Loosening the taps

It’s always fascinating, stepping onto the mat.

Some immediately start rolling, forward and backward, side to side. Some stretch. Some just sit. Some stand and chat. Some take the chance to practice a drill or movement. Whenever I go to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu session, it’s always interesting to watch how others prepare.

It’s the same at the gym. Some go about their warm up half-heartedly. Some are zoned in and talk little. Some move swiftly through it and talk energetically to everyone.

Watch any sporting event or physical activity, and you’ll see that the participants always warm up. Usually, the higher the degree of competition, the more complex and important the warm up period becomes. Professional athletes have hours before a game to physically prepare their bodies.

We understand the importance of preparing the body. So why do we do not apply the same understanding to creative endeavors?

Over on Quora, which is one of my favourite places to learn (procrastinate), there’s many questions about maximising creativity. Most answers dive into the tactical—exercises, tools and tricks to increase capability. Some detail higher level attitudes, mindsets and habits that are more impactful upon one’s ability to create.

I’ve yet to see anyone talk about the warm up.

In Shadow Divers, Kurson says that “a good diver reveals himself in the way he gears up.” I think a professional reveals himself in the way he warms up for his work. They don’t go in cold.

What are some example of warming up? How can you build it into your routine? Here’s what I do before I start writing:

Browse and connect – I like to look at my books, take one idea that captures me, and try to connect it with an idea from somewhere else. Do this several times and the brain begins to whir.

You can do this without books. Take an empty page and write one sentence, one word. Then link it with another. And another. And another. You don’t have to build the transition, just create the main points. You can fill in the gaps later.

An outline for an upcoming post

An outline for an upcoming post

Start the ball rolling – Some call it free writing, some call it word vomiting, but the method is the same. Take whatever comes into your head and put it down. No matter how ridiculous, corny, vague, bad, embarrassing or boring. Out with it.

Sometimes you have to wade through the bad before you reach the good.

Start in a different medium – I write, so I may draw. You draw, so you may write. Creativity flows across domains and disciplines. Gather energy in one and you can redirect it into another.

Don’t start, continue – Starting anew every day is tough. It means you must confront that blank page, that emptiness. If you don’t have to confront it at all, if you already have the outline, if you just need to re-touch and polish something, it becomes easier to start.

Ernest Hemingway called it finishing in the middle. By stopping at the peak you carry the momentum forward into tomorrow.

When it comes to creative work, the first steps are the most arduous. They are the ones most fraught with danger. By browsing and connecting ideas, by starting in a different medium, or not starting, just continuing what we did yesterday, we can warm and energise ourselves.

By warming up the mind in the same way we prepare the body, we can loosen the taps and allow our creativity to gush out.