6 Ways to Spark Your Creativity

We have all heard it before: creative thinking is an integral skill for any college student. Being able to “think outside the box” helps you to problem solve from a new perspective, optimize your productivity, and create empathetic connections with those around you. Although creative thinking can be especially useful in a school or work setting, it can also be accessed as a means to cultivate a greater sense of fulfillment within your personal life. Whether you’re an arts major seeking to establish a consistent creative practice or a STEM major looking for ways to break the monotony of your studying, here are six suggestions for small creative activities that you will want to keep doing for all of 2021.

  1. 1. Using Music to Set a Mood

    Spotify on iPhone

    If you are someone who listens to music during your commute, you probably already know how to set a mood with your favorite songs. Music has the ability to shape our perspective and shift our experience out of the ordinary and into a cinematic experience. If you find yourself daydreaming that you’re the star of your own music video, try this: choose a task on your to-do list and turn on a music station you have never listened to before. Pay attention to how the auditory experience affects how you perform this task. What images come to mind? Do you find yourself tuning into the details of the present moment or receding into your imagination? If this is a task that you find yourself often repeating, the next time you perform it: choose a different music station. How was this experience different from the first? Which music mood did you find more enjoyable, and why? My professor Daniel Clifton recounted to me his experiences within this practice while living in New York City; Every week, he attended the same art museum while rotating through different playlists. He told me that listening to different songs revealed to him just a few of the thousands of ways one person can view the same painting, while also introducing him to interesting music. Whether you engage in this practice once a week or once a lifetime, it's sure to awaken a new aspect of your imagination and awareness.

  2. 2. Explore a Familiar Space in a New Way

    One day while out for a walk I came across a street with no walking path. Although I had driven up this street many times before, I was struck with the sudden urge to try walking alongside it. As I straddled the curb and waddled my way uphill, I was fascinated by how different this familiar scene looked from a new angle. The street signs loomed taller, the sound of the leaves under my feet contrasted with the sudden engine bursts from motorcycles, and the feeling of the cold air against my side as the cars rushed by were all sensations made unique. Maybe you aren’t brave enough to walk on the sideline of a busy street, but if you are looking for a way to find beauty in the space around you, try this: encounter it from an unusual angle. Crawl on your hands and knees under your kitchen table, flip your head upside down in the shower, lay on the floor next to your desk. What do you see? How does this shift in perception change the depth of your space? How do the parts of your body in contact with the space feel? As you ask yourself these questions, you might find something interesting within the space you already occupy, perhaps helping you to approach your daily schedule with new energy.

  3. 3. Write a Riddle about your Routine

    writing in journal on desk

    Mindfulness has recently risen in popularity as a means of practicing mental self-care. As someone who considers savasana to be their favorite yoga pose, I can admit that sometimes I use mindfulness as a way to clock out mentally. Nonetheless, there are ways to use mindfulness techniques to engage and activate your mind to spur creativity. If you are someone who struggles to “watch your thoughts pass by like clouds,” then try this: when you drink your morning cup of caffeine, write about the experience without revealing what it is you are actually drinking. Tune into your five senses: what does the sound of the coffee machine remind you of? What shape do your hands make as you grasp the cup? As the liquid pours down your throat, how does the temperature feel within your body? As you describe these sensations, you may think of metaphors that you wouldn’t have originally used to write about a beverage. I first encountered this practice in a writing class, where we all chose different activities and then tried to guess what the topic of each other's riddles was. Whether you find it fun to try and trick your friends with your clever writing, or want to make beautiful poetry just for yourself, this practice will enrich the sensations of living.

  4. 4. Turn your Camera Roll into a Collage

    selective focus photography of person taking picture of jelly donut

    In a world where our salads are our Pinterest aesthetics and everyone is waiting to capture that next viral moment, most of us always have a camera on hand. Although I love curating my Instagram feed to perfection, there is something about the surprising spontaneity of Snapchat memories that is fun and unique. I find the seemingly random sequence of my memory recaps so interesting and every month there is one unexpected combination of pictures that makes me smile. This creative practice takes this same concept of creation and reorganization to the next level. If you are someone who is always camera-ready: take a picture every day. It doesn’t have to be particularly unique or original as long as the picture is interesting to you. Once you have collected enough pictures to your satisfaction, reorient those pictures to create a collage. What colors do you find recurring within the pictures? How can you make the different shapes within each photograph align in unique ways? As you look through your own pictures you may be reminded of something you saw online that will tie them together. Or perhaps you will find a hidden narrative or character developing. If you choose to engage in this practice in the long term, you may make different collages based on similarities. What do all of your Tuesday pictures look like together? If you took every picture captured on an odd-numbered day to the left, how does that change the composition of the collage? Engaging with this practice brings you all the benefits of picture journaling in an accessible and interesting way.

  5. 5. Completely Transform a Single Page

    Person dipping paint on paintbrush.

    As someone who feels overwhelmed by the idea of keeping a daily journal but often writes small blurbs in my free time, I can say that writing both creatively and consistently is difficult. Sometimes ideas or phrases circulate in my head until I write them on a page, while other times I can think of a fully formed piece in my mind but then forget it within half an hour because I didn’t write it down soon enough. Maybe you have heard of the practice “Morning Pages” by Julia Cameron, where you set aside time right after you wake up to write three full pages of stream of consciousness writing. I have heard from several artists that this practice is really useful for them in sorting through their creative ideas, but if you are intimidated by the commitment of writing that much every day then try this: take two minutes to transform a single page of paper. You can write on it, draw doodles, rip it, crumple it, make a lipstick mark, rub it against a tree— anything you would like. Once those two minutes are over take a step back and observe what you have made. What textures do you see? Are there components on the page that correlate, or clash? Does this piece of paper exist in a story? What else could you create using this page for inspiration? This practice is a great way to repurpose old assignments or create artistic prompts for other projects because of its emphasis on the process of creation and its resulting tangible product.

  6. 6. Put on your own Personal Dance Performance

    However cliche it may seem, there is nothing quite like the classic disheveled dance solo we see on TV. Who can forget when Taylor Swift sang into her hairbrush, winning over the heart of her next-door neighbor in her music video “You Belong With Me.” Or alternatively, the dark haunting bathroom scene where Joaquin Phoenix completely embodies the vulnerability and instability of his character in “The Joker.” There is something about being alone that strips the preciousness and judgment away from art-making, especially for artforms that rely on live performance. If you are someone who is looking for a way to explore their own body, try this: when you’re alone and in front of a mirror, dance in a way that comes naturally. Observe the shapes and lines that you are able to create, what do they remind you of? Is there a specific body part that feels good to move, if so, what does that feel like? My professor Molly Heller likes to ask, "What does it look like to dance like a panther, what does it look like to dance like your body is covered in velcro?" Asking yourself descriptive questions can increase your awareness of your physical state and allow you to explore creative inclinations without judgment. The movement may also produce endorphins that boost your mood and increase your energy, breaking you out of a production slump.

If there is a creative activity you have enjoyed from the past, you can always return to what you know works for you. At the same time, don't be afraid to try something new! Part of what makes creative practices so fun is the freedom they present to you. The world is out there for you to enjoy, so good luck and happy art-making!