The Creative Process

By | May 17, 2017

I get asked all the time – by my mom and my imaginary friend Tommy Rickles – “How is it you create the cool, creative things you create?” In other words, “What’s your creative process to creating things?” Moms are always steadfast in their support, whether you’re a middling amateur, a world-class pro, or a straight-up clueless buffoon. Imaginary friends do whatever you want them to do so long as you have the minimal amount of self-esteem required to direct the narrative of your own fantasies. Tommy Rickles is a hell of a friend, by the way. His quick-witted insults and commentary on pediatric pop culture will have you wetting your diaper and spitting up your formula for hours.

Tommy Rickles

So let me take you, Mom and Tommy – and anyone else curious enough to join – on a crazy journey through the unique mind of a creative creator who carefully crafts these cerebral posts in a manner consistently more educational (and comical) than a crotchety, condescending old curmudgeon communicating his less than correct – and hardly concrete or consistent – wisdom through a series of crass stories featuring colorful and cranky characters he conceived in the cortex of his senile cranium to cryptically convince tiny children that only he knows why crows crow, crabs crawl, and crickets copulate.

Grandpa? What does “copulate” mean?

Well…before I stray off on another crooked, consonant-clustered alliteration featuring more of the letter “C”…let’s begin.

Setting the Mood…and the Smell

In its most fundamental form, I see the creative process as a way to get all of my senses oriented on the same plane of creative thought…buckled in all cozy and cuddly with a one-way ticket to Creative Town.


Flight to Creative Town


I always start by sitting at a table and lighting three candles, which is odd for two reasons. One, “three” is an odd number. Two, I love even numbers, so it’s odd (ironic?) that I would prefer an odd number of candles. But, fundamentally, at its very core, my love for even numbers can be credited to the soothing effect the symmetry has on my OCD. Let me explain…

If you consider the middle candle as the centerpiece, then each side has one more candle, both left and right, thus rendering the aggregate candle setup perfectly symmetrical. Come to think of it, if you consider the middle unit of any odd number the centerpiece, then that odd number is also a symmetrical number with an equal number of parts on either side. I think I just talked myself into loving odd numbers. See, the creative process of discovery is already at work! Don’t worry, number eight, you’re still my favorite…just don’t tell number nine.

Now, of course, we all know the mind-altering effects that smell can have on our biology, so these candles have to be scented, and very specifically so. For example, you can’t write about Halloween while burning Candy Cane Cinnamon Puff (trademark pending) on your fireplace mantle. Likewise, you can’t write a post about life extension while your writing space smells of mothballs, Werther’s Originals, and retirement homes. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding the perfect scent of candle to get you in the proper mood for the topic you’re covering, or perhaps even picking a surprise scent to launch a spontaneous cranial adventure extra worthy of documentation.

I sometimes have a friend walk into Yankee Candle blindfolded – while I wait outside blindfolded – and have them randomly buy the first hunk of smelly wax they knock off the shelf. This accomplishes two objectives. For one, it ensures that I receive a completely random scent for my creative candle. For two, it proves the efficacy of a double-blind study. Actually, it probably accomplishes three objectives as it also irritates the employees and customers at Yankee Candle in a way few other things can.

Tuning in to the Right Frequency…and a Disclaimer

As important as the candles are, however, a fully creative mind space is about more than just your sense of smell. One must inundate all senses in the best way possible to achieve creative nirvana. I find that sound is of next highest importance, so let’s take a moment to discuss.

But before we begin to discuss sound, there is something more important I need you to understand and internalize. Each and every one of us humans is unique, and I am even more unique from you than you are from me, so it must be clear that this material is not to be treated as a checklist or a how-to guide for maximizing your own creative potential. Instead, it serves merely as a vehicle for an intense, albeit brief and fleeting, voyage into the mind of a creative genius (me). So forget about your own ego for a few precious minutes, you narcissist, and be grateful this caravan of creativity picked you up like the creative hitchhiker you are.

NOW let’s take a moment to discuss sound. Many people prefer the sound of silence for their writing, something they may find within a library, their own solitary bedroom, or an English countryside bed and breakfast they broke into after both customer and owner had settled up and left for the day’s activities. The problem is that those people are wrong. Truth be told, I find that complete silence makes me want to stab my eardrums with tuning forks until the sound of bubbling blood fills the void that the aforementioned silence had left.

