I've started this post at least a dozen times over the past six months. If you count all the times I've started it in my head, it's way more than that. I've let myself get trapped under the pressure of saying it right, doing it right. Perfectionism.
So here's what I've been thinking about. I miss the early days of this blog when I used to combine coaching and my own creative projects and general creativity topics. I thought I needed to be more structured and focused and professional (which I thought of as less personal somehow), so I switched to working with writers because that's my main creative outlet and stopped talking about my own creative life.
The trouble with that is I don't only do one creative thing, and trying to focus only on writing and working with writers kept me away from talking about things I love. And I really enjoy working with and encouraging painters and singers and other creatives as well as writers. I am a multi-creative, and I want to be that in this space.
With all of this (and so much more, so much!) in mind, I'm going to be talking about all things creative here. That will include writing, of course, but it will include any and every creative thing that fills my heart.
I'm also going to be adding a couple of coaching options back into my mix. Right now I'm not planning on any long-range packages, but I'm going to be offering a creative path tarot reading and some single sessions of coaching. I'll get pages up for those in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I'm going to work on a schedule for writing here (because the no-schedule thing I was trying really didn't work for me--you may have noticed). And I'm going to share about my creative projects, too. Look for me here more often, and let's talk about the things we love to make.
Overwhelm is one of the biggest, most pervasive stumbling blocks we run into in our creative lives. We all suffer from it at least now and then, and if you have multiple creative passions (like me!), you can get hit with it just about every day.
It's especially easy to fall into overwhelm when we're trying to figure out what to do next, either on a current project or in starting a new one, but it can hit at any stage of the process.
The good news is, you don't have to stay in overwhelm when it comes. In Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coaching, we often call ourselves overwhelm busters because this is one of the issues we work on the most with clients. We know you don't have to live with it, and now you know, too.
So how do you get out of overwhelm?
My favorite technique for getting through overwhelm and back into creative fun is taking small steps. I mean tiny! The littlest ever, and if you think it's small try to make it smaller. It sounds kind of silly. It can be, and that's good because having fun helps subdue the overwhelm beast. You can make a game out of finding the littlest step ever. Just break your tasks down, and you'll start moving forward again.
What does it look like to break something down into the smallest steps? It looks like deciding to do a project and making grand plans that are so big they leave you frozen. So you make the steps smaller but still feel overwhelmed. So you make the steps smaller, and so on until you find a step you can actually take without the overwhelm.
Here's an example. Let's say this is you: "I want to write a novel! I need to write 1,000 words a day!" (Cue overwhelm.) You realize you need to break things down. That could look like this:
I'm going to write one scene (that still feels like a lot--stirrings of overwhelm)
I'm going to write one page (still some overwhelm)
I'm going to write one paragraph (feeling better but still not sure about everything to put in there so you still find yourself avoiding it)
I'm going to write one sentence. (Great! Most days this step might be small enough, but some days you might still feel some overwhelm)
I'm going to take out my notebook and pen/open the story document/create a story document (this one is doable)
Do the smallest thing you can find to do for your project. You can do an entire project this way, one teensy, tinsy small step at a time, honest (and you can do one step more than once a day, too, if you feel like it). Often you'll find yourself doing more once you get your toe in the door. But if you don't, if you do just the smallest step, that's progress. Pat yourself on the back and keep doing it!
Life is busy. Sometimes, it feels really hard because there's always so much to do. And then we want to write books or paint pictures or create things on top of everything else! We have to figure out a way to fit it in, and when we do that, then comes the really hard part. We have to get started!
Is getting started really the hardest thing, though? A lot of us have it in our heads that starting is hard (I know I do). I've heard the phrase "getting started is the hardest part" so many times, about so many things--diet, exercise, writing, pretty much everything I might actually want to do--that it's kind of ingrained as truth now.
We've been brainwashed into thinking starting is hard, but it might not actually be so hard after all. Especially if we go out of our way to make it a little bit easier.
If you have a tough time getting started on projects, make a decision that you're going to do everything you can to make this project easy. Deciding up front that it's going to be an easy project, and reminding yourself as you go that this is going to be a smooth-sailing, easy thing, can change how you perceive your project. Deciding that it's going to be easy can make it feel easier.
But back to getting started. A lot of projects seem to have a natural starting place--chapter one, the first quilting stitches, the first strokes of paint on canvas. These are where we begin, right? But do we have to?
Instead of beginning in what seems like the one-and-only starting place, look for easy entries into what you want to do:
Want to write an article? Make a quick list of things you want to put in.
