It’s a new year! As unoriginal as it may seem, the beginning of our calendar year is an excellent time to re-dedicate oneself to creative activity. The catch is that sometimes resolutions or grand pronouncements aren’t as effective as other approaches, such as setting small daily intentions. Here are a baker’s dozen suggestions for integrating (or re-integrating) creativity into your life in 2013. I hope they are helpful to you – please provide your own suggestions in the comments section!
1. Sharpen your focus and do less, but cross-pollinate more. Instead of feeling obligated to follow every interesting creative lead to its natural conclusion, perhaps those outside your focus area can provide inspiration for what you are working on now?
2. Look to your day to day life for ideas and inspiration. Those who practice design thinking often carry “bug notebooks” to document problems with systems, machines, or interactions that could be fixed through more thoughtful, constructive responses. Those notebooks (whether electronic, audio, or paper) can also document flashes of insight arising from the activities of your day, or moments of inspiration and gratitude.
3. Bring back the concept of downtime. It’s OK not to fill every moment you are waiting in line or waiting for your next scheduled activity to begin with a round of Facebook, Angry Birds or email/texts. You don’t even have to think. Sometimes emptying the “bucket” that is your mind is necessary before refilling it with nourishing, helpful things.
4. Start big changes on a small scale – make good use of your slivers of time. For any even modestly ambitious or complex goal or project, practice breaking it into very small component parts. What can you do in an hour? A half-hour? Even 15 minutes a day can help start you towards your goals.
5. Find new ways to fail/iterate/recombine ideas when they veer off-course. Dealing with negative feedback or outright failure of your creative work is one of the most crucial strategies for long-term success. MyFailTale.com is a web platform for sharing failure stories in a way that allows the sharer or others to be inspired and learn from setbacks and failures and make failing less of a stigmatized experience. Another approach to dealing with failure is to take a prototyping mindset and view less-than-successful versions of an idea as iterations or drafts, not embarrassing wrecks.
6. Learn to view creative blocks as creative pauses. This goes back to the concept of downtime as essential to creative productivity. Maybe you’re not blocked, maybe your brain is full! Or your habits aren’t supporting regular creative practice. Or something else is standing in the way of your creative momentum. In 2013, perhaps you can view a “block” as a diagnostic tool rather than a threat or an illness.
7. Pay attention to your studio or creative workspace. Artist studios are as unique as the artist who works there. If yours isn’t letting you do your best work, perhaps it’s time for a makeover. There are plenty of good books from which you can gather inspiration, including Art Making & Studio Spaces and Inside the Creative Studio.
8. Make a wish – no, really. Wishes can bring out your deepest desires. And your desires can form the basis of a worthy project – a creative challenge that has intense meaning for you, which will help you maintain your momentum as you hit the setbacks and challenges that befall every endeavor, large or small.
9. Recharge your creative batteries by changing media. It’s easy to allow ourselves to be driven when we’re trying to do something creative. Our society lauds the persistent – people who don’t know when to give up. But as important as persistence is in general, it’s important to learn when to take a break from a project and do something completely different. If you’re a painter, try making or listening to some music. If you’re a musician, perhaps you can do a little dance around your living room. If you’re a writer, draw a cartoon. You get the idea. And don’t forget to tend to your basic needs – recharging through housework and daily activities can also be very effective and grounding.
10. View rejection in a new light. If you didn’t make the creative cut this time, do you sulk or do you roll up your sleeves and think, “I’ll show them!” As noted above in the suggestion about failure, creatives who learn to learn from rejection, rather than letting it throttle their progress, tend to become more successful in the long run.
11. Learn how to scale your best ideas. If you’ve come up with a killer idea, but it is one that will need the support of others to see the light of day, understanding how to demonstrate its awesomeness on a small scale before seeking mass support can make the difference between steady progress and periods where you think everyone hates your “baby.”
12. Consider time v. impact for managing your creative projects. One insight that has stayed with me for the past couple of years is the idea that I can do ANYTHING I choose to do, but I cannot do EVERYTHING I might like to do creatively. Sometimes finding those time slivers requires saying no – to TV, to tangential requests, to activities which are popular but not particularly meaningful to me. As entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky says in the link at the top of this suggestion, “I see time as sailors see wind, or photographers see light, as something to use, manage, and shape, not as something to be a victim of, or to watch pass by.”
13. Act on your creative impulses – it’s the master habit of successful artists and innovators! No one but you can bring to life your creative ideas and impulses. If there was one suggestion I felt was more important than the other 12 in this post, this would be it. Nothing happens without action. Take time to think deeply, learn to fail well, construct an environment that supports your creativity – but step out and create, create, and then create some more. It’s a journey I can guarantee you won’t regret.