My road to the creative life was long and circuitous. As the youngest of six kids, I learned that the best way to get anybody to acknowledge my existence was to be funny.
This led to a childhood, and adulthood, heavily focused on imitating people. Everybody from my mom — “She’s a cheap zilch!” — to Marlon Brando — “I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contenda…” My dad used to bust a gut when I did my Brando.
I shoulda acted
In retrospect, I wish I’d tried acting as a kid. I think I would have loved it. Alas, I went the sports route, which was fun, but not particularly creative.
After four years in college and another ten in Washington, D.C., working as a Capitol Hill aide and as a lobbyist, I had an “Aha!” moment. At the start of 1997 I was running two companies: My lobbying firm and a friend’s highly successful polling company.
On the night of the second Clinton inaugural, January 20, 1997, we all went out on the town, stopping in at a few of the inaugural balls. One of the guys we partied with that night was a successful comedian. We met a few women along the way and gallivanted about town late into the night.
Funnier than the comedian
Why is this significant? Because I was totally on that night, cracking everybody up left and right. And, importantly, much more so than the professional comedian which, in hindsight, must have pissed him off bigly.
The next morning, as I recounted the events of the previous evening, it occurred to me that I had killed it on the comedy front in relation to the real comedian. Which got me thinking:
“This guy makes a living using his creativity. How cool is that? Maybe I should gave that a shot. I’ve always been a creative nutball.”
We had the next day off, so I went into our polling company office in Rosslyn, Virginia, with my yellow legal pad and a pen. At the top of the page I wrote “Creative Ideas,” and got to work.
I started by trying to write jokes and comedic bits. I didn’t get very far.
So I moved onto movie ideas. I came up with one that sprang from my DC experience.
An idea inspired by the powerful
I’d gotten to know several powerful people in my Washington years, mostly senators. Not because I was some big powerhouse, but because I was the guy they all wanted to play tennis with. I’d been captain of the Princeton team and there were some big-time tennis fanatics in DC.
One of those friends was Senator George Mitchell of Maine who rose to become Senate Majority Leader, one of the top three or four most powerful positions in America.
It occurred to me that these people were so unbelievably ambitious. They’d make their way up from mayor, state assemblyman, congressman, senator…then, in Mitchell’s case, senate majority leader. Then, of course, they’d set their sights on the White House.
They were never satisfied, always reaching for that next big thing. So it occurred to me: Once one makes it to the presidency of the United States, what is that next big thing?
My movie: The decline and fall of America
The answer: Taking over America and becoming a dictator with absolute power. So that was my movie idea: How a president squashes our Democracy and becomes a dictator. Mind you, this was 1997!
Long story short, I called up a great friend of mine who had been writing in Hollywood for ten years already and pitched him the story…He loved it. A year and a half later we had a finished script. His agents at the powerhouse CAA loved it too and got it all over Hollywood. We met with the head of Universal Film Productions who told us they had a similar script in development with Jack Nicholson attached, but that they’d be interested in buying ours, too!
That was heady stuff for a DC politics guy. CAA encouraged us to go elsewhere because they thought Universal only wanted to buy the script to take a competitor off the market. We subsequently met with several high-profile producers but, alas, it didn’t sell.
Cutting bait and heading to Hollywood
But the whole process ignited my creative juices, to the point that I wrote my own script solo over the next year or so. And then, in a fish or cut bait scenario, I decided to chuck my Washington life and move to Hollywood to give full attention to my creative side.
Seventeen years later, after several television writing jobs and some screenplay action, I turned my creative energies toward the spiritual realm. Four years later, here we are.
After this long-winded stroll down my creative memory lane, it’s time to get to the main event. Here are three activities that have consistently jumpstarted my creative juices over the past couple decades.
This one is big. If I’m in a rut, I’ll listen to some of my favorite songs. This one might be obvious to many of you, but if it’s something you haven’t done, try it.
The reason it works for me might surprise you. It’s not just the actual hearing of the music. Even more inspiring and energizing for me is that, while I’m sitting there being moved to a higher state by the transcendent music, I think to myself, “Somebody sat down and created this. Out of thin air. And because they did that, I’m sitting here feeling moved. How cool is that?”
This results in me saying, “Let’s go. Let’s create something.” It gets me inspired to go create something out of nothing.
2. GETTING QUIET
No big surprise that Mr. Meditation Preacher suggests getting quiet to get creative. But I wholeheartedly believe it to be true.
The best stuff, whether it’s writing, acting, playing or writing music, or any other creative pursuit, comes from inner quietude. The great Eckhart Tolle summed it up perfectly:
“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”
As usual, Eckhart is right on. So if you want to strengthen your connection to the inner creative genius inside you, practice getting quiet. Every day. Meditate. It works.
I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve gotten while doing my afternoon biking workout. They just come. Out of nowhere.
Something about endorphins coursing through our veins? I don’t know. I simply know that when my body is working, my creative side grooves.
And it doesn’t have to be some high-octane workout, either. Walking is another fantastic activity that activates our creative juices.
I believe that humans are meant to create. It’s why we derive such satisfaction from it.
That doesn’t have to mean creating a Pulitzer Prize winning novel or a platinum album, either. It could be baking delicious chocolate chip cookies or making a wooden table in your garage or making funny home videos with your kids.
It’s just doing something that, if you hadn’t done it, it never would have existed.
Creating is healthy. For the mind, body and soul.