Top 20 practical tips for creative people

My last post was a list of some of the habits of genius. Most of them are not that surprising, stuff like “People who think a lot tend to drink a lot of coffee.” And often my posts tend towards the esoteric ( see the 5 part series on magic from last month.)

But since it’s a new year I thought I would bust out some really practical tips. It is easy to lose sight of the obvious when one is pursuing the muse. Here are a dozen reminders of stuff so basic that maybe it’s time to take a second look at it. Often it is easy for the creative type person to get so wrapped up in the big picture that they forget to take care of the mundane, the day to day, the basics. But I assure you, if you are going to succeed as an artists, a musician, a thinker, a creator, you need to have your practicalities covered just as much as the next guy. Here are my top 20 tips of practical things you can do that will end up boosting your creativity as much or more than taking ayahuasca, spending 24 hours in a flotation tank, or astral projecting to Mars.

1. Get in shape. If you are in good health you will have energy. Lots of energy means more energy to work on your magnum opus. A friend of mine ran into the singer Bonnie “Prince” Billy, she mentioned that she had been feeling low energy the past few weeks. His advice to her – take up jogging. Sometimes it takes doing more activity, to have more energy. That “Prince” guy drops like 2 records a year so he must know what he is talking about.


2. Eat healthy. Eat more fruits and veggies than anything else, and you’re golden. This is closely related to #1. Your body is an engine. Food is the fuel. Crappy fuel = crappy energy. Eat well, to feel well, and it will help you think well. Off the top of your head can you name one genius who was fat? Chefs and comedians don’t count. Neither does Orson Wells, he did his best work before he was rotund.

3. Keep a journal. I’m not saying you need to write down every little thing that happens. But it is a great way to track your progress over time, and to store ideas for later. Every idea for a project that you can’t get to right away just put it in your journal. (I used to get a little carried away and spend too much time journaling, it was counterproductive, the solution was to just buy a small journal with only one page allotted for each day.)


4. Also keep a dream journal. It can even be a part of the same regular day journal. Chances are your most creative ideas are happening while your asleep, and you just haven’t adequately trained yourself to remember them.

5. Cross-pollinate your ideas. Everyone needs to be able to talk shop. To bounce ideas off of someone. (That is 90% the point of college.) But you don’t need to go to college to chat with someone. Just have coffee or a beer, make it a weekly thing. Sometimes the solution to a creative problem doesn’t reveal itself until you hear yourself say it outloud. This tip is important because a lot of people work in a company setting, surrounded by others they can bounce ideas off of. The lone artists doesn’t have this. Thus you need to “cross-pollinate” your ideas on purpose. It doesn’t matter if your friend is working in the same field or not. Sometimes I get my best ideas about writing, while talking to a friend about music or science.

6. Books are fuel for your brain. Music can be fuel for your brain. Art is fuel for the brain. Movies are also fuel. Keep your tank full.

7. If you want to get good at something do it every day. The writer Patrick Dewitt once told me “If you’re not writing every day you’re not writing.” It’s true. Substitute whatever it is you personally want to master, whether it’s skateboarding, violin, or whatever and that is still true.

8. Make a weekly to-do list. Some might argue it’s better to make a daily, or a monthly list. That’s fine. The point is to have goals, know what your objectives are. Everybody in the business world knows this, creative people are prone to think that we don’t need to do this. That’s a dumb mistake. Know what you want to get finished this week. Write it down on a piece of paper. Not your computer. Not your phone. Write it down on a piece of paper. And check it off as you go. It’s that simple, and how much you get done in a week will double. (If you really want to go bananas with this tip check out the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.)

9. Have a calendar. Know what day it is. Know how long the current project is going to take, and what you want to work on after that. Don’t bother planning farther than 3 months out. Stuff changes.

10. You need a dedicated work space. Ideally you have a room where you can work with no distractions. If that is not possible then at least a desk, a space. If that is not possible, you need to get creative, depending on what you do this could mean finding a favorite spot at the local library, or a coffeeshop or something. If you look hard enough you can always find a spot free of distractions. try the local college, I used to sneak into the library of Reed college for the books and the atmosphere, although I was too poor to attend.

Frenchman's Bay

11. Use the library. Unless you got plenty of money, then just buy all your books. That’s the best but not everyone can afford it. No matter what, no matter how poor you get, don’t sell your books. You will regret it later. Sell records, sell plasma, don’t sell books.

12. Take drugs. Specifically psychedelics. Okay, this one isn’t “practical” but we can file it under obvious.

13. Read the Greeks. Plato etc.

14. If you can afford to drink the good whiskey instead of the swill, it’s worth it. Don’t drink beer out of cans. It’s not worth the loss in time and energy. In fact the less you drink, the more time and energy you will have to create. The creative genius who is also an alcoholic is a Hollywood myth. Don’t fall for it. Drinking is non-productive. The only thing drinking is going to help you produce is a hangover. So avoid the bar, but if you do go, do yourself a favor and shell out an extra buck or two for top shelf.

15. Get your stuff out there. Don’t be Kafka. If you’re a writer send your stuff to lit mags, to agents, to publishers. Show it to friends. If you’re a musician do open mics. If your a painter exhibit your work anywhere and everywhere. Start wherever you are. Don’t think you can “wait until it’s perfect”. That takes forever. But start getting your shit out there and that will help prod you to work harder and better.

16. You don’t have to go to college. It’s fine if you do, but it really isn’t necessary for any creative gig.

17. Develop a routine. This is probably the single biggest item on this list. If you can make working on your art automatic as brushing your teeth than you have already won. Pick a time that you can devote to work. Make it at least an hour and do it at the same time every day. Everything else follows from this.

18. Know whats going on. Read the news. You don’t need to read the paper from cover to cover every day. But at least read the headlines. If you’re an artist and you want to contribute something to the world, some artwork that reflects truth back to humanity . . . well then you should know what the hell is going on. Being a creative person is no excuse to being ignorant or culturally illiterate. (The trick is to balance this with with the next two.)

19. Avoid the internet as much as possible. It is a great resource for looking things up, it is a great reference source. It is also the greatest time-suck, mind-suck ever invented. It is dangerous. Turn it off. Don’t think that you are “getting stuff done” when you’re on the internet. Also 90% of the internet is poorly written, and repetitive, and you’d be better off reading about whatever you’re reading about in a book.


20. Don’t watch TV. Movies are fine. Netflix is okay in small doses because they take out the commercials. But basically TV is a total waste of time. You’d be better off taking a nap.

21. Get enough sleep.

3 Comments on “Top 20 practical tips for creative people

  1. Reblogged this on Anthony Alvarado and commented:

    Hey guys, shhh you didn’t see me here. I shouldn’t be blogging right now! The final draft of my book is due to the publisher this week, I should be working on that! But before I go make another pot of coffee, here is a repost on 20 basic tips for greater creativity. If a lot of my blogging is about esoteric ways to get more out of your imagination think of this as the “low-hanging fruit”.

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