The Science Of Creativity And How To Fight A Creative Block

Can you become more creative? How does your brain create things? What is a creative block and how do you fight it? If you use creativity in any aspect of your life, then these are questions you might want to have the answer to.

Creativity is not only about art. We use creativity almost everyday in our life. And probably in every business out there, creativity is one of the main requirements. In order to be successful in any field you have got to be creative.

But what is creativity and how can you be creative?

Let’s find out.


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What is creativity?

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.

And in the words of a great creator:

Creativity is just connecting things.
When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs

What is the science behind creativity?

Did you ever wonder about what happens in your brain when you come up with an idea or manage to solve a problem? How does your brain create things?

It has been suggested in one study that creativity is a twofold process, in which an initial improvisatory phase, characterized by spontaneous generation of new material, is followed by a period of focused re-evaluation and revision.

And apparently, contrary to general belief that there is a specific part of your brain (the right side) that is responsible for creativity, creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain.

The creative process however involves both sides of the brain. This process is divided into four parts: Preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

Graham Wallis, a researcher, explained the four-stage process that goes through the person’s brain when they try to come up with a creative solution to a problem as follows:

1. In the preparation stage, we define the problem or desire, and gather any information the solution needs.

2. In the incubation stage, we step back from the problem and let our minds contemplate and work it through. Like preparation, incubation can last minutes, weeks, even years.

3. In the illumination stage, ideas arise from the mind to provide the basis of a creative response. These ideas can be the entire solution or just pieces. Unlike the other stages, illumination is often very brief, involving a tremendous rush of insights within a few minutes or hours.

4. In verification, the final stage, one carries out activities to demonstrate whether or not what emerged in illumination satisfies the need and the criteria defined in the preparation stage.

The first and last stages are left brain activities, while the second and third stages belong to the right brain.

How can one become creative?

I didn’t know that you can “become” creative. I thought creativity was mainly a gift. Some people are born creative and others are not, and that’s it.

But it turns out there is a lot more to creativity than that. While there is a genetics part to it, creativity is mostly developed through experience.

Creativity is a muscle you develop.

Mark Rober

It all depends on the experiences you have been through and how you train your brain to use the information it has.

Creativity is your ability to bring the most unrelated things and create a connection between them.

If you know hip hop music, then you probably know what freestyle is. Freestyle is a style of improvisation in which unrehearsed lyrics are recited with no particular subject or structure; where rappers use random words that has nothing to do with each other and create a rhyming lyrical content. This is one great example of how creativity works.

A study was made on a number of freestyle rappers in 2012. The scientists asked a number of rappers to freestyle lyrics and scanned their brains while they were rapping those random words, to find a way to figure how creativity works and what happens in the brain during the creative process. You can read more about this study here.

I’ve read a number of articles and watched a few videos on this subject of being creative and one of those that stood out for me was a TEDx talk by Balder Onarheim.

He gave three ways you can practice creativity and I found them quite interesting.

  1. Think of 3 unrelated words while brushing your teeth
  2. Use your dreams to solve a problem
  3. Use Wikipedia’s “Random Article”

Tooth Brush

He asks you to challenge yourself while brushing your teeth, before you go to bed every night, to come up with three words that are completely unrelated to each other. And then try to create some form of connection. This is something similar to being able to freestyle.

This is a way for you to train your brain to find connections between things that wouldn’t normally have a connection, and that on the long run strengthens your creative abilities.

Dreams

First of all, there are four stages of sleep, the fourth and last one of them is the rapid eye movement (REM) stage which is when we are dreaming and this stage takes place every 90-110 minutes, this is how long it takes for a complete sleep cycle.

And if you wake up right after this stage, you will be able to remember clearly what your dream was about.

And, in the video, Onarheim suggests that before you go to sleep, think of all the information you have on a certain problem or block that is stopping you, but don’t try to solve it, only recite the details as if giving raw information to someone else.

Because in dreams there are no rules and no constraints on what can and can’t happen. There is no logic; your mind wanders freely, and so you would most likely be able to find a connection that you weren’t able to see or figure something that you weren’t able to think of while awake.

You may want to read this article about how to use your dreams to solve a problem as it also suggests some ways to help you remember your dreams better.

And here is a number of famous examples where people got their best and most famous ideas from their dreams.