Voice-in-my-head Sidebar: My…that last sentence did get a bit graphic, now, didn’t it? But I went with the creative flow and censored nothing. And I apologize for nothing. Yet defiantly refusing to apologize, preemptively and unprompted, would clearly show how conscious I am of the guilt and embarrassment I’ve stirred up inside from mentioning such bizarre, primal thoughts as mutilating my own ears. I can’t let that show outwardly to the readers; it’ll dull the writing, take the edge off, and reveal that I’m not truly committed to my authentic, creative self. Better to be thought of as a creative psycho than a mentally stable, though somewhat dull, “normal person.” Okay, good talk, self.

As with smell, you have to find background noise that enhances the mood of the room to most compliment the tone you’re trying to achieve in the writing. For me, the booming, drowning sounds of road construction best compliment all writing tones much in the same way mustard best compliments everything from hotdogs to cornflakes (it’s a great dairy-free substitute for milk).

The sheer decibel level of jack hammers and skid loaders makes it completely impossible to think, which is the key to great writing. Your inner thought dialogue is the devil in the details of your mind, squashing your creativity faster than the big bang in reverse (the theory, not the TV show). Fortunately for me, the street I live on has been under construction most of the time I’ve owned my house, so I almost always have the ideal setting for my finely tuned ears.

The Eye of Focus

As we continue our theme of optimally stimulating each of our five senses to get them to their creative happy place, next in line for discussion is sight. This one is easy: I just look at my computer. As much as possible. I see so many amateurs out there writing in nature, coffee shops, frozen yogurt shops, many other kinds of shops, and it’s a huge mistake. It overstimulates the brain, forcing it to fabricate all these new ideas that distract from truly creative writing. If you want to come up with a new theory to unite relativity and quantum mechanics, take your laptop to Starbucks. If you want to be creative, however, focus on your computer.

If it helps, you can build yourself a secrecy cubicle, kind of like those at voting booths or the ones you used to take standardized tests in school, to maintain perfect focus on the computer screen. I also find that pinning my eyelids open gives me an often underutilized advantage over those who take time to blink. A dry eye is a focused eye, as I like to say.

Irritated Eyes

Don’t Touch Me

Seriously, don’t touch me. Can’t you see how creative I’m being? And you were just going to ruin that? For what? To tell me the sunset looks beautiful? To tell me how creative I am (I already know)? To shoe that horsefly off of my dry, safety-pinned eyeball? To wipe the blood dripping off my ear after my tuning fork incident that I clearly have internal conflicts over whether or not to publicly disclose? Did someone try to stop Van Gogh from cutting off HIS ear? I didn’t think so, and neither should you touch me. The product of my imminent creativity is worth more than your finger I’m about to bite off (or Van Gogh’s ear, for that matter), so we’d all be better served by you keeping your hands to yourself.

No Touching

I do, however, find it important to stimulate my sense of touch to reach my highest creative self. Specifically, I find that pain creates the most urgent, primal stimulation of the nervous system and thus gives me the most energy to channel through my creative…uh…channels. I prefer to sit on porcupine needles. I also prefer the porcupine needles to be attached to a live porcupine. This adds a bit of uncertainty and surprise, keeping my creative grey matter nimble on its toes without losing focus. The parasympathetic state is for amateurs; if you’re serious about being professionally creative, you sit on a porcupine and work the sympathetic.

Meals for Reals…Soup-er-foods

So far – though worthless to you, because you’re not me – I’ve shown you how I maximally optimize (or optimally maximize) my first four biological senses to produce a fully creative aura that will outshine a white shirt at a blacklight party. But if you’re thinking “I could have sworn on my grandma’s third chin that humans had five senses, not four,” no matter how many chins you had to swear on (the record is twelve), you’d be right. But don’t get too high on yourself, because the other sense doesn’t really matter.

