If You Want to Be More Creative Stop Trying So Hard

The title of this article might not make sense at first glance, but believe me, it works. One problem many people have with creativity is that they try too hard. People falsely believe that creativity is something that only comes through hard work. But I’m here to tell you that if you want to be more creative, stop trying so hard.

The Only Time I Get Writer’s Block

First, let’s be clear, I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Instead, I think it’s a psychological state of mind that we make for ourselves. The idea that there’s some kind of sinister outside force called writer’s block is fucking ridiculous.

That said, the only time I’ve hit a wall when trying to be creative in my life is when I’m trying too hard. It’s my experience that creativity can’t be forced. Maybe this is why some people claim they’re not creative: because they try to force creativity, and therefore it doesn’t come.

I remember my early songwriting days. I’d write dozens of songs over a few months. Then it felt like the songs stopped coming. So I’d sit up at night, racking my brain, pushing myself to write more songs. Shit! Nothing would come. This could go on for weeks, even months. But it wasn’t really writer’s block, I was simply burned out.

In time, after I quit trying to force myself to write, new ideas developed, new songs came. This is how creativity works. It comes in cycles. There are ways to keep from burning out and increase your creativity. One way is to stop trying so hard.

To Stop Trying Doesn’t Mean to Quit

I’m sure somebody’s thinking, “But Dan, if I stop trying, isn’t that quitting? And doesn’t that mean I’ll never be creative again?”

Nope. That’s not how it works. Even through those times of burnout, you can keep creating without trying too hard. Here are some ways to keep being creative without pushing yourself:

  1. Time limits: I’ve discovered that the worst thing I can do when the words don’t come is to sit there and try to force them. That only frustrates me and then I’m even less likely to find the muse. Instead, when my creativity feels drained, I’ll just work at it a little bit each day.
  2. Change your focus: Within your genre of art, do something different. If you write fiction, try poetry. If you’re a country songwriter, try heavy metal. Use pastels instead of paint. Not only can it ignite creativity, it can be fun.
  3. Try something new: Do something completely outside of your kind of creativity. If you’re a painter, pick up a musical instrument. If you’re a writer, try working with wood. Create your own food recipe. Just do something creative outside of your area of expertise.
  4. Take time away: When I was working on my trilogy, I’d have short bouts with burnout. Sometimes all I needed was a 20-minute walk. Other times, I purposely set the project aside for weeks, or even months. However, in some cases, you might not have this luxury. You might be on a timeline. In those cases, I suggest #5.
  5. Find a partner: I usually work solo. But I’ve collaborated many times over the years. In fact, I’ve called up musical friends and requested co-songwriting sessions for this exact reason. Two minds can be more creative than one. Or maybe you just need to bounce a few ideas off of a friend or family member.

Creativity Is Natural, Like a River

Have you ever stood in awe of nature. Consider rivers. They cut through land and rock to flow to the sea. Do you think they’re purposefully trying? Of course not. It’s a river, not a fucking genius. Rivers don’t think. They don’t try, they just flow, and over the years, they cut a path.

Creativity is like that. It just flows. It cuts a path. That path is not always straight and easy. If you’ve ever looked down at a river from an airplane, you know that a river is even more curvy than it appears to be at ground level. Why? Because when one route doesn’t work, it takes another.

So don’t give up on creativity. Be like a river. Just let it flow and find your path. But whatever you do, don’t push too hard. Force rarely leads to great creative works. Let go. Flow.