My Favorite Ways To Stay Creative

I’ve been working on a new show and some days I find myself at a dead end. Never one to give up, I have to find new ways to stay creative and keep making progress. My frustrations are your gains because I’m about to share with you nine of my favorite ways to stay creative.

1) Change It Up - Every list of creativity ideas will tell you to keep a notebook. But what happens when you run out of stuff to write in your ideas journal? My trick is to mix it up with other places to put ideas. I’ll type them in my phone, record voice memos, scrawl thoughts on a dry erase board, or storyboard my show on the wall with brightly colored post-it notes. Truthfully, I’m basically still just jotting down my ideas as usual. But I’m keeping my brain active by tricking it into recording those ideas in a different way.

2) No Idea Is A Bad Idea - If I ever start to feel completely stuck then I play a round of “No Idea Is A Bad Idea”. I dream up the wildest ideas I possibly can and record all of them. The key is to turn off the filter and write everything down, no matter how stupid it is. After I’ve exhausted my “What If’s” I revisit the problem at hand and usually a solution will present itself.

3) Go For A Run - I have my best ideas when I’m running by Lake Michigan. After a couple miles my mind will wander off and I’ll find myself thinking about ideas in a new way. Of course you don’t have to run - go swimming or biking or dancing or do yoga or just take a walk somewhere. I promise you’ll be creatively inspired in ways you didn’t even know were possible.

4) Finish One Thing - Sometimes I’ll spend so much time brooding over a single problem that I end up accomplishing nothing. When that happens, my trick is to shelve that idea and come back to it later. I skip down the “To Do List” and find something that I know I can accomplish. Maybe it’s cleaning the office or responding to e-mails. Finishing a task feels good. It gets me back in a positive mindset and when I get back to work I usually have a positive breakthrough, too.

5) Do It Better - When I don’t know where else to turn I look to my peers and heroes for inspiration. Not to copy them or steal their ideas, but to find a starting place. I look at their ideas and think to myself “How would Mark Toland do this?” or “How can I make that even better?” Then, I play a round of “No Idea Is A Bad Idea” (See #2) until I discover a new idea that I’d never thought of before.

6) Self-Imposed Restrictions - Working from home is equal parts awesome and frustrating. It’s great because I get to set my own hours, but sometimes those hours are 8am to midnight. A year ago I decided to stop working at 5pm every single day. No matter how many items are left on my list, I stop working at 5. It gives me a chance to worry about other things. I can work on creative writing in the evening or just enjoy a date night with my wife. If you make space for other things, then you’ll find yourself filling that space with creative inspiration. Trust me.

7) Always Be Learning - I love learning new things. If I read an intriguing article I Google the words I don’t know then try to work them into conversation. Or, I’ll watch tutorials on YouTube just to pick up a new skill. You never know when something will jumpstart your creativity in unexpected ways. It’s great to be a master of your domain but even a Hollywood actor needs a subset of “special skills”. Develop yours, too, and you’ll find new and exciting ways to express yourself.

8) Study TV - Most lists like this tell you not to watch TV. I think that used to be great advice but now we're living in the golden age of TV. So, I’m telling you the opposite…but don’t just watch TV - study it! Examine how they make the show. How long are the edits? How do they film it? What do you like about the writing? What do you hate? How do they hold your interest? I study YouTubers, sketch comedy, movies, TV shows, and the news constantly. Once you stop watching TV and start studying it, you’ll never see things the same way again. And you’ll be more creative as a result.

9) Seek Out Inspiration - One of my favorite parts of living in Chicago is that I’m surrounded by inspiration everywhere I go. I can see famous works of art downtown and go to a greenhouse uptown, all in the same day. There’s magnificent architecture and beautiful parks to inspire me everywhere I look. No matter where you live, seeking out inspiration is a must. Go to the movies or the library. Take a tour or find a new neighborhood. Experience something new or revisit an old location. It doesn’t matter what you do, but the more you seek out inspiration the more inspired you’ll become.

So there you have it! Those are 9 Of My Favorite Ways To Stay Creative. Like anything else, creativity takes work. The more I write or rehearse, the more creative I get.

How do you stay creative? Post your favorites ways in the comments and I’ll add them to a future list!

OUT OF MY MIND is a blog series about how you can put Mark Toland’s incredible skills to use in the real world.