Wikipedia

The third suggestion is if you are stuck right now and need to come up with a solution, you may use something like Wikipedia’s Random Article option and regardless of what this article is about, you must read and find some form of solution out of this article.

I tried this one myself when I was stuck and while it didn’t direct me to the exact idea I was looking for, it did help in the brainstorming process.

There are many more things you can do to work on your creativity, read those other 9 ways to become more creative.

image from mission.org

What is a creative block?

So when you have worked on your creativity and practiced all the ways, and you’ve successfully become a creative person now!

Then all of a sudden your mind surprises you with creative blocks. It is when your mind refuses to let loose and create more. It is the inability to access your internal creativity.

And it often seems to happen when you’re in a desperate need of being creative. Because that’s how life works apparently.

My experience with a creative block this week

This past week, among a few other things, a block was in the way of me writing something new and caused me to be late for the first time to publish my blog post.

I received a call from my father a few days ago and I told him I feel bad because it seems like I will miss this week’s post and when he asked me why, I didn’t know what to say, because when I tried to find a reason, I couldn’t come up with one. And I felt so stupid.

The initial thought I had of the reason I couldn’t create something was because I wasn’t feeling it. I simply thought I lacked the motivation to do it.

But when I put more thought into it, I realized it was because I felt too much pressure. I felt like I had to put something out there that was so well-thought-out, perfectly researched and executed.

I needed to put a perfect article, but I wasn’t in the state of mind to create something this good and I didn’t have enough time, which added even more pressure.

And even though, deep down, I know that done is always better than perfect, I couldn’t make myself publish something that I wasn’t 100% satisfied with.

I have spent four days in a row in a mental fight with myself. And it was something like this:

I need to create something, but I don’t have the energy because there is too much pressure and too little time, and it needs to be perfect, but I can’t create perfect. I suck.

When I finally missed the deadline and couldn’t manage to publish anything in time, feelings of pressure were replaced with feelings of guilt. I was still facing the mental block but I was no longer anxious, I was simply sad.

However, when I was no longer anxious, I was able to think more clearly. And what I learned through this process is to identify what the voices in my head are saying.

I simply lost the purpose of my blog and this is why I felt the pressure and felt that I had to have a perfect article published.

The purpose of this blog was for me to learn something new every week, it is a way for me to document what I learn, this is why I started it.

However, recently this perspective started to shift and I started to think of it as a way to teach people something new.

This change of perspective, though might seem trivial, has hugely impacted my entire process. It was no longer about self-improvement, it has become an obligation towards others. It has become a pressure to put something that matches people’s expectations.

And that was what caused my creative block.

I just had to go back and think and realize why I got stuck in my head in the first place.

Once I realized this, and once I got this initial perspective back, I carried on with my process as usual. I realized that I don’t have to get it perfectly right every single time, not every week’s article needs to be “the best article I have ever written.”

It’s fine to put something that is not my absolute best, and work on enhancing later, or create something better the following week.

No one can get it right all the time. And no has to get it right all the time.

How do you fight a creative block?

I’m sure every creative person has to go through a creative block at one point throughout their creative process. It can cause loss of motivation and a lot of self doubt.

And it can be difficult to get past a creative block, but being aware of when and why a creative block develops can help in avoiding it.

I have read somewhere that in order to fight a creative block, you first need to identify your resistances.

A resistance is whatever it is that keeps you from creating. It is that internal voice in your head that tells you, “don’t create anything today.”

It could be fear. Fear of failure or rejection, fear of judgment, fear of facing an audience.

It could be a voice telling you no one cares about what you create.

It could be your mind telling you there is someone out there who is doing it better anyway.

It could be you comparing your work with someone else’s and feeling you will never match their talent and execution.

There are so many reasons as to why you will have this voice telling you not to create, and to be able to fight it, you will have to give yourself a moment to realize why it is telling you this.

Once you realize your resistances, you can then work on eliminating them.

Think of a creative block like having your brain in a cage, once you know what the cage is made of, you will be able to unlock it.

In my case, it was losing perspective of my process, losing the vision and also the need for perfection. When I identified those things, the resistances, I managed to get my perspective back and realize I was wrong, and that helped me get out of this block.

You may want to check this article that discusses a number of reasons as to why you may have a creative block and suggests some solutions for each one.

It is also worth mentioning that in some cases people can consider several types of therapy to help them with creative blocks.

