We’re not talking about positive thinking or grinning-like-an-idiot kind of happy, we’re talking about the kind of happy that makes you smile when you put your head on your pillow at night. That subtle feeling of contentment. That feeling like you’ve added something unique to the creative conversation that day.
Maybe the work you did that day was a breakthrough, or maybe it all went horribly wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter because you put in your time and gave what you had to the world, and no matter what happens tomorrow, you can go to sleep knowing that today was a good day.
Don’t worry, this isn’t another one of those naggy time-management articles about how to cram even more stuff into your already crazy busy day. This is not about working harder, this is about rediscovering the joy in the creative process and not worrying so much about the final result. This is about finding that elusive balance between getting stuff done, and finding a way to still enjoy ourselves along the way.
It’s important to get outside your own head once in awhile and see the world from someone else’s perspective.
Like an apprentice you need to find a way to study and absorb the work of the masters in your field. This means, if you are a writer, you need to read the work of as many different authors as you can. Sure it can sometimes feel like you are just wasting your time reading when you should be writing, but don’t underestimate the importance of constantly replenishing and enriching your creative well. As a writer you need to be immersed in words. You need to see how others have put them together and taken them apart. You need to have them wash over you with their imagery and subtle shades of meaning.
The same is true if you are a visual artist. You need to immerse yourself in the works of those who have come before you. See it as an opportunity to discover what you like and what doesn’t work for you. The more work you expose yourself to, the more tools you will have in your creative arsenal when it comes time to create your own artwork.
I understand that being exposed to the work of others can be a little disheartening or even unleash the green-eyed monster of jealousy (why didn’t I think of that?!) I’m with you, there are still days when I read something and feel like I’ve missed out on yet another great idea and one more nail has been pounded into my creative coffin. But there has never been a time when an artist hasn’t been jealous of another artist at some point in their career. It’s simply part of the game.
As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to be consciously replenishing our creative resources as we draw on them. -Julia Cameron
Regardless of what type of creative artist you are you need to find the time to read, and visit, and explore the work of other artists both inside and outside of your chosen genre. You need to find a way to constantly expand your creative horizons. Also don’t just limit yourself to reading method and technique books, but consider reading artist biographies as well. Some of the most inspirational books I’ve read have been the stories behind the artists — their struggles, their doubts, their fears along the way, and ultimately their ability to overcome them.
Be sure to read outside of your creative field as well — too often we end up getting ourselves trapped in our little creative niche in the world and can sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s a big world out there and so much of creativity comes from making connections between subjects that may appear completely unrelated on the surface.
Of course reading, viewing, and listening to the works of others is not a substitute for putting in your time and creating your own work, but it is an important part of the creative process.
By now you’ve probably heard about the famous 10,000 hour rule and how bands such as the Beatles had to put in years of practice before anyone had ever heard of them. However it’s not just about getting better or creating more stuff, it’s also about doing what you were meant to do. It’s about honoring that little creative voice inside of you that refuses to be buried beneath the incessant demands of everyday life.
When you sit down daily to practice your art, you are reminding yourself of its importance in your life.
I know it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of this, but don’t fall into the creative paralysis trap worrying about how you are going to find the time. You just need to sit down and do what you can with what you have. Okay, so maybe whatever you create today might completely suck, or maybe it will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done — either way you’re not going to find out until you get it out of your brain and onto the paper or canvas.
Brick by brick, layer by layer, word after word — this is how art (and a creative life) is created.
Rarely are we blessed with wholesale divine inspiration where an image or story comes to us completely intact. Creative inspiration typically comes to us in dribs and drabs — It’s a two steps forward and one step back kind of thing. We have to work for it. We have to build our creative life piece by piece and day after day.
We need to find a way to create something (anything) that wasn’t there yesterday and then offer it to the world
There are two parts to being a creative artist. First we must create something, but then we must put the work out there.
Steve Jobs famously said that “real artists ship”. In other words, it’s not enough to paint something and then toss it in your attic or write something and file it away on your hard drive — it’s not real until you put it out there in the world.
You have to share what you create.
Too many artists are afraid to show their work to anyone for fear of criticism. Often they have spent so much time creating it and have so much invested in it emotionally, that the thought of exposing it to potential criticism is too much. So they bury it away.
However, sharing your work doesn’t have to be some big dramatic moment.
Long gone are the days of spending years to get your book published or creating enough artwork to fill a gallery show, and then waiting for the critical reviews to roll in. In this day and age of blogs and social media, there is really no excuse not to get your work out there. Put it up on Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, SoundCloud, or post it on your own blog — it doesn’t really matter as long as you get it out there.
It also doesn’t have to be something monumental… or even completely finished.
Find a way to put something small out there every day. Whether it’s a snapshot of a work in progress, a chapter of your latest book, or the riff from your latest song — release it to the world. Get used to the feeling of putting your work out there and then moving on. This may not seem like much, but the more often you do this, the less emotionally attached you will become to your work. Each time you share something it will seem less frightening and more natural.
Create — Share — Repeat
As important as it is to get your own work out there in order to receive feedback, you also need to find a way to provide feedback to other artists as well. Unless you’re Justin Bieber, there probably aren’t thousands of people out there just waiting for you to post something so they can squeal with delight and give you positive feedback. This is a two way street and you’ll soon discover that the amount of feedback you receive is equal to the amount of feedback and encouragement that you offer to others.
It still amazes me how many people ask me how they can get more people coming to visit their blog or online gallery but they don’t take the time to visit or comment on anyone else’s website. They seem to forget that there are real live people attached to the other end of those traffic statistics. People who are dealing with their own busy lives, creating projects, and trying to get more people to visit their own website.
Remember you get what you give.
You want more visitors to your website? You want more comments on your blog? Then spend twenty minutes a day visiting other people’s websites. Leave thoughtful comments on their blog posts and their images. Share their work with your Twitter followers and Facebook fans. Offer them encouragement or a simply kind word and you will be amazed at the response you will receive.
Think about it for a moment, we’ve got plenty of choices of things to do online. We have millions of videos, blogs posts, and news stories that we will never have the chance to see. There is no shortage of content online. What there is a shortage of now is attention. In this day and age of viral videos and funny cat memes, it is still that one-on-one connection that we all seek.
Your attention (and a kind word or two) is the most valuable thing you can offer to someone online.
Don’t worry if it’s good enough or whether it’s better or worse than what you’ve done before. Your job is simply to create it, put it out there, and then move on.
You can’t dwell on it and wonder if it could have been better. You can’t constantly second guess yourself and worry about how your audience is going to react to it. Trying to sit down and create something your audience is going to like and appreciate is a recipe for creative paralysis.
In the end, your work is your work — it’s not who you are or what you might become.
It’s not the final word on your creative potential, it’s simply the next milepost on your creative journey. Before you can move forward, however, you have to be willing to first let go of the past.
Finally, learn to take some time every day to just listen to that small creative voice inside of you.
Step away from the computer or the canvas and take your poor neglected dog for a walk outside, take a warm bath (remember those?), or just sit quietly and let the world speak to you. No iPod, no cell phone, no books — just you and the world around you. Let your thoughts, your agendas, and your to-do lists go for just a little while. Take a moment to reset and understand that today is one more step forward on your creative journey.
No creative effort is ever wasted — brick by brick, word by word, layer by layer you will build your creative life.
So tell us what do you do in order to get the creative juices flowing and stay motivated?
What type of daily habits or activities work for you?
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.