Welcome, my friends! Welcome to the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic!
And It’s been a year, hasn’t it? A year of masks and six-foot barriers, cancelled and modified trips and events, quarantines and social isolations. We have gone without theatres and cinemas and sporting events. We have attended virtual birthdays, reunions, weddings and funerals. We’ve spent hours upon hours (upon hours upon hours!) in our homes. We have gone without so very many of our creative outlets and cultural experiences and human connections. It’s been a really long year!
But I’ve also been inspired by the ideas born in such droughts. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and my goodness, have we been inventing! Humans wither in stagnation; and so—despite pandemics, or limited opportunities, or even our personal moments of artist’s block—we find avenues of creativity. Therefore I present to you, my merfolk, a (not-by-any-means-comprehensive) list of some of these discovered avenues. I hope something in this list inspires you to create, however small or large your sphere of influence may be right now. Trust me, you need it. We need it. The world needs it.
10 Ways to Spark Your Creativity When in a Funk
1. Do Your Research. If you’re mid-project and find yourself out of ideas, go see what others have done in the field. Watch someone else’s production of your play. Go see an art exhibition with the same theme as your half-finished painting. Pay attention to others’ choices of blocking in a show, inflection in a song, brushstroke or poetic meter. How do their choices affect you, the audience? How would you change it to convey something new or different? As Sir Isaac Newton observed, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” So go climb the giants of your field and see how much farther your view stretches.
2. Find Your “Muse.” Perhaps the funk isn’t your fault at all. The Ancient Greeks believed that the Muses inspired the Arts. So if they aren’t coming to you, you go to them! Our own Director of Operations, Melanie Parry, says that when her creativity is blocked, “instead of digging deep into myself, I’ll try to find the ‘Muses.’ I’ll go for a walk, I’ll watch a documentary about something I don’t care about, I’ll listen to the most popular music of the day. Just anything to shift my focus outside myself.” A fellow Board Member, Aubrey Warner, echoes her sentiments: “If you aren’t on a deadline, it’s okay to take your time and expand your definition of ‘productive.’ All of your experiences lend themselves to creation. Be open to finding creativity in less conventional settings.”
3. Stockpile Ideas. This tip goes right along with Aubrey’s idea that all of our experiences can become the seeds of creation. She even keeps an entire Google Drive folder dedicated to her directorial ideas. My own Google Notepad is overflowing with scribbled scenes and vignettes for future novels. Get into the habit of recording snatches of inspiration as they come. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, teaches, “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”¹ Garrett Sorensen, a seasoned english teacher and community theater actor, admits it can be hard to find the energy for creativity after spending so many hours in the classroom. “I had to figure out how to draw inspiration from the little stuff that happens everyday: Write a short story based on a dream; get down some bit of fleeting anger in poetic format, etc.” The ideas are there—We just need to learn to catch and record them.
4. Get Outside. Since the beginning of man, art has reflected nature. We see it in the ancient petroglyphs of cattle and rivers and sky. It is the bedrock of the numberless trickster tales of Africa’s Anansi and the Native Americans’ Coyote. It is immortalized in Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lilies. It is the antagonist of man in every Jack London novel. Undoubtedly nature inspires awe within us. But in modern times, it also inspires simplicity. When we are outside, we unplug from the constant barrage of virtual information. And in the silence, our own ideas emerge. Kyra Pierce, a local actor and singer, and avid outdoor enthusiast, says, “Being outside clears my mind when nothing else does. When I go walking, suddenly I can think. About characters and character choices and creative ideas. It’s like having a blank slate to start from again.”
5. Learn Something New. If inspiration can come from anywhere, then we should be looking everywhere. And information is literally everywhere. You know that random question you had just yesterday while taking your shower? Yeah, that one, about whether Anglo-Saxons wore underwear? Go find out! Pick something—anything!—and look it up. Aubrey Warner says this is a surefire way to get her gears turning. “I watch YouTube videos about weird science facts, or read a Twitter thread about astrology and Islam, or look up an obscure ancient civilization to learn about their fashion. There are stories everywhere, but you can’t wait to be inspired. Do research, and you’ll find more inspiration that you’ll know what to do with.”
6. Do Character Work. Another local actor, Cade Pierce, says he revisits his old character roles and finds inspiration from their stories. He studies their actions and motivations; and he compares how he portrayed them before with how he would portray them now, with new life experiences to draw from. You can also study your favorite characters from plays and novels and sitcoms. What makes you love them? What makes you love their performance? Take your observations and build your own characters in whatever medium you use to express your creativity. Draw them. Write them. Act them.
7. Go People-Watching. Speaking of characters, become a top-notch stalker! Okay, really, don’t stalk anyone….But! Become an expert people-watcher (in an absolutely safe, non-creepy way!). Watch how that jogger interacts with their dog at the park. Study that couple across the restaurant from you, who are talking just loud enough for you to hear their awkward first-date conversation. Notice the way that boy in the Lego aisle at Walmart convinces his younger brother to admire the same Lego set as him. “I’m always on the lookout,” says Artist Isaac Julien. “I observe people in the street... I think about the conversations that I have. I consider the gestures people use, or the colours they're wearing. It's about taking all the little everyday things and observing them with a critical eye; building up a scrapbook which you can draw on.”² Creativity is, after all, a human endeavor, so it should know its audience.
8. Revisit Past Creativity. We all have that one corner...You know the one I mean. The one where we pile up our unfinished manuscripts, our wonky drawings, our half-sewn costumes. The reject pile of aborted creativity. Sometimes the best thing we can for ourselves is sift through the pile. Re-examine your work from bygone days with new eyes. A lot changes with time...Can you make that screenplay work now? Can you tweak the bridge to that song? Can you add some depth to the face on that canvas? We are constantly gaining new life experience; and sometimes the brilliant ideas that came to us in our youth are actually still brilliant. They were simply waiting for us to mature enough to meet them as equals.
9. Ask Yourself “What’s Missing?” Don’t forget about the power of negative space in art. Sometimes the best creativity comes not by seeing what’s there, but by noticing what isn’t. Who is Mona Lisa smiling at? Paint that. And what if Beauty were the Beast? Write that. And how did Cosette feel, when all the men in her life left her alone to run to the barricade? Sing that. Sometimes the best stories are found just outside the edges of the photograph and just behind the wings of the stage. Tell those stories. Change your perspective. Give the negative space a voice.
10. Just Do It! Stephen Sondheim said, “The art of making art is putting it together.”³ We put it together piece by piece, but we all start with pieces. As any creator knows, the Muses are indeed fickle. So the creator must learn to be disciplined. Sometimes the act of creating is a blazing torch in the dark; and sometimes it’s a weak match flickering in the musty air. The trick is to keep working, even when it feels like work. Art is a mad concoction of study, talent, sweat, collaboration, and—if we’re lucky—nirvana. But we only reach it if we’re moving toward it. So get up, dust off your brushes and pens and pianos, and create!
Austin Kleon. Steal Like an Artist: Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. 2012.
Stephen Sondheim. “Putting It Together.” Sunday in the Park with George. 1984.