Creativity Series part II: Advice from famous creative minds

27 March 2017 - Inspiration

What constitutes creativity? What nurtures it? While the answers to these questions are deeply personal, it is always inspiring to look towards people who have successfully harnessed creativity in their careers.

We compile a list of advice from the very best—from entrepreneurs and writers, to scientists and musicians. They share their insights on everything from rest and solitude, to self-belief and concentration.

1. On getting stuck and patience

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient." – Hilary Mantel, writer

2. On rest

“The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled. If you’re constantly awake work-wise you don’t allow that to happen. One of the reasons I have to take distinct breaks when I work is to allow the momentum of a particular direction to run down, so that another one can establish itself.” – Brian Eno, musician

3. On originality

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to." – Jim Jarmusch, filmmaker

“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned.” – David Bohm (1917-1992), scientist

4. On beginning again

“Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out. If it isn’t working, don’t cut and paste—scrap it and begin again.” – Jeanette Winterson, writer

5. On rules

“Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.” – Esther Freud, writer

“For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, crucially, only by understanding what they're for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.” – Sarah Waters, writer

6. On humility, critique and discernment

“Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don't automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything elsethey might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.

Have more humility. Remember you don't know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life—and maybe even please a few strangers.” – A. L. Kennedy, writer and comedian

7. On self-belief and the herd mentality

“Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.” – Zadie Smith, writer

8. On starting

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything good.” – William Faulkner (1897-1962), writer

9. On connecting the dots

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011), entrepreneur and inventor

10. On having a unique voice

“We can only connect the dots that we collect, which makes everything you write about you. Your connections are the thread that you weave into the cloth that becomes the story that only you can tell.” – Amanda Palmer, musician

“Don't forget—no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.” – Charles de Lint, writer

11. On concentration and ‘flow’

“By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.

In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.

[T]rue concentration appears—paradoxically—at the moment willed effort drops away… At such moments, there may be some strong emotion present—a feeling of joy, or even grief—but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears. We seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself.” – Jane Hirshfield, poet

12. On frequency and consistency

“Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.” – Gretchen Rubin, writer and speaker

13. On what nurtures creativity

“No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.” – Mary Oliver, poet

14. On creative transformation

“No real creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.” – David Bohm, scientist

Read part one of our Creativity Series about the freedom of routine here.

What is your favourite advice about the creative life? We’d love to hear from you. Let us know at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team