This week’s article is meant for people who inevitably hit a rut in the routine. We're not going to tell you how to become a better writer without writing at all because (we're pretty sure) that's not possible. If you've been doing this for years, you might eventually reach a point where you can’t think of anything new to write about if you aren't stimulating yourself in new ways. This also applies to making beats, playing instruments, and any activity that takes focus so I hope you find something valuable from this no matter what you do.
1) Spend More Time Listening
Give people more time to think and speak in conversations. Understand what it’s like to live as someone else. Listen to your family and friends and ask them details about their lives. Ask more questions about what makes you curious - we all have interesting situations and the people close to you can provide a constant stream of inspiration if you’re around the right group. If you’re in a healthy place and in the right mood, it’s good to listen to people you disagree with too.
For musicians, rappers, producers: it’s a good idea listen to as many genres of music as you can, and if there’s an entire field you’re writing off: challenge yourself to find a song, album or artist within it you enjoy. When you stumble on something that really resonates, study it. Great books, songs, albums, stand-up specials, etc. generally have gems that you need to dig for to fully appreciate. Great art will offer something new each time you listen with a fresh perspective.
2) Read More
If you don’t like reading you’ve got the wrong books. Along with listening to people in (and outside of) your community, reading what other people put months or years of thought and research into is always inspiring when the subject is right for you. It’s the time-tested method of sparking ideas we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Not only does reading bolster your vocabulary and give access to new hobbies, it also helps with assembling cohesive thoughts and arranging them when we speak and write. It helps us communicate more effectively and give explanations to how we feel about things. We can learn a lot from the way writers organize information.
Reading articles or research papers can be just as, if not more helpful depending on the source. While some papers are biased and seek to verify a certain hypothesis, many are objective, insightful and interesting to read (or skim). If you’re unsure about whether or not the source is reputable, a good way to check is to look into the source journal or publication. Questions you will want to ask yourself when evaluating the quality of research: How many editors reviewed the article (should be 3)? What is the impact score of the journal that published it (google it, higher numbers are better)? Who funded the research? Is the research a little too on the nose for who is paying for it to be done? Also, most people do not have a sophisticated understanding of statistics, but through the use of the google machine you can typically find out whether or not the statistics being used in a research article are appropriate for the questions being asked. Also, 99% of standalone articles do NOT have enough information to draw causal connections. Usually they are just ruling out 1 or 2 alternative explanations for some phenomenon. Don’t fall for click-bait titles.
2) Listen To Podcasts
There are as many topics to choose from as there are books to read, and some like Radio Lab don’t even have a specific theme. They cover whatever they find interesting so you can scroll through, pick whatever catches your eye and get’cha self stimulated. There are many podcasts worth checking out (Radio Lab is one of my go-tos) and more of our favorite writers, comedians and artists are starting their own. It’s a good way to get a feel for someone if you want a better understanding of their thought process or what makes them stand out to you. Put in some research and find one or multiple that cater to your interests, or dive into a subject you’re curious about but only scratched the surface of… I want to talk about animal-human hybrids, Joe!!!!!!
3) Meet New People
I’ve never met people with the intention of meeting people, but I have found a lot of awesome humans by putting myself in environments I enjoy being in (maybe it went more like taking myself out of environments I didn’t enjoy being in…). If you’re not a very social person and don’t know where to begin, you’re not going to make lasting connections by forcing it. Put yourself in situations and environments that challenge you to be more creative and open with how you communicate. Going to shows, volunteering, and taking the train are a few ways I’ve met people I’ll never forget. Spending time with other artists can often inspire you to work on your own craft and sharpen your skills. I was never more inclined to be proficient at freestyling than when I was living in Chicago and surrounded by dope freestyle artists on a weekly basis.
4) Take Classes & Attend Workshops
Learning new hobbies/passions is a fountain of inspiration for new material, and it goes beyond fields directly linked to yours. Maybe taking a class on writing will spark new methods of approaching a song. Maybe you don’t want to take a creative writing class and risk further burning yourself out - try something new in that case. As your knowledge compounds, you may find that taking a physics class gives you an idea for a melody or drum pattern based off a law or pattern of nature. You may find that a cooking workshop helps you understand that more ingredients don’t always lead to a better flavor, go back to a demo mix, and realize that you have too many sounds competing for space. Many of our breakthroughs on our work & hobbies come when we’re thinking about something else entirely. Now more than ever we have access to all sorts of workshops and materials through the internet. It is a powerful tool if you use it to your benefit.
Many people see this as cliche but being sedentary all day is an awful way to treat your body. There are so many different methods to get your heart pumping and it will pay off both short and long-term to find one you can at least tolerate, if not enjoy. I have less distractions and can keep trains of thought rolling longer after exercising, and of course the dopamine rush is a nice byproduct. As someone who struggled with severe depression, I won’t lie and say this is a “fix” for that or serious issues but it’s become an essential part of a routine that helps me be happy. Ride a bike (and wear a damn helmet), pick up a sport, run, hike - whatever you can stick with at least a couple times a week. Try it a couple times before you knock it (and don’t kill yourself running 3 miles the first day if you’re 30 and haven’t run one since high school).
Nothing has inspired me quite like traveling and touring. It’s sort of a way to combine all of the above principles all at once if you do it effectively. Experiencing different cities, states and countries shows you all the similarities and differences we share and helps connect you to the human experience. The more you know about what connects us all regardless of your ethnicity, gender, sexual preferences, religion, the easier it is to communicate what’s important.
Spending your money/time on unfamiliar experiences is a great way to find new inspiration. Make some damn memories. Put yourself into the stories you want to read.