colorized photo of stressed musician“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations.”
–Rollo May
The Courage to Create, p. 115

I’ll bet that nearly all of us could be more creative than we are.

Why don’t we create abundantly?

One reason is that we often flee from the friction that arises during the creative process.

The Friction of Creativity

I’m referring to what Rollo May labels the ‘tension’ between the birth of an idea and the labor involved in transforming it into a finished product.

For instance, suppose that a songwriter invents a line of words and melody: How will she spin her kernel of inspiration into a song? Most of the time, via an intense process of trial and error through which she constructs a polished composition.

Performers go through comparable trials as they seek to master repertoire or draft content for their websites. Simply put, inspired notions may bubble up on a whim, but high-quality creative products result from persistent work.

As we do that work, our imaginations rub up against the hard restrictions of reality. Many of us then feel an inner friction as we strive to package our notions into concrete forms.

And that friction doesn’t produce a warm, fuzzy feeling. On the contrary, the challenges of creating can make us so uncomfortable that we’ll run from our studios. Many artists wind up feeling blocked and then cease creating.

Tapping Creative Friction

What if, instead of agonizing over creative friction and winding up blocked, we could tap it to enhance our productivity? Here are 4 ways that I’ve found to do so.

1. Name the Goals
Got an idea? Write it down, and then sketch ways that you might develop it without concern for the final product.

By setting down provisional goals, we become more likely to recognize paths that lead to finished products.

  • Example: A songwriter with an inspired single line of melody and text might decide, “I’m going to draft multiple verses of text that could complement that idea and expand on the melody to create two complementary and contrasting phrases.”

2. Name the Problems
Instead of groaning in the face of problems, by giving them names we can see their solutions more objectively.

  • Let’s say that you need a new website, and you’ve identified how many pages you’ll require and what sorts of content they’ll contain: Specify in writing the challenges you’ll have to overcome.
  • You’ll probably need photos, video recordings, engaging text, a calendar, social media integration, and a compelling design; maybe ways to sell merch. Quite a pile of stuff to accomplish.
  • Document every problem that you anticipate in a cool, detached way, without being concerned with solutions.

3. Play with Solutions
Whether we’re developing a website, writing songs, or whatever, we should aim to take pleasure in investigating solutions, much like we’d enjoy exploring an unfamiliar town.

The key here is to generate numerous possibilities for each problem, with an eye toward adventure rather than outcome:

  • A playful songwriter will churn out line after line of text, allowing her creative energies to flow.
  • A musician toying with website designs will explore color schemes, consider website builders such as Weebly, etc.

4. Practice Positivity
As we tinker with problems and solutions, we tend to talk to ourselves, especially when we’re stumped.

And such self-talk can lead us to higher creativity or to blocks, as described in my article “Positivity“.

  • In my own work, I take care to keep the positive energy flowing by using affirmations, countering negative thoughts, and recognizing that vexing problems are, in fact, the drivers of my development.

*  *  *The Musician's Way book cover

Researcher Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi wrote, “Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives . . . most of the things that are interesting, important and human are the results of creativity” (Creativity, p. 1).

Creative friction? Bring it on!

Related posts
Avoiding Avoidance
Embracing the Unknown
Getting Started
The Growth Mindset

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo licensed from Shutterstock