Creativity is a broad subject, and step one in nourishing it is knowing how to care for it and make it a habit. To explain a way to do this, I want to use an analogy.
Back in my childhood days this was a big thing: Herman the friendship cake. For those who don’t know the concept, it went a little like this:
On day one, you’d make the sourdough starter, using your standard cake ingredients. Herman is born. Do Not put Herman in the fridge, or Herman will die.
In the following ten days, Herman required your attention every day in order to stay alive and grow. Some days, you’d add ingredients. On other days, you’d just do some stirring.
Day nine was the magical day where your Herman would grow into four Hermans. You could give three of them away to your friends and bake the fourth on the tenth day, for you to enjoy. Your friends would then start from the beginning of the process. Or you could keep all your Hermans and make a lot of cakes and breads.
If this got you interested, there are whole websites dedicated to Herman.
How does Herman tie in to creativity? It’s very simple, actually.
1. You have to fuel your creativity every day
To make Herman not die, you have to show up every day. For creativity, it’s very much the same. You can’t pick up a pencil after a long time and expect to create your next big masterpiece. Creativity is like a muscle: if you don’t use it, it will weaken. Of course, muscle memory is a thing and the longer you keep it up, the longer you can afford to do nothing for a while.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours upon hours on your craft every day. It can also mean writing down one new idea, one little sketch or giving your old work a hard look.
The most important thing is to show up for it.
2. Creativity feeds creativity
Sometimes I catch myself on the thought that eventually I’m going to run out of ideas. This is (almost) never the case! Once you start getting creative regularly, it’s like a tap that’s getting harder and harder to close. While it may be only dripping at first, quickly you’ll have trouble keeping all that water contained in your bucket.
Just like a hundred little Hermans can have a common Herman ancestor, so can ideas. One idea can grow, grow, grow into four ideas. Those four ideas can spawn into four more, etc.
Keep creating and write down your ideas. Soon you’ll have many and you’ll be happy you kept track of them.
3. To make your creativity grow, you sometimes have to try something new
Sometimes it seems like you do run out of ideas. You seem stuck. Your Herman, or creativity, threatens to perish and die. This is the greatest fear of artists in any craft: an art block, writers block or whatever you want to name the beast.
In the case of Herman, this is when you’ve got to feed it some new flour, water and sugar. If its about art, it’s not that different: maybe you need to switch things up a bit and try something new.
Try a new medium, a new subject, a new location to create, a new technique… There’s always something new to add and it will surely cause your creativity to grow again.
4. It takes time to bake your cake
Herman takes ten days to make. Of course, there’s plenty of recipes that will provide you with a steamy, hot cake in under an hour, but we’re talking Herman here.
The cake in this example can stand for many things: a painting, a technique you want to master, a book or even the synopsis of your new story. They take time to develop. And even when it seems like you’re not doing anything productive (maybe you’re just stirring), if you’re showing up, you’re helping your cake develop.
Nothing you do to purposefully improve your craft is insignificant, however small it is.
5. You don’t have to bake a cake every day
No one cranks out a masterpiece every day, so it’s fine to take the pressure off. The mistakes you make today will make you better when you come back to the drafting board tomorrow. So make them and embrace them. You will get better.
Create something ugly, something messy, something cheesy or something bad. Those days still count. You stirred your Herman.
6. The end result can be different every time
Even if you follow the exact same recipe and the exact same steps every time, your Herman will probably turn out a little bit different than last time. Maybe the weather was more humid or hot, maybe you stirred a little harder on day three because you were in a rush.
But what if you decide to add raisins at the end? Maybe some cinnamon? It will be an entirely different cake! Think of all the different flavours out there to discover.
Don’t be afraid to try something new in your end product. Even if it doesn’t work out, you learned something new and gained experience.
7. Sharing stimulates creativity
We have been blessed and cursed with the internet. At the push of a button, we have millions different images we haven’t seen yet right on our screens.
With the internet, we have the perfect ecosystem for a constant flow of inspiration, motivation and stimulants. Instead of looking at art with envy and a competitive attitude, look at art as a way to be inspired, to learn and to broaden your perspective with someone else’s. Art is not a competition or a race to the top, but an experience that is unique to everybody, creator and spectator alike.
Share your art, because then you are not only fueling your own creativity—your own Herman, but also that of many others.
So why are we comparing creativity with a cake again? I think Herman is a great example of how small acts every day can lead to a great product, many of them even! The steps I outlined are a great basis to get into a regular flow of creativity.
Getting into a habit of creativity will take time. Creating beautiful end products will take time. Learning the techniques to do it will take time. So be sure to make that time count! Make it fun for you, because when it’s fun, you’ll want to keep doing it, and if you want to keep doing it, you’ll keep showing up.
And that’s the most important thing. The rest will come.