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Suggestions from the Twitter-verse

I asked creative people on Twitter about what things they do that helps them get out of a creative bock and there were a lot of good suggestions, and some of them could be helpful to whoever reads it.

“I make a list of ideas I want to write about. Organization and accomplishment are big motivators for my writing. I also clean when I’m in a slump, b/c I’m more productive in a clean/organized environment.”
The Prepping Wife

“I just have to walk away and do something else. Inspiration usually strikes when I’m in the shower or about to fall asleep.”
Mom of the Moment

“I keep lots of different projects going at once. If i get burnt out on one, there’s usually another style, another topic, that i can write about.”
Kella Hanna-Wayne

“I usually turn on a documentary or series on PBS which slso tends to get my inspiration spinning. I also find cider helps too – a glass tends to help make me more confident and less doubtful.”
Peacoat Travels

“I also find that reading a book unrelated to anything I do helps. I’m a musician and have recently started writing for fun. Reading gets me out of my own head.”
My Unexpected Life

“Visiting a place I haven’t been to before or in a long time.”
Sean Flac 2.0

“I actually play video games haha. Or go for a walk if it’s nice out.”
In Asian Spaces

“A long run to clear my thoughts or a little girl time with friends usually inspires me — especially the topics that come up (some may not be appropriate for my blog, but they inspire none the less).”
LifeTravelStilettos

“I disconnect from technology, social media & the society. So as to reconnect with my soul and my creativity in nature and silence.”
Neha Gunnoo

“Depending on my creativity to keep a roof over my head means I don’t have the luxury of blocks. I dig in & do the work. When it gets tough, I’ll switch projects for awhile, or do something physical. Or shower. I work through tough plot points in the shower.”
Devon Ellington

“Sit down and write out a first draft with as many related words as possible. So if I’m interested in writing about fitness I would think about related keywords and jot them down, this gets the creative juices flowing…”
Underground Fitness

“Watch something on Netflix, read a small book, take a stroll, start writing in a little notebook, listen to some music. Those are all warmups to me.”
M. Lanen-de Vries

If you have other methods you use to fight creative block yourself, please share them in the comments below.

Till next week, happy days!

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Online Business: My Experience with 5 Print-on-Demand Platforms

Things you need to know before you start selling on print-on-demand websites; plus some tricks on how to promote your products and make sales.
Platforms discussed in this post are Zazzle, Redbubble, Cafepress, Threadless, and Printful.

Before getting involved with Redbubble, please read this update first.

Online business can be considered as an active income and a passive income option. And there are various methods to run a business online. I went through 5 of the passive income ones in last week’s post 5 Online Businesses That Work.

In this post, however, I’m discussing the method I have tried so far which is selling products online. I tried several websites and here I will be sharing the pros and cons through my experience with Zazzle, Redbubble, Cafepress, Threadless, and Printful. (You can jump to Zazzle’s section to skip the intro.)

For starters, I’m not a professional designer, far from it actually, I’m just someone who enjoys playing with images and fonts. I discovered this sometime in the fall of 2016 when I was thinking of a gift to get for a specific someone; and I have a bad habit of putting an insane amount of thought into gifts (that’s why I only buy gifts to very few people in my life, because it can get really overwhelming).

So, I thought instead of buying a normal gift or asking someone to make me something, I was going to customize that gift myself. I only found that option on Zazzle and so I created an account there and started working on that design. That’s how I realized I enjoyed the process.

But this part of my life was a bit tricky on a personal level; around that same time I had a very bad fight with that person and they were out of my life, which happened 2 days after I had quit a job that I thought was my dream job (the copy editor one), and things at home started going south as well. So, all in all, my life was a wreck at that point. And the two things that have kept me sane through that time were my new-found love of design and National Geographic (yes, the TV channel. It served as the soundtrack of my life for a few months).

Now back to Zazzle!

Zazzle

On Zazzle, you upload your design and create each product separately and they have a huge selection of products to choose from. You can watch this video to see the steps on how to create designs there.

I loved it in the beginning when I was just designing stuff and customizing products, and I found the interface really attractive, so I created my first Nightingaled store there.

But then when I went through the process of setting up a payment method which was early 2017, I realized it was not an easy process.

If you are not a US resident, Zazzle requires filling out a tax form (which requires a lot of information and a lot of reading) and sending them requests and waiting for acceptance so that you are approved for a payment (or not!).

