Creativity: 3 Exercises to Build Creativity


February 2022

Creativity: 3 Exercises to Build Creativity

Some people never stop running out of new and interesting ideas, while the rest of us might occasionally run into some frustrating mind obstacles. What’s the deal? How do you stay creative? Practice, practicepractice! 

Last time in our Creativity series, I shared a few general good habits of creative people. But let’s dive into the specifics. I love the following creative exercises because they encourage me to notice and appreciate details, inspire me towards deep thought, and help me demolish my self-imposed creative boundaries. 

Here are 3 exercises to build your creative muscles:

1. Forced Connections

This is an exercise about looking beyond the surface and focusing on problem-solving. First, create a list of unrelated random words (or use a bunch of random items). Then, pick two words from that list and force multiple connections between them. A common way businesses use this creative exercise is by first presenting a challenge or problem, and then using the random list of words and their characteristics to come up with connections of how those words can help solve the problem. Check out this detailed example about how the characteristics of a nose generated ideas for improving the automobile! Sometimes the outcome might be silly and other times you’ll be astounded how the activity helped you discover amazing and helpful ideas. 

2. Subject vs Style

Last summer, I spent two weeks in Hawaii and I wanted to make sure I continued building my creativity even while I vacationed. So I packed a nice portable-sized sketchbook. At the time, I had made a goal to improve my minimalist artistic style by practicing lettering and icon design. I would either work with the entire alphabet, or one subject, and attempt to recreate it using multiple styles. With the alphabet, I would try out different fonts—from simple cursive letters to letters shaped like palm trees or tropical flowers. With icon design, I’d choose one thing in my immediate environment (like the ukulele in my hotel room) and draw that in as many styles as I could. The idea is to take one thing and try to illustrate it in as many different ways as you can! For example, here are two doodles of my dog in different styles:

You don’t have to be good at drawing to do this exercise either! The goal is simply to expand your ideas of how something can be represented and force you to work through moments when you feel like you’re out of creative ideas. But if you’re going to travel with a sketchbook this summer, make sure you also let yourself enjoy the vacation in the moment!

3. Constrained Creative Writing

Hold up. Constrained? I thought we were talking about “demolishing self-imposed creative boundaries?” Trust me on this one. In his essay “A Few Thoughts on Beautiful Thinking,” Christian Bök discusses constrained writing—made famous by the French writing group, Oulipo—and showcases his mastery of the style in his book Eunoia. Eunoia is a univocal lipogram in which each of the five chapters is constrained to using only one vowel. So in Chapter A, every word can only use the vowel a. Check out these excerpts and the other rules Bök placed on his writing. It might seem difficult, but you can start out with some simpler exercises before you start limiting your alphabet that drastically. Some of my creative writing exercises include focusing on one prompt or subject and the constraint of not using one specific letter. For instance, I’ll try writing a few paragraphs about my backyard without using the letter “i”. In addition to lipograms, there are plenty of other constrained writing exercises you can try! Constrained writing challenges you in the same way an escape room does: you have constraints and you have to problem-solve and be creative in order to work through those limitations. I’ll end this one with a passage from Bök’s essay, “If given the choice, we always prefer to follow rules created by us intentionally for ourselves rather than to follow rules created unconsciously for us by others…the virtuosity of such literature always seems to be more interesting the less free it is.”

So if you can’t get out to Red Door today to experience an escape room, exercise your creativity a different way! Trying out these activities will show you that you don’t have to stay stuck even when you feel stuck. You can always get those creative gears turning, no matter what! 

This post has been updated as of July 2020

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