Top 10 Worst Creativity Tips of All Time

What do you get when you cross a cranky writer with an opium-induced dream? Nothing to gawk at, normally.

But English poet Samuel Coleridge defied the odds and cranked out an unforgettably creepy poem called “Kubla Khan“.

The only problem is nobody can really tell us what the poem is about. Coleridge couldn’t even do it. And unfortunately generations of poets have followed in Coleridge’s footsteps ushering in an attitude that says true creativity occurs when you alter your mind.

But that’s a terrible idea.

And here are nine more really bad ideas on how to jolt your creativity (completely opposite of the 100 ways of becoming a better writer). Let’s take a look at them.

1. Wait for the Muse

Want to make my skin crawl? Want to watch me clinch my fists? Then tell me you can’t write until the Muse moves you. In fact, if you’re a professional, I might hit you. I’ll repent afterwards, but I’ll definitely swing. Professionals write whether they feel like it or not.

2. Get Drunk

Or stoned. Or huff glue. (This is the Coleridge Complex.) You’ll write some of the most retarded stories, paint the most dysfunctional pictures while intoxicated. You might even concoct some gorgeous words. Funny thing is, they’re masterpieces while you’re high. But sober people will avoid you. However, get them drunk, and you’re a blogging genius. See no. 10.

3. Eat meat

Long ago some Chinese mystic authority always ate meat before he fell asleep so he could have great dreams. [Give me a break on the ambiguity. I read it somewhere. Just don’t know where.] I don’t recommend this tactic either…because what happens if your dreams dry up? They will, artist boy.

4. Toy with Twitter

Despite what social media pundits want you to believe–Twitter is not an inspiration factory. It’s a chaotic cocktail party that will rob you of time. Doesn’t mean you can’t hang out there. I do it myself. Just don’t depend on it for creative ideas. You’ll get sucked away and totally forget what you were doing.

5. Smoke Cigarettes

No one’s flat-out preached that smoking cigarettes inspires. But stroll by any bistro and all the artists and poets and writers will be puffing away. Cigarettes kill, people. Then again, if you don’t care, you are guilty of number 7.

6. Fall in Love

If you depend on the unpredictable, violent emotions of new love **cough, cough, LUST, cough** then you might rock out a killer freshman album. Girls will stalk you. Men will envy you. Mothers will hate you. That is until your sophomore album rolls out. Then they’ll see you for the one-hit wonder you are.

7. Become a Sadist

Blame it on the Romantic poets: They were the ones who thought a true artist suffered. So what about the thousands of years of creative output before then? And frankly, what the Romantic Poets + Co. have created are marginal footnotes to enduring masterpieces.

8. Don’t Create

The Salinger principle of creativity states “you can’t create it without killing it.” You’re guilty of this if you fear that perfect artistic idea will get ruined if you commit it to paper or canvas. Get over yourself and create.

9. Specialize

I’m guilty of this one. The idea that you will create great work if you do nothing but one thing. This is problematic because some of the best ideas come to us from fields that are far different from ours (this is not the same thing as collaboration — which is another creativity killer). Become the explorer. Not the homebody.

10. Thinking You Are a Genius

Or a “serious” writer. (Now, where did that come from? See no. 7.) Personally guilty in this category. Picasso said that it took him a life time to learn how to draw like a child. There’s truth and liberty in simplicity like that. And great art, possibly justifying God’s creation of writers.


Listen: This list was generated after twenty years of failing hard in my own attempts at creative writing and a simultaneous ten years of working as a professional writer and editor. I’ve seen these tips and attitudes come from my own mouth and the mouths of other writers. Do any of them ring a bell? Would you add any? And if you’re guilty, don’t worry. So am I.

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  1. says

    The worst one for me, Demian, is to pretend it doesn’t matter … I once spent several years attempting to deny my calling, and I’m still susceptible to the notion.

