From Kanye to Hemingway – How to think differently

9 Experiences For Sparking Creativity

1. Listen to All of The Lights by Kanye

Listening to this song starts sparks for me every time (video below). It’s the Rocky theme song of Hip Hop for me. I picture the training scenes from Rocky IV when the synth-horns kick in, Ivan Drago on machines and Rocky all-natural.

Kanye may not be the most humble person, but he pushes the envelope, and then pushes further still. He’s got that fever for being the the best at what he does. That’s what pumps through this song and into my blood when I listen. Because way down inside, I too, want to be the best.

We all have a big ego. And we’ll always run into the Ugly, but it doesn’t mean stop moving forward. The in-built motion in this song, inspires me to keep training.

2. Read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway

I first read “The Sun Also Rises” when I was 22 at Broadway Cafe in Kansas City, MO.

Hemingway’s writing deflated all the fluff, and taught me to ask for brute honesty. He placed cold simple words onto his experience, so that truth and complexity were forced to flex.

Hemingway also had his ego, and like Kanye, wanted to be the best. But he also was on a relentless search for the true good life. And this was the spark for me. I didn’t have to search for a pulse reading Hemingway, his reckless search was the pulse, and I recognized it in my veins too.

3. Start At Zero

As an artist, it is tempting to polish and perfect all your existing work before going on to something else. Editing is not a good place to start creating.

When you start with nothing, a blank page, an empty garageband file, an unbrushed canvas, you are at zero. When you have nothing it forces you to go and get something. It’s scary at first, which is exactly why we want to edit instead of creating something; because at least we’ll have something.

Starting with nothing makes us feel empty, and we’ll do lots of things before feeling that. But it’s a tremendous opportunity if we can keep from running.

4. Read Seth Godin’s Blog

I wake up each morning with a new thought in my inbox from Seth Godin’s blog. His ideas usually require flipping the world upside down to understand. But that’s good news in a world that’s flipped wrong-side up.

Seth Godin takes me further in, always challenging me to make time for nuance and context, before completely ingesting my information. I read his blog for re-direction and for re-routing all my tendencies to chase the Big Easy.

Godin reminds me that deep inspiration comes in big slow waves, and that it’s worth investing in. Reading his blog inspires me to live well and be remarkable. He may give you a spark or two as well.

5. Submit Entries Each Week to the New Yorker Caption Contest

The late Roger Ebert would always share the entries he submitted to the New Yorker Caption Contest every week on his blog. It always sparked lively and humorous discussions in his comment section, and was a blast to follow. Sometimes his submissions were brilliant and sometimes they weren’t. But he submitted them regardless, and we all still had lively discussions.

When I started submitting to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest myself, it was surprisingly difficult to submit entries that I thought sub-par. But Roger gave me the courage to submit even the ones that were less poignant. Why? To get used to the idea that I won’t be brilliant every time, and to still show up anyways. This is the best exercise I know for dismantling the perfectionist in me. When Roger passed, I continued still. It’s my thank you to him, and my own way of honoring his impact on my life. It’s my favorite habit. Maybe it’ll be a tradition when I am old and look back.

6. Attend The Sundance Film Festival

Something special happens when tens of thousands of people from all around the world gather together in a remote town tucked away in the mountains to highlight and celebrate the human experience.

When I attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 for the first time, I had one word to describe it: Magical. It is capable of much more than a spark. For me it was an enlightenment.

During the festival, Park City is buzzing with inspiration. How can it not be, when filmmakers from all around the world gather to highlight the human story through film?

7. Try the Daily Crossword Puzzle

When I was a kid, I watched my Grandpa do the crossword puzzle everyday. I would find them scattered around his house with a few words missing here and there. Almost always I would find his ideas, or little drawings, scribbled in the margins. They represent the reason why this activity makes the list. The crossword puzzle gets the mind going.

Doing crossword puzzles as an adult, I see the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I’ve had to save my fair share of crossword puzzle cut-outs, not for the words in the boxes, but the bursting ideas in the margins.

8. Start Listening And Feeling In Color

A co-writer once asked me before we had even fooled around with chords or lyrics, “What does it feel like? Our song?” At the time, it felt odd asking that kind of question before a song existed. But when we gave it a real shot, we started coming up with stuff we probably wouldn’t have from a traditional approach. I started seeing the logic in it.

Since then I’ve grown to love this type of thinking because it opens up a world of possibility. Asking the color of sounds or feelings or ideas is a good way to get the creative ball rolling. For me:

I Am The Walrus sounds dead-yellow.

England feels like grey-magic.

And Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange really does sound orange to me.

Try it. What colors do you hear and feel?

9. Avoid Black and White Answers

When everything fits nicely in neat little packaged ways, the world gets boring real quick.

Not accepting a black and white world makes everything come alive. Sometimes, I’ll catch myself tidying concepts using black-and-white/cut-and-dry thinking, it almost always leads to narrowness and misunderstanding.

Answers that stay black-and-white erode possibilities instead of expanding them. When you can pin down the world with a few basic concepts, it gets too small, and so does the meaning we can draw from it.

What Sparks Your Creativity?

I seriously love hearing what sparks creativity for others. It’s how a person like me has fun.

This article also appears on Medium and is published here with the permission of the author