Want to create an outline for your novel? Set up the document first before deciding anything else.
Want to paint a picture? Set out your canvas and brushes and paints (or, if that's a lot right now, just set out your canvas and save the brushes and paints for later).
Then walk away. Save the list or the outline document. Tighten the paint caps. Leave. You have started. And it was easy, right?
Now, keep doing things this way. Every time you're going to work on your project, look for what feels easiest to do. Every time you sit down to work, ask yourself "what can I do to make this easy?" The easy thing might be the next part in the work, or it might be something that you would normally think of doing later in the process. Go by what feels easy and doable, not what "should" come next.
Creativity doesn't have to be hard work. It's okay for things to be easy whenever you can make them that way. Your work won't suffer from making it easier, and you'll enjoy it more if it's not a struggle. Give yourself a break. Take the easy way.
What makes you feel like that, like the thing you want to be?
The usual response to this is: If you want to be a writer, write, then you're a writer. (Same holds true for painting, photography, etc. I'm just going to use "writer" as my example here.) This is good advice. Writers write, so to be a writer, you should write.
I think there's more to it, though. Doing the work will help you feel like what you want to be, but there are things that you can do and be part of that can maginify that belief in yourself. Sometimes you have experiences that plunge you deep into that I AM feeling. It may be for just a moment, but for that little space of time you feel your writerliness down to your bones.
One of these experiences happened for me several years ago. I had the wonderful good fortune to get in on a writing workshop led by Charles de Lint, my favorite author. It was a small workshop, only fifteen of us. And we sat at a table all together and talked about writing and fantasy stories and characters, and later we talked about the business of being a writer. And we spent some time writing and then read our works aloud and Mr. de Lint gave us feedback. And I floated out of there on a cloud, and I knew-- KNEW --that I am a writer. I felt it! I lose that feeling sometimes, but remembering this experience helps me bring it back.
Other things that help me grab hold of that feeling--writing in a coffee shop (actually writing, especially on a story, and not just free writing and not planning or character work or any of that); attending writing conferences; talking shop (plotting, characters, all of that) with a small group of active writers.
So my recommendation? Do your thing, of course. Write, paint, shoot, bake, knit, whatever it is. But also seek out experiences that feel to you like what a "real" writer would do, and do as many of those things as you can. Build up that feeling in yourself of I AM. Carry it with you to help you ride through the dry spells that come to all of us. Take it out into the world and let everyone know what you are.
We all get stuck sometimes. That painting won't come together, the next part of that story won't flow. We can't get anything new started. What should we do?!
No, really. Copy something you like. Draw the Mona Lisa in crayon, rewrite "The Raven" using other words. Copy, but add a twist.
Why? Because it gets you moving, it stirs up your creativity. You connect with something creative that you like and you engage with it, and this helps your own creativity get up and moving. And it often happens that once you get the brush/ pen/guitar pick/camera moving, your own thoughts and ideas start coming through loud and clear again.
How do you do this so you don't end up just copying and never getting to your own work? First, I don't think that will happen. We're creatives, so eventually our own voices are going to make themselves heard. But to help avoid delaying the message, try this:
Use elements of the original in something brand new of your own (like a fan fiction story, for example).
Examine the original for things it would be easy to change--colors, genders, number of people in a story or objects in a painting, time period, location, etc.
Pick one thing from your list and start making that change. If you started your copy before thinking about changes, just start adding the changes from where you are. No need to start over.
Pick another thing from the list and start making that change.
Think about other works you like and see if you can incorporate elements of one or more of those into your copycat work. It doesn't have to be something in the same genre or even the same medium. A sketch of a favorite book character in the background of your Mona Lisa? Of course! "The Raven" flying off to a music store and playing a violin? Why not? Mix and match--it's a fun game and very freeing. Be as silly as you can!
Take your favorite elements from your play time and try them out in whatever you were feeling stuck on. (It's okay if you can't find anything that will work--just take a look to see if there's something there.)
Will this exercise always directly help your current work? No, not directly. It will always help shake things up, change things around, get things moving. Sometimes you'll find something that helps move your current piece along. Sometimes you'll find that you just had a good time, and that's worth plenty all on its own.
I love a grand gesture, a giant cake, a huge display of lights at Christmas. I do! I love big, shiny things. But you know what I love even more? Tiny, sparkly little treasures. They gleam and glisten and entice you to draw closer, focus in, get still and attentive. They're mesmerizing and full of wonder.
