Mindful Creative Process
All of us create. Perhaps a beautiful piece of art, a mesmerising musical composition, a deep and meaningful prose of writing, or a really creative presentation at work. Most famous creatives are very mindful about their creative processes. For instance, Oscar winning music director A.R. Rahman derives his inspiration from connection with infinity. If you have heard his music, the connection can be experienced. I find that fascinating…
My creative process is completely organic. The more I have created, the more I have learnt patterns and built some heuristics that I would like to share with you.
Mental model – How to think about creative processes?
Creative processes can be divided into two parts. Inspiration and synthesis. Inspiration is random. This has profound implications. You cannot sit in one place and wait for inspiration. Moreover, you cannot schedule creativity. You do however need a mechanism, to capture inspiration when it occurs. Once captured, you also need to be able to make sense of it.
For instance, when I was reading about BTS last week, I learnt about how their music has a much deeper connection with the world. I wrote down a thought to study BTS’ creative process. A few steps later, this piece of writing was born.
Understanding & using triggers for a creative process
I have a 4 year old. Therefore cleaning-up is a constant truth in our lives. This is a very conducive activity for inspiration. I have observed that other menial tasks such as taking a shower, brisk walks really help. After a hard days of work, if I am reading a book, I also pause and spend some time reflecting, sometimes reminiscing.
The triggers for you might be different, but I suspect you know what I am talking about. It is good to be mindful about these triggers. For instance, when my mind is restless about a topic, I often resort to a menial task.
Tools I use to log and synthesize
When inspiration occurs, you need to be able to log it somewhere. A cloud based note taking system such as Evernote, Notion are perfect for this. I use Notion as it provides very useful features for managing my creative processes. Notion provides a hierarchical system in which you can organise your notes, any links you found on the internet while researching. You can even embed YouTube videos, Tweets and much more.
Twitter is a goldmine of inspiration. I use Twitter for discovering inspiration as well as testing it in public. Testing here refers to engagement, you can understand if a topic will resonate with your audience. This is not always necessary though. I create for myself, engagement is a second order goal to ensure I can reach as many people as possible.
Inspiration is not always original, in fact, many successful non-fiction authors borrow ideas and package it in incredible ways. For instance, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the bestsellers. This book has a collection of non original but brilliantly illustrated ideas and processes.
Ability to work between devices is extremely powerful with Notion. I make full use of this. For instance, I synthesize for about 40 minutes at my desk, might feel bored and I take a break. I then come back to it on my phone when I wake up, with a cup of coffee in my hand.
Canva is another great tool if you wish to graphically illustrate something. It can give you the right image sizes for various social portals, it also has a variety of templates. For instance, with Canva, I created Mindfulness Shorts. They are designed for Twitter. It has a headline message and when you click on it, it expands into some detail. While I am not an artist, I love to illustrate with hand, there is something magical about it.
Once you get habituated to logging all of your inspiration, the next step is to synthesize. Synthesis here refers to converting incoherent and disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole. This is a synchronous process. In other words, you do it sitting down in one place, with as fewer breaks as possible. This also has profound implications. For instance, I usually synthesize when I have blocks of 2 hours or more. Ideally late evenings or weekends work best. When I am synthesizing, I do not have to worry so much about being creative.
Synthesis is about connecting the dots and refining your creation until you are happy with it. For instance, imagine that I have a notion page with 11 logged thoughts about Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. My intention is to create an article summarising the key takeaways from this book. I first elaborate every one of 11 thoughts. Then, I find that some thoughts are not relevant and I delete them. Moreover, I discover that thoughts 3 & 7 are linked with each other, and I merge them. I might create a structure where 5, and 6 are part of 4 in which case, I will nest them within point 4. Very quickly, structure emerges and you keep tweaking it until you have got it right.
It is important to spend a lot of time, and proof read your article, script, or presentation. You will discover ways to make it better, if you have a second pair of eyes that you trust, that is even better!
All of us have different sources of inspiration, and our creative processes differ, but mindful consideration of this can give us an edge.