How to set up creative friction
February 9, 2015 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed in the past few years that when I am bored or frustrated I tend to get inspired. Some of my best, most interesting sketches are from lectures and work meetings. While working in the office I come up with ideas for paintings, songs, quilts and other projects. I wrote my best poetry at a time when I felt trapped and as if my true thoughts were dangerous and forbidden.

At the time that I have these ideas they seem very urgent and I wish I could leave the office and get started immediately. But of course I don't. And then when I do go home - at the regular time - I no longer feel compelled to create. When I do nudge myself into doing something creative, the urgency and excitement are hard to recapture. I'm more likely to experience it as overwhelming and anxiety-producing, or just no longer interesting.

I know that I can do a lot of things to set up my space and create habits so that I work more with my hobbies. It's not about that - it's about that sense of creative intensity that I only get when a barrier is introduced by an outside force. When I am perfectly free to start any project I want, I have fewer ideas and less excitement. I'd like to find a way to tweak this thing and make it work *for* me, so I can have evenings and weekends of unbridled creative passion.

Has anyone else dealt with this? Can you share your tips for getting inspired on my own time?
posted by bunderful to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried meditation?
posted by pintapicasso at 5:47 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does showing your work spur you to create? Maybe you could set up a Facebook group or a Patreon account where you commit to showing something every week? I know I do much better under pressure.
posted by xingcat at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]



Carry a sketchbook with you everywhere and doodle. They come in all shapes and sizes, so even if you're a guy, it's easy to cart one around.

When you're home, work up the ideas a bit more.

so I can have evenings and weekends of unbridled creative passion.

Be realistic. Much of creativity can be a bit of drudgery, as you working stuff out, how to fit this into that or make that sketch work, etc, etc. That's fine, but the point it keep working, so that like a muscle, your creative side gets used to functioning at a high rate of productivity.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:03 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Set up that creative space, and head there first thing in the morning? Then your "outside-force barrier" is having to get to your day job on time. (Also, it will feel like you're always stopping in the middle of what you're doing, so you'll think about your project on and off during the day and be excited to get back to it the next morning.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:59 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wrote my best poetry at a time when I felt trapped and as if my true thoughts were dangerous and forbidden.

I think it is always possible to have "forbidden" thoughts and work on trying to find ways to express them that are not dangerous.

Start a blog or webcomic or other space for publishing your stuff at will. Think of someone you are mad at that you can't talk to about it or someone you are attracted to but can't have or some other kind of situation of tension between you and someone where you are not likely to be able to sit down and hash it out with that person, where resolution is likely to be hard or impossible to come by. Create something (story, poem, drawing, whatever) that expresses what you are feeling without outing the person it is "aimed" at or inspired by. Do not give identifying details (like eye color, profession, age). Limit your expression to a) personal interactions that might be identified by that individual but can't be identified by anyone else (and make sure you talk about them in unidentifiable ways) or metaphors for those things and b) your feelings.
posted by Michele in California at 10:13 AM on February 9, 2015

I have had the same experience with creative friction. Being stuck in a class, lecture, church...and suddenly I was full of ideas and they were fighting against the droning lecturer in front of me.

I embraced it in grad school by going to random lectures and sitting in the back of the room, where it wouldn't be too obvious if I zoned out and suddenly started writing furiously in my notebook. And, if inspiration didn't strike...well, then I got to listen to a professional talk knowledgeably about their field of interest. There are worse ways to spend my time.

I never tried to set up a creativity session in church...too much "stand up, sit down, look like you're paying attention" for me. But if you're near a university or college that has open lectures, this might be a way to set yourself up for some creative friction.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm more likely to experience it as overwhelming and anxiety-producing,

High standards, eh? I finally got The Now Habit, and am getting a lot out of it (the first couple of chapters, so far, anyway) with regard to thinking through this problem. Using his framework here: when you're bored during work meetings, you haven't got any expectations about what should come out of your scribbles. You have permission to be loose.

Also, your creative activity in that context is a rebellion against what you "should" be doing; it feels chosen. (Fiore talks about how rebellion functions in procrastination, too, and about the importance of perceiving the things we do as chosen. You might get a lot out of what he says about this.)

When you're doing stuff at home with your own goals, your self-critical beliefs have time to shore themselves up and paralyze you, especially in the absence of deadlines. (Some people who paralyze themselves are able to forcibly (and very uncomfortably) get past it by committing to deadlines, finding the energy to push through at the last minute. Fiore talks about this, about how procrastination involves managing anxiety using delay and avoidance, thereby setting up an artificial crisis so dire it forces people to grunt their way past anxiety responses.)

Maybe committing to deadlines would help, but you could also try to short-circuit the whole process by addressing procrastination (if that's part of what's going on) head-on. I've only started the book, so I can't yet speak to the solutions advised (so far: working on self-talk; reframing goals as chosen; nourishing alternate self-definitions that don't rely critically on achievement of plan A). But a lot of people have benefited from it, might be worth checking out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:08 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

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