So what does this have to do with creativity coaching or a creative life? So much! Small things are beautiful and powerful and full of everything we love. And Small Steps will get us to those dreams we love.
In Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching™ we're all about small things--Small Steps, Small Questions. We love them! Why? Because they do so much while being so easy to wrap your brain around. This also has to do with a creative life because being a creative doesn't happen in a vacuum. We live in a busy world. We have a lot going on. Things that fuel our creative dreams and fit into the rest of our lives are priceless! Small Steps are the way to get there without letting everything else fall away.
Convinced? It's okay if you're not sure. We've been taught to believe that we need to do big things, make huge changes, do something dramatic to change our lives. (Have you seen some of the things people do when they want to ask someone to marry them?!) So Small Steps may seem weird at first. That's okay. Try them out anyhow and see what you can do. Here's how:
First things first. Pick your dream. What's something you'd like to get started or make progress on? What creative dream would you like to come true? Write that down. Put the note someplace you'll see it often. There. That's a Small Step and it's a reminder of what you want to do.
Next, ask yourself a few questions. Write down the answers if you like (it's okay if you don't have answers right away or only have a few), but most importantly ask the questions.
Questions to ask yourself:
What could I do in just five minutes? Two minutes?
What would feel good to do right now?
What is the smallest thing I can do that is connected to my creative dream?
Now, pick one of those small steps and do it. Do it again tomorrow, or the next time you have five minutes (or two). Try this out for a week, maybe two. Then look back and see what you've done, one Small Step at a time. Give yourself a pat on the back! Then make a new list of things you can do and do one. And now you're on your way to your creative dream!
There's still time to sign up for the MuseCraft™ Explorers' Club (starts July 9). We'll talk small steps, we'll walk them together. We'll have fun and make our way toward those creative dreams together. Join me?
This is a reprint, with slight alterations, of a newsletter article I did a few years ago. I'm reposting it after several recent conversations with people telling me that they don't like to-do lists and schedules and things because they feel restricted, boxed in, constrained. But there's also a lot of talk about not getting much of anything done, and I really think the two things--resistance to structure and lack of progress--are connected.
I've noticed something about we creative types. We like to feel free and wild, flying around the
aether with our creativity spreading behind us like wings. Structure? Bah! We don't want structure!
We're free. You can't put us in a box!
The thing is, without structure we often lack focus and direction. We float along, shapeless, like
jellyfish pushed and pulled by the tides. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be a jellyfish.
Here's an important secret—structure is not our enemy. It's more like the skeleton we hang our
creativity on, the underlying form that helps us determine what direction our work will go in. At an
immediate, project by project level, structure is deciding that you'll work on a painting today instead of
a novel or work on photo editing instead of an art quilt. It helps us get things done by keeping us from
trying to do everything all at once.
There are also greater structures in our lives that help us feed and nurture our creativity, things that
make it easier to create when we want to. Some of these are the same things that help us get to work on
time, get ready for bed, buy groceries for the week. Our daily, weekly, monthly routines can become a
structure to help us shape our creative time and space.
I know the word “routine” sometimes has a bad reputation. We frequently use it as a synonym for
“dull” or “boring.” But having routines keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel over and over to do
the things we need to do. If you create and choose your routines with intention and thoughtfulness,
with an eye to making time and space for your creativity, your routines can become the structure that
lets your creativity thrive.
So how do you build a structure for your creativity? The same way construction workers build a house
—one beam at a time. This is especially important if you are a multi-creative. Don't try to force long
stretches of time to work on all of your creative pursuits every week. Start out either by choosing a
favorite creative pastime and working that into your life regularly or by finding a particular time each
week (for me, it's Thursday evenings) and dedicate that time to doing whatever creative thing pulls you
when the time comes.
Work this new piece into your existing structure—you're building an addition, not creating an entirely
new dwelling. Look at your routines and your schedule, decide what is and isn't working and tweak
things to make them work better, then find the places where adding in creative time will work best. I'll
go back to the Thursday evenings I mentioned as an example. For me, my regular schedule leaves me
with the whole house to myself on Thursdays after work, so this is a natural time to work on creative
Once your new addition has become a comfortable, regular part of your life, look around for the next
place you can add on to your routine. Eventually, as with building anything, if you work steadily and
thoughtfully, you will have a life structure that will leave you the time and space you need for your
creativity. You'll be able to do the things you want, and your Muse will thank you for it every day.
There's still time to join in on the adventure in the MuseCraft™ Explorers' Club! Sign up today
and start down the path to your creative dreams.