    • says

      I can relate. it was’t until I was 25, 26 that I realized I loved to write and that was the direction I needed to go. But it was even many years after that that I realized it as a calling.

  2. says

    Here’s the best piece of advice I have on creativity…

    …open your eyes, open your mind and open your soul to what was, what it and what could someday be.

    Things will find their way in.

    Oh and write until your fingers bleed.


  3. says

    Love the list, Demian, though I do have to add a caveat to #2:

    My best creativity tip is: Go for a walk. No matter what has me stumped, I always find the answer when I’m out for a walk, preferable in nature, but any old walk will do in a pinch. Something about moving the body seems to dislodge whatever was stuck in the mind, and – presto! – I’m up and running again. :)

    • says

      Yeah, I suspected people would balk at that one … and of course I had that Hemignway quote in mind when I wrote it. The point is don’t turn any of that stuff into a crutch. Unless it is a long walk/run which works wonders for me, too. As do showers. And sleep.

        • Heinlein says

          Wait until you are tired, chug a cup of espresso, set an alarm for no more than 20 minutes and take a nap.

          You might dream you were taking a walk though…

  4. says

    I’ve been terribly guilty of “taking a break” and “waiting for the muse.” Frustrating thing is that by doing this, it’s even tougher getting back into the swing of things. Excuses and other “important things” keep piling on and I just end up kicking my own ass 😛

  5. says

    Substitute for Twitter any of the following: Facebook, G+, Instagram, etc.

    Suddenly Jamie is spot on regarding doing anything physical to get unstuck. That works for me every time.

    Now, back to work. Oh wait. Something is trending on Twitter :)!

  6. says

    I agree with nearly all on the list, especially #1. I’ve never liked the term “muse,” making it an easy one for me to hate.

    However, I’m in the “Write buzzed, edit sober” camp. It just helps from time to time, and I do notice I’m more creative and don’t hold back as much. I haven’t found another way to harness this same feeling.

  7. says

    I can look back see I’ve done 9 of these at some point in life. The only sin of these 10 I haven’t committed is the one about intentionally eating something before bed to create weird dreams. Probably never will. :)

    One that really stands out for me is #8. When I came out of the university half way into age 24, I decided intentionally to shelve my writing because I didn’t think I had lived enough yet (suffered enough?) to write anything interesting…so I proceeded to do that and went into the psychology field for several years.

    Along the way, I did do some suffering and collected some useful material for future writings…

    Keep in mind, when I graduated, most people still didn’t really know what the internet was…it was just really starting, and most wouldn’t have it at home for another four to five years. So, I didn’t have all this inspiration and education at my fingertips to encourage me to go ahead and write anyway.

    I officially and professionally returned to my first love a couple of years after 9-11.

    Anyway, you already know how you’ve been a part of my creative development. I salute you and this blog.

    • says

      Matt, there is definitely something to be said about shelving your writing ability until you’ve experienced enough or gained enough wisdom. Just because the barrier to entry is so low doesn’t mean we should express ourselves. In a lot of fields you don’t get to do what you love until you apprentice for years. If you get that experience and wisdom early in life (I’m thinking of the intellectual stalwarts of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries who graduated from college while still in their teens), then by all means write. Like Flannery O’Conner said, if you make it until your twenties, you then have a lifetime of material to write on. Matthew, I am glad you are a writer. And my friend.

      • says

        Thank you, Chief. Good to hear coming from someone like you. There’s no reason to ever feel guilty for not writing more in my late twenties to 32 or so. You know how it is…someone could easily regret that. But there’s no reason for it. My decision was good. And, I should be grateful I didn’t shelve writing till I was like, 54 or something.

        You’re right, the barrier to entry has been lowered. Incredibly lowered. Lots of drivel to sift through.
        Until next time, friend!

  8. says

    Appreciate. I need to make a conscious efforts to remain humble sometimes when I get full of it with an inflated ego. Then, on balance, I need to be self-motivated. ~Thanks for all

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