I recently received this question from a reader and friend:
"I think my biggest creative roadblock is that I get super fired up for creative projects every once in a while. The other 95% of the time I focus on other things and lose sight of how happy it makes me to create. How can I make creativity a more natural and regular part of my life?"
Thank you so much for your question, dear friend! This is quite a common problem and one that I revisit often since our habits and routines always require a few tweaks here and there. Like good design, our lives are iterative.
Here are my thoughts on making creativity a more natural part of your daily routine.
Figure out what is activities are taking time and energy away from your creative projects. Then try to eliminate (or minimize) them. I’m not advocating for you to quit your job or drop all of your social obligations. In my opinion, having a stable income is good for your creativity because it gives you the freedom to experiment without financial stress. I also think having friends and being active in your community is super important.
But if there is an activity in your life that takes up a lot of time and doesn’t bring you joy or fill you with contentment, then it’s time to minimize the time you spend on this activity. Examples include scrolling social media, going out for drinks multiple times a week, or even long-drawn-out family brunches.
An easy way to examine where you’re spending your time is to start tracking it. You can do this using a pen and paper or excel spreadsheet. Basically, for every hour of every day, write down what you’re doing. I recommend doing this every day for a full week so you can get a comprehensive picture of where you’re spending time. Here’s an example of my time tracking:
I track my time every couple months in my notebook and am always shocked to see how much time I spend on Twitter and Instagram. This is time I could be writing, doodling, or even sleeping. Whenever I notice this, I delete the apps from my phone for at least a week, sometimes more.
Practice being creative in small, short bursts. Oftentimes we just don’t have 3 hours to sit and focus on a project. We do have 10-15 minutes waiting in line, between meetings, or after work.
Writing coach Monica Leonelle advocates for writing for 8 minutes for 8 days to establish a consistent writing habit. What can you write in 8 minutes a day? I bet it’s more than 0 words! What if you did this every day for a full week, month, or year?
Creativity can happen anywhere. Right now I am typing this blog post on my phone as I stretch in the park. Sometimes I write in the bathtub. Creative work doesn’t have to happen in any designated spot.
I do advocate for creating a space in your home that allows you do be messy and work on larger creative projects, but it isn’t a necessity. For those of us who are on the go a lot, sometimes a laptop or notebook is all the creative space we need.
Make everyday activities a source of inspiration. Remaining open and curious about your surroundings and everyday experiences is a universal creative practice best exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci is known for being insatiably curios, spending hours studying nature and animals and recording his observations in notebooks.
I’m not saying you need to carefully observe inchworms for 5 years in order to be a creative person (although the results would likely be interesting). But you can write down your feelings, draw everyday items, and take note of funny conversations. Be like Leonardo da Vinci and keep a notebook and pen with you to jot down fleeting ideas. Get used to being that weirdo in public with a pen and paper in hand.
Adam J.K. is a modern example of someone who took note of everyday thoughts and feelings and built those observations into a successful creative career. He simply shared his honest feelings and found that people related to his dark, quirky humor. Your feelings and experiences are probably more universal than you think, so take note of them and use them in your creative work.
Keep a notebook and use it daily. This is directly ties to the previous point, but I thought it deserved its own headline. Just this week I’ve read two great articles about the value of keeping a notebook:
This Is The Most Important Think You Can Do Each Morning - Ryan Holiday
Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Field Guide to Keeping a Visual Diary and Cultivating a Capacity for Creative Observation - Maria Popova, Brian Pickings
Find a rhythm that works for you. When do you feel most creative? Most clear-headed and able to get work done? Experiment with different creative routines. Morning, lunchtime, evening, late night, etc. If getting creative on a daily or weekly basis is difficult, plan an entire weekend where you plan to do nothing but create. I call this a “Creative Retreat” and it will likely jumpstart your creative muscle. You may find that creating on a monthly basis is better for your lifestyle. Some people write entire books using this method! It’s all about figuring out what works for you and your routine.
Just keep moving. Momentum is the most valuable part of my creative practice. The more I come up with ideas, the more I act on them. James Altucher advocates for writing down 10 ideas ever day as a way to become an “Idea Machine." When I feel lost or stuck, I do this. Or I go for a walk or just start writing mindless babble.
- Keep a dream journal and get creative even while you sleep! Write in it every morning, even if you don’t remember your dreams. Likely, interesting thoughts will emerge.
- Start an ongoing Week in Scraps project like Adam!
- Start a Minimum Viable Creative Project such as a zine that has a clear end-goal in sight.