It’s more important than ever for actors to create their own content. Depending on where you’re at in your career, your public-facing work and social media profiles might be more important than your resume. After all, if you’re new to the business or still working on getting established, the best thing you can do is be visible.
Though there’s plenty of opportunity to make and distribute original work, the hard part might be coming up with content that, a) showcases your best abilities as an actor, and b) is compelling enough that other people want to watch. Accomplishing that requires a constant stream of creativity.
For some people, creative ideas just come effortlessly, as easy as brushing their teeth. Others need a creativity boost. For them, it’s like pulling teeth.
I’m in the latter group. As an actor, I spent years training to perform words written by other people. So when everyone started beating this create-your-own-work drum, I was like, “What the heck am I going to make and how would I do that?” I didn’t have any ideas for plays, movies or TV shows. I wasn’t a writer, so I wouldn’t even know what to do if I had them.
Also, I had a life. I was married with twin boys, a vibrant career, I was teaching and volunteering. I didn’t have time to fit something else into my schedule unless I knew I could do it well.
But I came across a post that opened my eyes a bit. Written by Leo Widrich, it introduced me to the concept of Shower Time. If this is new to you, it’s a way of boosting creativity by shutting down the parts of your brain which interfere with it. Turns out that it’s a pretty easy thing to do. A combination of being in a relaxed state of mind, being occupied with a distraction, and giving your brain easy access to dopamine makes a perfect environment for that quiet voice in the back of your head to come forward. For details behind why this works, check out the article. If you’re stuck for ideas, it’ll change your life.
After finding out about Shower Time, I realized that I had been using this technique my whole life. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago our family had a big back yard, large enough that my Dad bought a riding lawnmower to cut the grass. The job took about four hours and had to be done at least once a week. My Dad and I alternated weeks and I moaned and groaned when my week came, but all my good thinking happened on that lawnmower. The mindless work provided everything my brain needed to do some solid reasoning: It was oddly relaxing, the motions were repetitive (nothing but left turns all afternoon), and I’d wear headphones to block the noise, so it was pretty quiet. I remember making all kinds of decisions on that tractor, from where to apply for a summer job to what to do for a science fair project. Eventually I looked forward to mowing the lawn, especially if I was working on a problem. While my body was occupied with cutting grass, my mind could go off in any direction.
Our brains are engaged all day long with emails, social media, phone calls and all kinds of stuff that requires our active involvement. Add to that responsibilities from work, school, family and relationships, and there isn’t a lot of room for productive quietness. But the great thing is that you don’t have to literally be in the shower to have Shower Time.
I don’t have a huge back yard anymore, but I do have a golden retriever. She sheds like crazy. If I don’t vacuum every day, tumbleweeds of dog hair roll through our kitchen. So now I have Vacuum Time. But I also have Traffic Time, Weed Picking Time and Gym Time (though for me it’s harder to have good ideas when my heart is beating out of my chest).
Incorporating this kind of time into my day makes it a lot easier to solve whatever problems my conscious brain has been working on, whether that’s working out details of a story arc, or planning steps to achieve long term career goals.
The key isn’t just to make sure you’ve got enough of this kind of time in your day, it’s also to capture your ideas when they come. For example, I had the idea for this post…you guessed it, in the shower. In five minutes I came up with a general outline and a few details. A half hour later it was mostly finished. When I can’t write things down, I record voice notes on my phone.
Have I written a feature length film? No. Am I a showrunner? No. But I’d say a good 80% of Acting In Chicago was organized during Shower Time. I also have two more books coming out soon. I blog and have a YouTube channel, and I’ve written plenty of log lines and show summaries for TV series.
That’s pretty good for someone who thought he couldn’t come up with an idea to save his life.
What do you do to stay creative? I’d love to hear what works for you, so tell me below.