How To Unlock Your Creative Genius

I was watching an interview with John Cleese recently and he said something that got me thinking. When asked about his creative process he said, “You cannot bully the subconscious. It simply doesn’t work.” He went on to say that his best work always happened spontaneously. 

He still had a process of course, it’s just that the muse didn’t always play ball. Often the work that resulted wasn’t very good. They’d have days where none of the material was used.

He noted, it was usually when they weren’t trying to make something happen – when they were simply messing around – that everything would start to click. Suddenly the muse would come out to play and what resulted was comedic gold. 

I often hear bloggers write about the need to have a process. A specific time where you commit to writing each day. A place where you sit down and “punch the damn keys” as one blogger regularly puts it. 

Of course if you don’t form the habit it’s much harder to catch that bastard muse when it strikes. Having a process is about creating the conditions that make it more likely to come out and play. Not to mention that you’re committing yourself to improve through regular practice. 

That said, I wonder if there might be a little too much emphasis on habit formation nowadays? Something I rarely hear bloggers make mention of is this idea of spontaneity. This idea of being ready for when the muse strikes outside of your normal routine.

I don’t know about you but often when I commit to writing, the muse is nowhere to be found.

I say, “Ok buddy, time to sit down and write. Gotta crack out that weekly post!”

My muse: “Sure thing buddy, just hold on a minute would you…” 

At this point he goes into the kitchen and cracks open a six pack of beer before sitting down on the sofa and proceeding to binge watch NETFLIX… 

Oh wait that’s me!

Anyway, on the rare evenings I do employ willpower and commit myself to writing, my muse remains silent. 

When that happens I end up writing in circles.  I’m like, “Hey muse, you wanna help me out here?” Of course he doesn’t. Instead my internal critic starts editing the post well before it’s finished as I become increasingly aware that what I’m writing is complete dog shite. So I go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite… 

And then what happens?

Not only do I become stressed out, I end up butchering the post in question. I actually create more work for myself trying to fix the mess I made, simply because I didn’t walk away – simply because I was trying to force it.

The lesson? 

You cannot bully the subconscious.

At this stage I’ve found the best thing you can do to aid the creative process is not engage in it. Take a break. Go for a leisurely walk. Mess around with your children. Be silly. Have a beer. Maybe, even, binge watch some NETFLIX! (Hell yeah!)

Do this and I’ve found the brain works in the background connecting the dots in ways that it couldn’t when you were trying to force it. So much so that when you do come back to write it’s not only easier, but much better to boot.

There’s something else I figured out too. I’ve noticed it’s when I’m not thinking about anything in particular – when I’m busy doing something else – that my muse gives me my best ideas. In fact he usually visits at 2am when I’m struggling to sleep. 

He says, “Hey numb nuts I’ve got an awesome idea, wanna hear it?”

“Not now muse! I’m trying to sleep!”

Then my muse says, “Fuck you, I’m gonna tell you anyway (my muse is a bit of a dick). Here it is…”

At which point he explains in painful detail this amazing idea for a blog post.

So I say, “Ok muse – that’s a good one, I’ll admit. But I really must sleep. Can you remind about it in the morning and let me go back to sleep?”

Of course he doesn’t. He says, “You’ll forget in the morning numb nuts. It’s now or never. Here let me explain that idea to you again in painful detail…” 

Eventually I’ll get up in anger and write down as many thoughts about the idea as I can, as quickly as I can. Often I won’t think. I’ll just write. Sometimes I’ll write a first draft in less than 20mins. 

It will just “flow” out of me. 

When I revisit it in the morning I often go, “holy shit, that’s far better than anything I’ve written in a while.”

Interestingly enough, if I do wait on that idea, if I try to revisit it later on, the writing doesn’t gel nearly as well. My muse – that smug bastard – is usually right.

Sometimes you gotta play when the subconscious wants to, not the other way round. 

I’ve noticed the same thing happens to me when I go for a walk around my local park. An idea will pop into my head that’s too good to ignore. 

At this point my muse is jumping up and down like a dog in heat as a post will suddenly form in my head. When this happens I take out my phone and simply start writing. 

Once again it kinda flows out of me. I feel this usually results in my most interesting, if not my best, work. 

It’s for all the above that I take a somewhat freer approach to my writing nowadays. I still try to write at the same time everyday, but I don’t force it anymore. I take a daily-ish approach. I’ve become much better at recognising when to walk away – when It’s clear that a little NETFLIX will actually do me some good. 

I’ve also come to recognise the importance of writing when my muse is busting a gut. Unless it has to wait, practically speaking, I will try to sit down and write as soon as that idea has popped into my head. 