In fact, in 100% of the studies conducted by our esteemed Betterman scientists – many of whom were picked up off the free agent market after being released by the EPA – taste has been proven to have no correlation to creativity. Food is fuel, and fuel only, but you don’t even need fuel to be creative. In fact, our scientists have also found that humans experience exponentially increasing amounts of creativity when fasting for long periods of time (between five and twenty-five days) because of the hallucinations induced by starvation.

Do note, however, than after twenty-five days there is a steep drop in creativity levels due to death. We aren’t yet sure if that steep drop is an actual, statistically significant impact of death on creativity directly, or if the data is merely skewed by survivorship bias (subjects dropping out of the study before completion), but the correlation nonetheless exists, and it’s a very strong one.

Fasting & Creativity Chart

That said, while regular foods – along with their vitamins, minerals, etc. – have no connection to creativity, there are a small subset of foods that do…superfoods. Superfoods are things that transcend nutrition, not because of extremely high contents of important vitamins or enzymes or antioxidants or polyphenols or other science-y, jargon-y nonsense, but rather just because they are super. Kind of the way magic is super. And I have discovered a method to effectively multiply the effects of superfoods…by putting them in soups (which we all know are the healthiest of all foods…next to salads). Soup-er-foods are like a superfood squared.

In a double-blind study conducted here at Betterman Research, we have found that our patented soup-er-food bowl of goji berries, dark chocolate, kale juice, and chia seeds blended with the bone broth of baby lambs and steeped with green tea for seven days will outperform every psychedelic drug on the (black) market today. Although we should note that we never tested any of the competition (the psychedelics), the results for the soup-er-food soup were so profound that we simply know it to be soup-erior. If the Beatles had ever gotten ahold of soup-er-foods…well, our simple human brains simply can’t fathom that (your simple human brains…mine can…it just did).

The Sixth Sense, the “Have To”…the Gift

The most important thing to know about the creative process, this “ritual” of sorts called upon to synchronize all the physical senses into resonating at the same, uber-creative frequency, is that it matters and it works…if you’re gifted. That’s right; it’s conditional. And just as conditional love is the model we all strive for, conditional creativity is…well…the best kind. You didn’t really think just anyone could be creative, did you? If you did, you probably also believed that there were only five senses. Or that the world is round. Or that gum is safe to swallow. Congratulations, you win a Darwin Award. And you might be a redneck.

What it really takes to be creative is a sixth sense, a gift from the “gods,” or as Hollywood-renowned philosopher Chet Steadman calls it, “The Have To.” It’s something you have to be born with, have inherited from important and endowed people, or receive from the graces of nature through a genetic mutation. Statistics show that you don’t. I do, however, and that’s a very fortunate thing for you because now you can learn your own limitations and inferiorities through me. In a way I consider this my greatest contributing role to society, telling you what you can’t do so you don’t try to do it anymore. I call it Delirious Dream Destruction (Triple-D for short), modeled after the seminal works of Simon Cowell which he refined through his social experiment juggernaut American Idol.

Put another way, the creative process in absence of “the gift” is like the turning of an ignition switch in a car without an engine. That’s why I’ve been eluding throughout this post that this isn’t a checklist or a how-to guide, but rather a celebration of me, by you, how rare and wonderful a true creative gift is.

You see, when I go through my creative process ritual, turn my proverbial ignition switch with my golden key, my motor turns over with creative flow that is beyond what any non-creative mind could ever handle. Try as they might, their mental channels simply don’t have the bandwidth to transmit the massive payload of the profoundly creative. And, for me, it’s not even a struggle. It’s hard to explain how easily it comes to me, speaks through me, and subsequently dazzles the reader.

And now to summarize with a flowchart:

Creative Process Flowchart

Parting (Un) Inspiration

Before I take my creative ball and go home, I want you to remember that creativity is like a cow: it doesn’t all come in one big spurt (or squirt), you have to keep milking it until your pail overfloweth with creativity. And have magic hands (you don’t). Nevertheless, this humbling revelation need not also be a disappointing one…it’s all a matter of perspective. A friend – who was not very creative – once proclaimed to me that “One of the greatest pleasures in life is pooping,” to which I retorted “I don’t know about pleasure, but it’s sure a relief when it’s over.” So while not all of us are destined to be creative, we can all take pleasure in something.

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