The Best of Forge 2019

4 Ideas to Boost Your Creativity

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and other insights from Forge

Illustration: Ruohan Wang. Originally appeared in A New Way to Recover From Creative Burnout.

We’re all capable of creativity, and we all want more of it. But we often feel robbed of the time and focus we need to actually make something.

Here at Forge, we don’t fetishize the habits of geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs. Very few of us have what author Herbert Lui calls “vast, unbroken slabs of time.” And creativity is not “a series of eureka moments,” as Anna Codrea-Rado writes. Indeed, “creating is hard, frustrating, sometimes even depressing or boring.”

Still, there are methods to help us activate our creativity and nurture our ideas. Creative work is just that: work. And like all work, the best way to master it is to do it. Many of our favorite stories at Forge in 2019 were dispatches from writers toiling in the trenches of creativity — and sharing with us what they have gleaned from its joy and heartbreak.

From smart pills to intermittent fasting, from hanging upside down to cold baths, the internet has no shortage of creativity hacks that promise a shortcut to inspiration. In an age where creativity is currency, we’re all looking to “crank the ideas tap,” but that’s just not how it works. “You can’t optimize your way out of the messy parts of creativity,” Anna Codrea-Rado writes. “In fact, you need them.” She encourages us to embrace creative frustrations — because it is only in the exquisite pain of trying to solve a difficult problem that true creativity resides.

We romanticize the reclusive artist who shuts himself off from the world to create with no distraction. And great for him. (It’s almost always a “him.”) But there’s hope for those of us with jobs, kids, and other responsibilities, as well as creative aspirations: Don’t underestimate what you can achieve in just 15 minutes a day. Lui cites examples of creative people, from illustrator and writer Austin Kleon to recording artist J. Cole, who have made great works in short daily chunks. In fact, Lui points out, there are cognitive advantages to working this way.

As anyone who has experienced the intoxicating high of a creative sprint knows, it’s often followed by a low. Nina Renata Aron beautifully describes that moment of creative euphoria — moshing in her kitchen while brewing coffee midway through a draft of her book — and the doldrums she experienced after she submitted said book and returned to her domestic tasks and responsibilities. Plotting her path out of that mental slump became its own creative journey, Aron writes, and led her to reevaluate the very nature of creativity: “If I could see the work I do to maintain everyday life, for myself and my family, as an inseparable part of my creative flow, I could perhaps dissolve the (patriarchal, capitalist) boundary between ‘working’ and ‘living.’ Might both be part of a larger whole?”

Much is made, rightly, of the importance of starting — often the hardest thing to do in creative work. But here, Michael Thompson argues for the importance of stopping as well. He describes with awe the moment in a documentary about a prolific New Yorker illustrator where the artist notices that it’s 6 p.m.: “Without hesitation, he stops what he’s doing, grabs his jacket, and leaves the office.” The moment stuck with Thompson because, like many of us, he often finds himself working overtime even when his creative energy is depleted. He reminds us that creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and sometimes the best thing to do is to step away. “Do you know what spurs my best ideas?” Thompson asks. “My wife. My kids. My friends. Good conversation. Green grass. Tall trees. A run. A book. Not sitting at my desk.”


Beat yesterday.

A quick morning email to help you start each day on the right foot.

Create a free Medium account to get The Forge Daily Tip in your inbox.

Written by

Editor of Forge, mom, gardener, cook. Formerly at Quartz.

Beat yesterday. A new Medium publication about personal development.

Written by

Editor of Forge, mom, gardener, cook. Formerly at Quartz.

Beat yesterday. A new Medium publication about personal development.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app