While you cannot bully the subconscious, it can, on occasion, bully you. My experience is, when it come to the creative process, you should let it. 

(Over to you dear readers. How do you engage in the creative process? Do you have a particular time and place where you sit down to write? Or do you take a more freestyle approach? What works bet for you and what other tips do you have? As always I’m very keen to hear your thoughts. Warm regards, AP2.)


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139 thoughts on “How To Unlock Your Creative Genius

  1. I like to freestyle it myself. And I still like to jot it down on paper before I actually type it. Sitting in front of my laptop feels too much like my day job and seems to stifle my creativity.

  2. Yes! Most relatable post I’ve ever read. Every time I try to “force” creativity, the results are shit. Yes, that can be slightly better than having NO results, of course, can’t polish a turd. Everything I’ve ever done- be that an artwork, piece of music, or poem- has just sort of…arrived in my head when I least expected it. The muse doesn’t care for our dull routines!

  3. This is great! I find that I am more of a spontaneous writer. When things hit me I have to write it before I forget. more times than not I forget (go figure) problem is the frequency, The reason why I am starting this WP site. Thanks for the post.

  4. A really interesting post 😊 I read it and then went on with my day. I was doing the dishes and thinking about being creative and that’s when the muse came. I guess it should motivate me to do more chores 😂

    1. You know, if I’m feeling super stressed/scattered, I’ll often stop what I’m doing and tidy up. Often this works wonders for giving me some much needed clarity. There’s something to be said about outer order giving inner calm. I suspect the muse likes nothing more. Thank you Joanna – I apprecaite you taking the time to read and come back to commment on your expirence 🙏

  5. Great post. It was fun to read and provides some valuable, against the grain information. Will definitely think about this when I find myself in a sort of creative block or flowing with ideas at the wrong time.

  6. An enjoyable read! As for me, I do the freestyle writing. Whenever I feel my creatives juices pumping, I get to it. And that is somewhat rare. Especially when I’m spending days with minimum to no productivity. To get things done, I have to make my day productive. It pushes me to do more.

    1. It’s a bit like going for a run. Once you get going it’s not too bad. It’s getting started that’s often most difficult. I think that free styling helps us to capitalise on that creative energy so getting into the process is that much easier. The only problem is it’s harder to be consistent if we only show up when the muse wants – that’s why I rek you still need to form the habit by writing (or whatever creative process is for you) everyday as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏

      1. Your words happen to be on point. I agree, getting started is the difficult part for a long term commitment to a certain work (e.g writing) Thank you for your positive words and insight. Encouraged me to do better!

  7. I used to make a point of writing something everyday when I had a Facebook account and did a similar thing when on my LinkedIn account. It became to pressurized and the end product left me feeling dissatisfied. Recently I’ve taken to writing as soon as an idea pops into my head or as soon as possible after the idea pops into my head. It’s true that quality is better than quantity and that subconscious is in charge of you, not the other way around.

    1. Thank you Yumarlin Chetty. I agree. I think we can create the conditions that help – I think showing up everyday and being consistent helps, but putting undue pressure on yourself doesn’t. I look at it like this. Show up to write yes – but don’t pressure yourself to create something or finish a post by x,y or z. Set goals sure – but then ignore them and concentrate on the process instead. Ultimately the subconscious works best when it feels relaxed and free. If you find yourself forcing it, walk away! And definitely pay attention to the moments when the subconscious wants to play outside of your normal routine. Thanks so much for adding your thoughts. Much appreciated. 🙏

  8. This post reminds me of the book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. He does a brilliant job of explaining the irony of creativity bursting forth when you’ve decided to chill out about it.
    I’m somewhere in between, I think. Some days it seems like I’m better having a routine/plan, and other days I happily drift into insane and messy artist zone. Whatever it looks like, ‘process’ is the optimal word.
    Always a pleasure reading your work, AP2! 🕊

    1. Thank you Snap. I’m a big fan of Mark Manson. I think you’re right. Sometimes we need to do something about our procrastination – other times I believe taking a break is definitely the right move. Wishing you well Snap 🙏🙂

  9. This was a great post! My muse bothers me at around 3am. I’m bad though, I rarely get up to write down what she says. Bad life choices for a creative person. I used to be rigid about my schedule and slowly learned to let go and write when I can and have a topic idea.

    1. I only get up in anger if I can’t sleep. Otherwise I won’t be able/it will take longer. I think having a schedule is good but I also think we should give ourselves the flexibility. If the muse insists we should pay attention and go with the flow. Thanks for taking the time to read/comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙏

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