This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

One of the most overlooked ways to get inspired is from other disciplines. In practice, this is architects learning from filmmakers who talk about how much improvisation they do on the set or about how they re-think form in their discipline, evolving it by picking up useful techniques from other creative disciplines. This is why you see Kanye West talking about being inspired by Steve Jobs, Steve McQueen and Stanley Kubrick. Much of this book I drew from the ideas of business bloggers, photographers and directors as much as I drew from musicians. If you work in other creative outlets, you can apply these processes to whatever field you create in.

Every skill I've learned in record production makes writing a book easier. I’ve learned I should capture my ideas while I’m in a flow state and then edit and draft later, just as I do when writing music. If you're fluent in creating in another craft, it can often help your expression skills manifest in unique ways that allow you to add resonance others aren't fluent in. In every book on the subject of creativity, this is a skill noted in every creator who has gone on to do work that changes the way we see a discipline.

Metaphor Quotient

In science, there's a concept called field theory where you take a theory or technique that works in one field of science and apply it to another. To apply field theory to your work, you need to develop the ability to observe how you can apply what you see in one field to another field. The ability is measured by Metaphor Quotient (MQ). Just like IQ (Intelligence Quotient), MQ is the ability to apply metaphors into your art, whereas IQ is the measure of intelligence. MQ is the measurement of how well you can apply metaphors to your art. MQ manifests itself in countless ways. Here are a few examples:

·       Honing in on your ability to see the creative process of someone in a different field and apply it your own.

·       Seeing how one lyricist applies a metaphor and figuring out how to do that yourself in a different way.

·       Hearing a rhythm in your radiator and applying it to a song.

·       Finding the roots of a word or a concept and finding other ways to recontextualize it in your lyrics.

·       Finding metaphorical sound effects to help emphasize your lyrical narrative.

In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about the importance of Metaphor Quotient as it inspires new ideas that aren't obvious. She even argues that MQ is as valuable as IQ in the creative process. The best songwriters and producers commonly cite movie director advice (this is a recurring theme on my podcast where I interview record producers) as being inspirational to the way they work. You can always catch an insightful mind knowing many great quotes as compared to those who can’t see past their nose thinking the world "is what it is" or whatever reductive statement of the moment idiots use. Artists who purposefully seek out metaphors and then apply them to their work can fluently express their intent.

One of the reasons this concept isn't discussed is because there's no real way to measure it on a scale since it's too wild, so any measure is purely observational. Since our fluency varies so much from medium to medium, MQ is hard to pinpoint on a simple test. For example, my brain can take business practices and see how they work in music or film in an instant, yet the second you talk to me about how a painting's color subtly express an emotion, the whole idea is lost upon me. I've never taken the time to learn the intricacies of expression in visual form so my MQ is very low in fine arts. While I'm fluent in one field, I'm nearly blind in another.

Many great creators consider the field they're known for to be their second discipline. Kurt Cobain, Lars Von Trier and David Lynch all consider themselves to be artists more than musicians or filmmakers despite being renowned as some of the most innovative people in their fields. Outsider art is cited as being the example of inexperienced creators being able to make great creations, but the key to outsider art is that those who do it well have a high MQ and are applying field theory to a new field. High proficiency in one field can be applied to others.

Improving Your MQ

MQ is one of those few skills no one is born with. It‘s instead learned and can be developed with practice. In Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind he suggests “Improve your MQ by writing down compelling and surprising metaphors you encounter." Watch movies to find subtle hints like film noir showing characters that are conflicted or lying are lit with their face in both the light and dark. Reading interviews with artists who are highly metaphoric or take the time to observe details in great artists’ work can bring out your metaphor quotient.

A habit that helps me develop my metaphor quotient along with an understanding of artistic growth is to take in my favorite artists’ work in series. I'll watch all of my favorite director's movies in a row (even the movies I don't enjoy) or listen to my favorite musician's records in chronological order (including the B-sides). This practice allows me to take in their tools and details to understand the correlations in the metaphorical tools they use. I watch a few of their movies in a day or one every few days, but I do it in as short a period as I can to keep the correlations fresh in my mind. If I understand their earlier work, it helps me understand the greater depths of expression they achieve later.

Most importantly, when I do this, I concentrate. I don't look at my phone unless the work is on pause. I don't do bills while they're on as I try to see the details in what I may have missed before when taking them in casually. When I do this with music, I make sure to have headphones on so I can take in as much of the details as possible, so I'm influenced by as little outside sound as possible. I try to ingest as many metaphors and hidden subtleties in their work as I possibly can.

While my approach to this is a bit academic for some of my friends, it can be applied to some of the most annoying moments in life. When you're dragged to see a movie, hear a song from a genre you don't appreciate or have to go to a museum you have no interest in, make the most of it to find what you can learn from the metaphors in use throughout these works. Not only will it make the time less miserable, but you may even get inspired.

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.