Also you need to have made sales first before your application is even considered for approval or rejection– something they don’t mention anywhere and I had to figure that out after going through the whole process (twice) and eventually being told “sorry, we cannot consider your application because you haven’t made sales during this current year yet” (although I did make sales the previous year.. That money is still stuck there.)

Yes, many people did it, of course! So, it’s not impossible, but I didn’t feel like it was worth all the hassle for me; especially when I found there are other platforms that provide the exact same thing minus the hassle!

Redbubble

I started looking for other alternatives. I did a quick research and Redbubble along with Cafepress seemed to be on close level to Zazzle’s popularity and variety of products. But I decided to go for a Redbubble Nightingaled store.

I liked its interface; although it took me a while to get used to it because it’s quite different from Zazzle’s, but now I have come to really love it.

You upload a single photo that goes onto all the available products, but then you have the option to customize each one separately or upload a new photo for a certain product. You can read more about how to upload your designs to fit each product here.

Though one of the best things about it is that you can actually get your money! There is no hassle in the transaction procedure even if you are not a US resident. Getting paid there is as easy as adding your Paypal account; no restrictions, no applications to fill, no extra fees, no minimum threshold to transfer your payments (unlike Zazzle where you need to have $50 USD before they would transfer or you can request it with an extra fee).

So, with Redbubble, as long as you have a verified Paypal account, you will get paid regardless of how much money you make or on which side you are on the planet. (Life can be so much easier if we want it to be!)

The real effort in this type of business lies in two things:
  1. Coming up with the design ideas 
  2. Promoting the shop/products

Coming up with designs can be tricky for some people sometimes because:

A. they don’t want to be copying other people, but they also want to make something that sells, so it needs to be something that is “viral” or “trending” to get the attention and

B. they think they don’t have enough talent, and for this one I will say, you don’t have to have talent, I don’t have talent and people still buy my stuff (some of them), so don’t worry about that part you just need to practice a lot and try your best to make it look like something YOU would buy. That’s what I try to do.

“Practice is a talent.

Perseverance is a talent.

Hard work is a talent.”

Abhinav Bindra

As for coming up with ideas, I don’t stress over this much, because I initially started this whole design thing for fun, so I try not to lose that. Whatever inspires me or whatever I feel like creating today, I will create it and add it to the shop, and cross my fingers that someone somewhere will have the same taste as mine and decide to buy it. (Not the most brilliant business strategy, I’m sure.)

When it comes to promotion, though, it can be challenging at first; especially if you do not already have an audience or connections or dedicated followers/fans (as it is in my case). However, I am still reading articles and books and trying to learn about it from other sellers and people who managed to succeed in this industry.

Four tips on promoting:

When it comes to promoting an online business, the first obvious step is to do so through social media; however, it is better to create dedicated social media pages to the shop and not promote through your personal accounts.

I created pages on both Facebook and Twitter. I also started an Instagram and Pinterest ones, but I haven’t really used them much yet.

Which brings us to the second tip, that is, it’s much better to focus on just one or two social media websites and try to grow on them instead of using all of them at once, because each of those platforms have their own techniques and certain strategies to grow on them. So, it can be too much to try them all at the same time.

Honestly speaking, though, I’m a bit lazy in this department. I’m not that active on the shop’s social media pages, not as much as I should be if I want to turn this into a source of income.

But I have noticed something that is really worth paying attention to, even though I’m not active, I don’t have many followers, and I don’t get any interactions yet, I do make sales! And that’s not even the surprising part, when I checked the traffic history to my shop (another brilliant feature on Redbubble), almost half of it is through social media! That blew my mind.

What I did to move from flat-line sales as you can see below to a few sales per week (and sometimes few sales per day, if I’m lucky) was become more active, as in upload new designs to the shop; and every now and then I’d share the new ones on Facebook and Twitter (again, with no interaction whatsoever).

A graph of my sales on Redbubble from Dec 2017 to Nov 2018.

The fact that I am making sales and getting traffic to my shop with a very minimal effort on my part is a very good indicator that this can definitely turn into a profitable means of income, if I pay it more attention.

So, the third tip from here is to remain active, upload new designs and promote on regular basis, regardless of the interaction rate you get or the number of followers you have. And I assume this should only be until one grows a dedicated audience.

