a guitar player, learn a new musical scale. Illustrators, try a new technique or medium. The whole world is at our fingertips via the Internet these days. Maybe your new skill will lead to your next great idea, and if not, learning is always time well spent, anything to keep anxiety and boredom at bay.
3. Coach yourself.
Coaches are great because they keep us motivated and accountable, but it’s important to give yourself some coaching, too. If you’re feeling blocked, dig into your fears instead of trying to ignore them. It may seem counterintuitive, but writing out your anxieties and addressing them directly can be really inspiring.
Pick up a pen, and write it all out:
Step 1: Explore and understand the issue. Write out a few sentences. Why is this so hard right now? Explore it a bit — this doesn’t need to be a novel, just two to three sentences will do.
Step 2: Articulate a goal
Step 3: Brainstorm options
Step 4: Commit to doing something next. It might not feel like the perfect solution, but deciding a path forward will feel like progress, even if it’s a tiny step forward.
4. Wake up in your dreams.
Jack is a big fan of lucid dreams, and recommends this technique to shut off your anxiety-brain, and turn on your inspired-brain.
“Go anywhere, do anything. There’s no Shelter-In-Place in lucid dreams, coronavirus goes away with a snap. You can create anything. Lucid dreaming is a beautiful, creative practice to help you find focus and awareness.”
5. Perform on StageIt.
Check out StageIt, a platform that allows you to perform via livestream using just your computer. You choose how much you want to charge for each virtual ticket, and then receive anywhere from 63 - 83 percent of that income (amount earned depends on how many tickets you sell). It’ll be fun, plus you’ll feel more connected, and so will your fans.
Creativity is holistic. Sometimes, when you’re not feeling well, the muse is nowhere to be found. Exercise is key. It makes you feel better both in your body and mind. Buy a pull up bar online that you can install in your doorway, or some hand weights. Lots of yoga studios are doing livestream classes — join one. Bodyweight exercises like pushups, sit ups, and lunges are so good for you. Keeping yourself active and healthy will ensure you’re at your best when it’s time to be creative.
7. Dance under the bombs.
Take inspiration from past generations who’ve dealt with hardship. During World War II, young people danced at night clubs even though bombs were falling on London. It gave them hope and joy when they needed it most. This pandemic is different than any other war humanity has faced, so no, we can’t literally go out dancing. Still, we can learn from their ability to be joyful and connected under duress.
From Jack: “It’s OK to dance, even when the bombs are dropping. Starting September 7th, 1940, London was bombed 56 out of the next 57 days and nights. My grandma would go out dancing, because life goes on.”
"One morning she woke up and her train station was gone, but that was the way it was. She went dancing anyway."
“It’s ok to feel happy and motivated and inspired. Humans are resilient creatures. We recover from crisis and zero in our whatever our normal baseline is. If you start to find yourself at the baseline again, that’s OK! We’re all figuring this out together.”
8. Be together.
Do you think of togetherness when you look at broccoli? John Green does. He and his brother Hank are the hosts of the YouTube channel, vlogbrothers, which covers everything from history and science to mental health. Lately, they’ve been using their platform to address issues related to COVID-19. In a recent video, John broke down how everyday things, like broccoli, symbolize the interconnectedness of society.
If you’re feeling lonely, consider this: for food to get to your table, it took the collaboration of countless people. Truck drivers, farmers, grocery store workers, all of these humans worked together to get that broccoli to you. And literally EVERYTHING in your house like that, which is pretty amazing to think about.
9. Make it raw, not perfect.
Aim for imperfection. People crave realness right now. Decide to make something, set a timer, and then make it. The songwriter Johnny Mercer once said, “write for the waste basket.” That mindset removes your expectations, leaving you free to be creative. Don’t stop when it gets hard, and don’t worry about how it’s going to land. When the timer is up, consider what you made. You can share it with your fans if you want. You never know what thing you make is going to be cherished by people. Or, if you made something that was just for you, that’s okay too.
10. Go for it.
Don’t be afraid of big ideas. Every piece of art that we love started in someone’s head. If you don’t have everything you need, go for it anyway. Famous composer Igor Stravinsky once said, "The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” Embrace constraints and use them as a lever for your creativity.
We know things are uncertain, it’s a strange and scary time right now. And yet art and creativity matter, now more than ever.
Remember to take care of yourselves, be kind to one another and your community, and take time to create and connect from afar. We’ll get through this together, and we’re in this with you.