Although the ritual of always working in the same place can provide fertile ground for your routine, when you need to shake-up your inspiration, add a little pep to your process and creative offerings too, shutting yourself away like an author in his garret or artist in her studio isn’t always the ideal thing for your creativity.
Where we write or make art can make or break creativity, productivity and ability to generate shiny new ideas. If you resent or dislike the space where you usually create or find it uninspiring, everything can fall a little flat. Familiar environments are far less likely to instil inspiration as our brains become used to the same stimulus.
Instead of supporting you and your creativity, if your brain isn’t stimulated because of remaining in the familiar, it is less likely to offer fresh inspiration. A change of scenery can be incredibly effective. Our brains like a little stimulation to work effectively on our projects but not too much.
Finding the sweet spot for optimum creativity – and what works for you personally – can enhance your ability to create, and with it, your passion too as there’s nothing more motivating that completed work. Even if your options are limited, switching and optimising the space in which you create can have measurable effects on your ability to do so with ease.
“Creative thinking requires a relaxed state, the ability to think through options at a slow pace and the openness to explore different alternatives without fear, so it is critical that the organizational environment is carefully assessed to ensure there are optimum opportunities for creative thinking,” says Gaia Grant, is the co-author of “Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get It Back?”
Change of Scene
New surroundings force your brain to work harder and consequently be more alert, in turn offering more creative solutions and ideas. If you always write in the same place, changing locations in a wonderful way to wake up your brain to inspire and develop creative ideas.
Take your notebook outside when you need to brainstorm, bring your writing to a cafe or read through ideas and outlines at your local park or beach.
Warning: This is NOT recommended if using scene cards on a windy day (that outline is still blowing around Brighton beach).
If the environment is too busy or stimulating however, it can have the opposite effect. When our attention is being pulled in many directions due to all the stimuli that surrounds us it results in our brains continually accessing where our attention should be placed instead of offering creative solutions or inspiration.
Creating in Cafes
The lovely hum of conversation, clink of cups and scent of freshly brewed coffee and delicious food. The ambiance of a cafe has long been a favorite of writers and poets but perhaps it isn’t just because of our penchant for a cup of Joe.
Research has found that silence may not always be best for your creativity, with one study even saying that a moderate level of background noise, such as that of a cafe, can help both focus and inspiration.
“Instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas,” said the researchers in the paper.
Choosing ambient surroundings like a cafe, where the noise is in moderation but stimulus unpredictable but [hopefully] not intrusive, helps many writers and artists work. The gentle background noise inspires creativity and concentration too.
If you are unable to go a café, there are apps available that produce the same background noises without you even needing to leave your desk (BYO coffee).
Try: Coffitivity (click here), an app that creates the sounds of a busy cafe at lunch or a more chilled ‘morning murmur’, both of which can stimulate your creativity.
Taking a writing break in a busy cafe to people watch is especially beneficial if you write poetry or fiction:
Take notes on the mannerisms, subtle [and not-so-subtle] nuances of character, or develop this with what you imagine they could be; listen to the timbre and tone of their voice, the way the express themselves through body language etc. People watching is in itself fertile ground for writing and enhancing your ability to create believable and authentic characters.
Creating to Music
Many writers and artists find that music itself can be a powerful creative tool that enhances the creative process. Roz Morris has a blog dedicated exclusively to writers and the music they love to write to. Amp up your creativity and your sounds, if you love music, create a playlist for each of your projects on Soundcloud.
In this study, music was found to increase productivity. If you are listening to music with lyrics, it can be distracting for other language-related creating, such as writing, ss the lyrics activate the language centre of your brain.
For artists and other creative tasks the lyrics might not have the same effect for creative tasks. This study that looked at software developers suggested that music helped their output while working. Another study suggested that classical Baroque music increased both mood and productivity.
If you love to write fiction, another delightful way to deepen your connection to your character is to create a playlist just for them. This idea came from writing coach, Lauren Sopala and truly immerses you in the subtle intricacies of your characters.
For artists, non-fiction writers, poets: Having a playlist that inspires can offer fresh inspiration every time you put it on. The habit of doing so can also signal subconsciously to your brain that you are about to create, which helps you slip into that creative space all the more swiftly.
For fiction writers: Sit in stillness and think about a character. Next listen to music that you think he or she would pick and make a playlist. Before and during your writing sessions that include this character, listen to the playlist.
Creating Outside in Nature
In contrast, being in the serene stillness of nature engages our involuntary attention modestly. When you are admiring a beautiful view or colourful sunrise for instance, this gives your directed attention a rest and allows your mind to wander, thereby offering the ideal conditions to incubate creative ideas and be the genesis for new ones.
Writing or creating your art outside offers the ideal conditions for optimising your creativity, and it also naturally primes your brain to be more open and alert. A study published in the journal found that being connected with nature was associated with innovative thinking – that is the ease with which we are able to think about things in novel ways, and holistic thinking, which takes into account the interconnectedness of all parts of a creative problem.
“An understanding of nature also teaches us that all things in the natural world (including life cycles and ecosystems) are interrelated. Similarly, holistic thinkers emphasise the interconnectedness of ideas within a system,” says Carmen Lai Yin Leong who conducted the study. Both of which enhance creative thinking.
Can’t Get Outside? Look at Images of Nature
Even if you can’t get out of the house, simply looking at photographs of nature or filing your workspace with plants, photographs world, and natural objects are all calming to the spirit and nurturing to your creativity. Looking at photographs of natural scenery has been shown to reduce stress and may even enhance your creativity too.
