Nothing Is Original: The True Key to Creativity

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I am a very creative person. My imaginings, daydreams and visions are often so vivid that I feel an incessant pull to express and share what I’m experiencing. If I’m not able to express them in a form I enjoy, I tend to become emotionally imbalanced. Therefore, it’s imperative that take advantage of the many outlets I have to express my creativity. I mentioned in a previous post how you can get creative. I utilize many, if not all of these outlets on a daily basis. I sing using an app called Sing!, I write music, I play piano, I design outfits on Polyvore, I write blogposts and short stories, I study languages, and create playlists on Youtube. Strangely enough, I need every one of these outlets. Without them, I feel like I’ve lost something dear to me. That’s exactly what this new book I read explains. In Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist, he elaborates on exactly what it takes to create awesome things, but it’s not what you may think.
Artists are frequently told to think outside the box, be creative or seek originality. These are not entirely incorrect but they neglect a key point- nothing is original. Kleon says that great artists understand that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work just builds upon something that came before it. In other words, great artists simply steal material they like from previous artists and emulate them into their own personal style. For example, if I’m a songwriter looking for creative ways to write new music, I should find other artists I love and study them. What is their inspiration, what is their songwriting style, who influenced their sound? With this information, I can begin to create my own sound. You should definitely give this book a read, but in the meantime, here are the main take aways!

Find Something Worth Stealing


Search for things that touch your heart and soul and make a note to use those for inspiration. Collect anything that kicks your imagination into gear, makes you feel good or makes you think. It can be anything from movies, novels, poems, photography, fashion, etc.

Find Heroes

Is there a particular artist who you already have in mind as your inspiration? Perfect. However, it is better to have a conglomerate of inspiration than just a single artist. After all, you don’t want to just take from a single artist. Create a tree of heroes. Find out who your hero gets their inspiration from. Then research where they got their inspiration from. What other artists are similar to your heroes? Where did they get their inspiration? It’s good to deeply understand where you are getting your inspiration, because you don’t just want to imitate others, you want to see what they see and understand the thinking behind their art. That will help you to create your own.

Emulate Your Heroes

So at some point in the creative process you’ll need to create your own personal style. Use what you know about your heroes and create something that is uniquely your own. Ask yourself “Is there something the artist missed? What should they make?” Then make that. Take the inspiration from your heroes and make what you would want to see or hear yourself. What is the kind of music you LOVE hearing? Take that and apply that to your inspiration.

Get Bored

Creativity pairs well with boredom. You may notice that when you’re bored you come up with some interesting ideas, so let yourself be bored. Wash dishes, take a walk, iron clothes, organize your closet, and stare out the window. Just let your mind wander and write down all those interesting ideas you encounter. Creative people aren’t always leading excitingly cinematic lives. We have day jobs, pets and families just like everyone else. The only difference is that creative people fill every moment they aren’t working with something creative.

Create Constraints

I know this sounds counter-productive, but creativity also works best with constraints. There is nothing more paralyzing than having an infinite amount of options. If you have fewer options, your creativity can really get to work! So set some boundaries before you start working. Pick a theme, topic, or some constraint that will help focus your work so that you’re not paralyzed by the possibilities.

Don’t Seek Validation

Some people create amazing things but almost never share them because they’re afraid of what people will think of them. As Keon puts it “Validation is for parking”. Your job is create what you love and share it with others. You can’t control who is going to like it and who isn’t, just embrace those who appreciate your work as they come, but don’t rely on their compliments. You’re doing this for you.  

Hope this helps! What has helped to spur your creativity? What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

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