5 Expert-Approved Exercises for Creative Growth

As wonderful as it would be, creativity doesn’t always come knocking on its own accord. It’s like a muscle — you have to train it, and the more you do, the stronger it becomes. Stepping outside of your regular creative routine (or establishing a creative routine to begin with) can help strengthen said creative muscles. This is especially true if you work in a creative industry, which requires extreme mental agility and resilience.

These five exercises can help you hack your creativity, break out of your comfort zone, and possibly help you discover a side of your creative self you didn’t know existed! Better yet, they’ve been vetted by experts across various creative fields. Try them out:

Photo by Adrian

1. Define your voice.

Tina Essmaker is a coach and writer, specializing in helping creatives make career transitions. She recently published the Creative Self Workbook in conjunction with 99U, Adobe’s creative career resource (psst, it’s free to download online!). The first exercise in the book? Define your voice.

“Rather than thinking of it as a destination to reach, consider it an ongoing discovery,” Essmaker writes. “It’s akin to walking a long, winding path in the forest where you can’t see exactly where you’re going through the crowded trees—yet you can look back at the path you’ve traversed.” Her exercise for finding your creative voice involves recognizing five milestones that have shaped your path, then noting an insight you had about yourself and an opportunity that arose. From there, Essmaker encourages reflecting on that path and recognizing the themes or patterns in your insights into each milestone.

2. Go analog.

Much of our creative work these days occurs in digital space. From planning to implementing to delivering the finished product, we rely on our computers, phones, and fancy technical software. Returning to our roots and going analog — aka, picking up a pencil, or even a vinyl record — can awaken parts of the brain that working digitally puts to sleep. To learn more about the relationship between our brains and analog learning, hear journalist and author David Sax’s take in this Hurry Slowly podcast episode.

Photo by Kat Stokes

3. Set an aggressive quota.

Probably the most famous example of this exercise is Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. Bennett Cerf, Seuss’ editor, bet him that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. (Seuss won the bet). Sometimes, setting an outrageous quota or restriction can actually help your brain stretch its boundaries to come up with possible solutions.

4. Do it three times.

Third times the charm, right? So says fine artist and writer Courtney Jordan. This exercise involves taking the same idea and doing it differently three times. Imagine, for example, that you’re painting a picture of a bird. In the first, perhaps you use red as the sole color, exploring different shades of red for highlights and contrast. The second might include painting a bird mosaic made up of smaller objects, such as flowers or dots. The third could be painting a bird that doesn’t actually exist, but that you create in your imagination. You get the idea! Allow your mind to wander without judgment and see what cool ideas you can come up with.

5. Follow a journal or writing prompt.

This is an exercise many creatives including — ahem, yours truly — will advise you to try. Allowing yourself to take inspiration from the words of others takes the pressure off of you to ideate, which gives yourself breathing room to actually create. For any creative writers out there, check out the Writing Prompts page on Reddit for wacky, yet totally awesome, story inspiration.


Cecilia Seiter
Cecilia is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes largely about sustainability, especially as it applies to beauty, wellness, and the future of technology. She is a graduate of the journalism department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is based in Los Angeles, CA.