A study by Berto (2005) found that looking at pictures of natural scenes had a restorative effect on how we feel and think, also enhancing cognitive function. Ensure the images are of trees, fields and natural wonders but not by streets, industrial units or even complex geometric patterns, which did not offer the same benefits.
Try: Search for images of beautiful natural scenery on Pinterest, take photos or buy prints of your favourite natural places and put them in your workspace.
Even just listening to the sounds of nature have been shown to reduce stress and aid stress recovery and can offer a lovely way to overcome noisy distractions.
Try: Another app I love is called Sounddrown, it offers everything from white noise to cafe noise, to the sound of rain or a crackling fire.
Even if you prefer to create in silence, finding quiet may be far from possible for many, especially if you have a young family or live in a busy home but using earplugs or headphones is almost always possible to block out the noise.
Alternatively, though the science is a little shaky, listening to binaural beats, alpha and theta brain waves or even ocean waves, you may enhance your creativity. The idea is that as the brain waves slow, you in turn relax, and that stimulates your ability to be creative.
Joseph Leach, a researcher in EEG neurofeedback treatment, which also uses brainwaves to enhance creativity, says that it is a similar state to meditation, and this encourages creativity. Despite the scientific ‘proof’, it is still a very calming way to block out noise and distractions, especially if writing and making art is your meditation and stress-relief.
Choose Soft Lighting
Other studies have shown that people feel more creative and free from restraints in softer lighting instead of the harsh lights typically used in office buildings. The researchers in Germany found that people sitting in dim light are able to solve creative insight problems far faster than those working under normal or bright lighting.
They also discovered that people who work under dim lights feel ‘free from constraints’. For a shift in thinking or to solve a particularly troublesome creative problem, opt for darkly-lit surroundings to stimulate increased creativity.
The ability to focus and therefore create, is far easier to facilitate if you are able to purposefully create undisturbed alone time and create but that’s not always attainable, especially for writers and artists who have young families who naturally find it harder to squeeze writing time out of a busy schedule.
“Provide opportunities to get into the creative ‘flow’ of a project without interruptions. Encourage sufficient chunking of time so that multitasking is not expected,” says Gaia Grant.
Just putting a sign up to not be disturbed and actively requesting a little me-time, no matter how humble, to work on your projects each day can help ensure they grow organically of themselves until completion. It may take time but stick with the process and enjoy it too.
Go easy on yourself if you have a life filled to the brim with outside pressures. Creating an oasis of quiet, however brief, and creating consistently through exercising a few boundaries can be the difference between an unfinished manuscript and a completed one.
De-Clutter Your Work Space
Although it’s lovely to write and create in cafes or outside, it’s also important to have a space you can call your own. Not every one has the luxury of a ‘room of one’s one’, as Virginia Woolf advised but you can ensure your desk or workspace is as clutter-free as possible and a pleasant place to create. It’s important that you can be relaxed as well as able to focus in your workspace.
“It’s important that the area is conducive to creativity and relaxed enough to support creative development,” says Gaia Grant. “The more relaxed the individual, and the more ‘open’ the mind, the more easily these broader connections can be made. In effect, it enables conscious awareness to be freed from pressing and direct tasks to more open and divergent thinking (Fredrickson, 2001).”
A messy house will always disrupt your state-of-mind and upset your equilibrium. You may be so used to the clutter that you do not consciously pay attention to it but it always affects you even if only subconsciously, and consequently affects how you feel, which influences your passion, drive and energy levels.
Clutter is always draining whether you’ve mentally shut it out or not, you may find your mind also feels a little overwhelmed and cluttered. Clearing out the clutter in your home is liberating and creates energy, increasing your desire to focus on projects.
Although in direct contrast to the above, one study found that disorder can actually increase creativity. To benefit from this research, some writers prefer to have one space for ‘work’ and another for creating and coming up with new material and ideas.
Try: Have a space dedicated to brainstorming and another for your writing and other work. It need not be lavish, just a cushion on the floor with relaxing music can be a space to brainstorm inside, while the place where you write can be minimalist and clutter-free.
Get rid of clutter in 10 minute blasts, even just 10 minutes will build-up very quickly. Instead of being overwhelmed by an untidy workspace, break it up into manageable chunks. Vow to organise: a drawer the first day, a shelf the next, find what works for you.
Quick Tips for a Creative Work Space:
- Clear your desk – it’s always better to clear your desk before you work or ideally, at the end of your working day so that instead of starting your day feeling stressed you ensure you start the new day with a clearer mind and far more clarity.
- Use colour – research on how colour affects us has found that yellow stimulates your mind and by adding red touches, red flowers for example, helps your focus and concentration.
- Place inspirational images in your workspace, especially those of natural scenes, such as a beautiful landscape.
- Ergonomically comfy – Make sure where you work is supportive and comfortable.
- Bring nature inside to benefit from the healing and creative benefits. Opt for natural materials, add plants and other natural objects.
- Create the right level of sounds – Try the many apps that produce the background sounds of a café, beach, forest etc.
- Use a desk lamp and avoid fluorescent lighting.
- Consider having a separate space to brainstorm that is more informal and relaxing, and another where you work and write.
- Remember to take time out – Ensure you take scheduled breaks. If you love the Pomodoro technique for writing as much as I do, use the breaks to do a five-minute yoga sequence or try introducing a mediation in between sessions. These yoga asanas hold specal benefits for writers and artists.
Wishing you a day of undistracted creative splendor, newfound inspiration and much joyfulness too. ♥