Posted by: Liz Massey | December 31, 2007

Keys to keeping creative resolutions: clarity, intent, persistence

Since my birthday is dangerously close to New Year’s Day, it’s been very natural for me to add birthday-inspired contemplation about my life to the gravitational attraction that New Year’s seems to exert in the direction of taking stock of the year coming to a close, as well as making plans for the one that’s just about to begin.

Making creativity-related resolutions is always popular: there are plenty of people who would like to make 2008 the year they finish their novel, screenplay or song rather than losing weight, getting organized or getting a new job. The following three keys can help make your resolutions become realities next year, rather than remaining tantalizing (or frustrating) daydreams.

Key #1: Clarity. In the graphic design world, “resolution” refers to the clarity of an image. High-resolution images can be printed professionally and retain their integrity. Being clear about what you want to achieve creatively is beneficial because it makes your next steps more obvious.

“I want to be more creative in 2008” is low on the clarity scale; “I would like to write a screenplay for a full-length feature film in 2008” is clear and can help you figure out, based on where you are now, what the first steps toward that goal would be. Depending on your level of expertise in screenwriting, next steps might include researching your idea, writing a treatment for the screenplay, increasing your knowledge of screenplay structure and formatting.

Key #2: Intent. If you succeed in keeping your resolution, what will that bring you? Robert Fritz, in his excellent book The Path of Least Resistance, asserts that knowing what you do want to achieve (instead of what you’re trying to avoid) and combining that vision with a clear-eyed look at where you are now produces a “creative tension” that makes it much easier to propel yourself forward.

Understanding what you expect from acting on your creative resolutions is essential to providing that tension, as it helps you pare away potential creative goals that cannot take you to that end place that you are seeking.

Key #3: Persistence. More than talent or natural ability, creative success depends on your ability to keep making art, no matter how well or badly you feel it is going. Research by Martin E. P. Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, and others indicates that as much as 75 percent of lifetime success is determined by a person’s willingness to persist in the face of the setbacks that typically occur in any long-term endeavor.

In some cases, being a prodigy in a creative field can actually be a challenge to success later in life, as many artists blessed by exceptional talent that manifests in childhood struggle to make the shift as they grow up and encounter seasoned colleagues who have made the most of their talents, leveling the proverbial playing field between them.

One tip that helped me persist in my creative projects over the past year has been to “single-task,” a decidedly sexy term for focusing on one thing at a time. While my subconscious thrives on the cross-pollination that comes from having many irons (ideas or projects) in the fire at the same time, I am learning to limit my focus when I am actually creating to the project right in front of me. Leo at Zen Habits blog has written several good posts on this topic; here is one of the best.

Whatever your resolutions for 2008 are, here’s to a creative, fulfilling, abundant new year!


  1. This was a very helpful and inspiring post for me to read. I didn’t know about that research about persistence, but I agree that it does seem to be the key to success (at least in my life). I like your points about clarity and single-tasking too. I’ve become uncomfortable doing only one thing at a time–I’m so used to multi-tasking, so it’s a good reminder. Thanks also for the very nice comment on my blog. I appreciate it!

  2. […] But science is really on the side of the persistent person with average talent—As I’ve written before, research by Martin E. P. Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive […]

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