Important Habits For A Creative Life

When you think of a creative person, what comes to mind? An artist who follows her muse and sleeps until noon? An advertising executive staring at the wall of his office? What about the rest of us, in ordinary jobs, living ordinary lives? Is creativity important, and is it a tool we can use just as well as the artist or Don Draper clone?

I say YES. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to live creatively within a typical work-life framework. I consider myself to be a creative person. However, my creativity requires a framework. I can’t just stare at a blank wall or page; I’d go crazy. I need the structure of habits for creativity to grow on.

The following creativity habits have made my work and home life better, richer and more productive: 

  1. Set specific times for creative action and thought. This sounds counter-intuitive; why would you assign yourself a time for thinking creatively? But I’ve found if I plan times to brainstorm projects, the creative thoughts don’t stop when I move on to the next thing. I get ideas while exercising, taking showers, and doing household chores. My brain “gets in the habit” of thinking creatively, and that part of it keeps working even when the rest of me is focused elsewhere.
  2. Know my own best practices. Over time, I’ve learned that I can’t assign that brainstorming time to late afternoon after I’ve taught six lessons and a band rehearsal; I need to approach new ideas when I’m fresh. So I spend my morning and weekend time on the newest and toughest projects, saving afternoons and evenings for less creative, more mundane (but still essential) tasks.
  3. Make tough tasks into a game. Remember how Mary Poppins got the Banks children to “tidy up the nursery?” She created a game out of thin air. I’ve done this countless times with my son by singing songs, dancing through rough patches or inventing something called “Mr. Ticklesock” to help him get dressed. This creative habit works best when there are kids involved; it’s one of the reasons I love working with 9-and 10-year olds at school.
  4. Try new things now and then. Most of my life is committed to three things: family, teaching, and writing. But there’s still some room on the fringes for experimenting with a new hobby or two. Some have been successful (baking, snowshoeing, yoga) and some abandoned quickly (sewing, scrapbooking, meditating). But the new experience always gets new cylinders firing and connections made.
  5. Take care of myself. This is a big one. If I don’t sleep well, eat well, and exercise regularly, my brain doesn’t work. Surprisingly, I was first successful at losing weight when I started writing. It seems that I care more about keeping my brain healthy than my body skinny, but hey, it got me there in the end.
  6. Curate my inspirational sources. I get inspired by books, certain blogs, and writers I follow on Twitter or Feedly. Occasionally, I get inspired on Pinterest. I almost never get inspired on Facebook or YouTube. That doesn’t mean I don’t go there, or that I don’t sometimes get looped into unproductive time. But at least I’m conscious that it won’t benefit me in the long run.
  7. Look out for creative role models. You can find them wherever you live or work. I’ve been inspired by watching custodial staff approach the same task in different ways. I’ve learned a lot by watching my friends parent their children, and by walking past classrooms where a teacher is deeply engaged with her students. Creative behavior is everywhere if you’re open to seeing it, and it’s contagious.

Do you consider yourself a creative person? Do your habits support a creative lifestyle?


4 Responses to “Important Habits For A Creative Life”

  1. Sara L. says:

    This is a great list, Leanne. I agree with all of your habits, but I especially like #5 and #7. I need the former, or else I simply don’t function. (Fact: I suffered a bout of “situational insomnia” after I moved into my condo, and almost made myself sick from it. :S )

    As for the latter, I’d include creative friends along with role models. By that, I mean not just writing pals we meet through social media or blogging, but friends in real life, too. Two of my local friends are both musically inclined (a singer-lyricist and a guitarist-keyboardist-composer who used to be in a band together) and avid readers. (The musician in particular is a big fantasy fan like me.) We actually have what we call “Creative Sessions” once a month, where one of us hosts and makes dinner, and we catch up on life in general as well as each others’ projects. Both have been really helpful in terms of shoring up my story’s world-building and giving honest, constructive feedback on the writings I’ve shared with them so far. Not to mention knowing you’ve got a Creative Session coming soon sparks the fire of productivity under you!

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      I love the idea of “Creative Sessions!” So great to share with other creatives, especially outside your genre. You can talk about the process, even if the product is different.

      Cool idea for a writer’s workshop session too. Hmmm….

  2. Kathy says:

    What a great and helpful post! I agree we can all live creatively, even if we’re not in creative fields. I also agree with the concept of creative habits, and when I’m keeping to my own, I do feel more creative, though I hadn’t put them into words the way you have here. I do practice Morning Pages most mornings and find that I usually have more ideas for writing projects when I do. (And with that said, I realize I haven’t done them in the last two days–shame on me!)

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      Kathy, I always find it helpful to write these posts- “putting it into words” as you say. I’m more conscious of these things after I write about them. Morning pages is a great habit! I used to do that too, but now I just journal.

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