One of the most difficult things about creating content is staring at a blank page. How often have you cleared your calendar and locked yourself away in a quiet room, only to boot up your computer and find your mind has emptied?
Many people find that experience stressful. They joke about making endless cups of tea, or suddenly finding household chores that need doing. Then they feel guilty about not doing the creative work they set out to do. And so the cycle repeats.
But that process of distracting yourself is actually a really valuable part of content production. It’s something you should embrace, not feel bad about. Get that washing done! Read that news article on Donald Trump’s latest embarrassing tweet. By doing so, you’re helping your own creativity.
The process of creating content
The creative process is a two-step process. The first is coming up with a creative idea, and the second is executing that idea. Both are equally important when creating content.
A lot of people assume that you need quiet time and a lack of distraction in order to come up with that creative idea in the first place. But I’ve found the more distracted you are, the more ideas you come up with.
That sounds counterintuitive. But the way it works is a reflection of the way your brain processes information and a reflection of what creativity actually is.
I first noticed it when I realised I was generating more ideas the busier I was. When I took time out to think up ideas without distraction, I often drew a blank.
When I’ve spoken with others who create content for a living—including writers, musicians and painters—they often say a similar thing. Which is; they come up with creative ideas when they’re at their busiest.
They don’t always know why it works, they just know that it does. But I think the way it works lies in the nature of creativity itself.
What is a creative idea?
A creative idea is one that jams two ideas together that weren’t sitting together before. That’s a broad definition, but one that works across all types of creative work.
In order for your brain to make an association between those two things that were previously disconnected, it needs to be distracted. To not think about them. When you’re concentrating on something, you’re consciously going through all of the known options available to you.
But creativity isn’t using one of the known options. It’s finding a brand new option. So, it doesn’t help to think of all the ways you can solve a particular problem. None of them will be as creative as the idea that comes completely from left field.
When you’re not consciously thinking about a particular subject, it doesn’t mean it leaves your mind completely. By thinking of something else, it gives your brain a chance to free associate in the background. To come up with combinations that are surprising or unusual. That’s the point where the creative idea is born.
Where quiet time is really needed for creating content
The second part of the creative process, where you execute that creative idea, is something that you need peace and quiet for. It’s very difficult to structure a piece of writing if you’re constantly answering the telephone or jumping in and out of meetings.
But you should never be sitting down in front of a blank screen to execute a creative idea. You should already have some kind of structure worked out that is determining what you do next.
So, if you’re a creative person yourself, or if you’re hiring creative people, it’s good to understand that balance between keeping them busy and keeping them distracted and giving them the space to be a bit creative and to execute on those ideas.