Recently, I have decided to try other POD platforms as well, because the fourth tip is in order to make proper sales, it is best if you have your designs spread around many print-on-demand platforms not just one. Besides the exposure your products/brand will get, you can also benefit from each one’s offers and discounts which helps in attracting customers. So I went ahead and tried a few other ones. (Though I haven’t managed to do much with my shops on those other websites yet; I’m still getting used to them.)

CafePress

This is an equally popular website to Zazzle and Redbubble. It also has a variety of different products to have your designs on.

When you upload your design on CafePress it adds it to all the products available (like Redbubble) but with much less (if any) ability to customize on each product separately.

You can get paid through your verified Paypal account; however, there is a minimum threshold of $25 for transfer. Also, there is a required tax form to fill for non-US residents who wish to get a discounted tax rate, but it is not mandatory to get paid.

The other downside is that this one is not available for all countries. You can use the website and add your products and all, but when you come to set up a payment method, you may not find your country listed. There is a specific list and mine was not among them; therefore I would not have been able to get paid if I went ahead and made sales on this one.

Threadless

I initially thought this one is focused on clothing products like t-shirts and hoodies, but when I set up my shop there, I found they have a wide variety of other products to select from. And it is also similar to Redbubble in that you upload one photo that goes on all products but then you have the option to customize each one separately before publishing it. You can check out this guide to learn more.

On Threadless you are also paid through your Paypal account with no minimum threshold or any extra fees. US residents, however, are required to fill a tax form first.

The cool thing about this one is you can order samples of your products, and because you are the designer you get the product at a discounted rate; so you only pay for the base cost. You also get free shipping when you order for more than $20 within US and $50 anywhere else.

There is only a tiny drawback for me which is they do not watermark or protect the uploaded designs, so they are available for anyone in their full resolution copy, unlike with Redbubble where they give you options to protect/watermark. However, after you upload and edit the design, you can replace the original image with one that you watermark yourself without affecting the design on the products, so there is a workaround for it.

Printful

This one’s process is a bit different as you don’t just set up a shop on their website. First, this one gives you the choice to sell your own physical products (and use their warehouse) or use the print-on-demand service to sell your designs on their products. Of course I went with the print-on-demand option. When you go with that option, you will need to merge an already set-up online store to your Printful account.

Here’s how it works:

  • I set up a Nightingaled store on Shopify (they have a 14-day free trial so I figured I’d try it).
  • I then logged into my Printful account and chose to connect it to my newly-created Shopify store.
  • After that I would start uploading my designs on the products on Printful (they have plenty).
  • Then sync those products to my Shopify store (this can be set to sync automatically)
  • People can then navigate products on my Shopify store, place an order, and make a payment.
  • The order is automatically sent to Printful who prepare and ship the product.

Printful then bills me with the production and shipment cost. These costs are already clear when you set up your product so you can set your prices based on the margin you would like to get after the cost is paid.

For example, they charge $10 for a T-shirt. So, I can set a price of $15 for the t-shirt on my Shopify store, so that after paying Prinful fee, I would still have $5 profit.

The good thing here is that you are only charged after you make the sale. So, no upfront cost (except of course for the cost of your actual Shopify store which starts at $29/month). But you have plenty other options to choose from when it comes to choosing a platform to merge with Printful. I just decided to go with Shopify as a start because I was curious to see how it works.

The other thing that I really loved about Printful is how you can literally create your own brand.

  • You can add your own logo printed on the products and the payslips the customer receives (for free!).
  • They add their address for return, but add your store’s name not Printful, so to the customer they are dealing with your brand only.
  • And you can also send flyers along with the product (which come at an extra cost).

And that’s only what I managed to figure out so far, but this is an amazing feature! You are creating an actual brand with products shipped with your name on it when all you really do is just upload designs on a web-page!

Besides Shopify, the other platforms you can use include ones like Etsy, Amazon, eBay, and more. They either require you to pay a subscription fee (like Shopify) or a commission on sales. You can read about the prices for each one of the platforms on this comparison page.

I can sum this up by saying that to me the most convenient platforms I found so far are Redbubble, for a free platform, and Printful, for a paid one. I am actually thrilled I found out about Printful, but I still need to decide which platform I will be using with it.

I will be posting about this topic again in a few months to share my progress and any new tips I gather along the way. As for my next post, well, let me surprise you this time.

Till then, happy days and happy new year!