We’ve all been there.
We want to be productive artists who get recognized for our work… but we just can’t seem to get off our duff and actually create the art.
It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation, when you think about it… we want to have the benefits of being an artist, but we don’t necessarily want to actually do the work. It’s not that we’re lazy… it’s just that it’s hard! So we don’t do what it takes, and so we don’t get the benefits… it creates a cycle of listless wanting that results in discouragement and even depression.
- The first thing to do is recognize that we have a problem.
- The second is to take some small comfort in knowing that it’s a very common problem among us creative-types… and that you’re not alone.
- Third, we need to study the solutions available to us, because there are many.
In fact, after reading this article, I can virtually guarantee that if you do just ONE of the sixteen suggestions I propose, you will feel a kindling within you that you can, with a little effort, develop into a vibrant flame of inspiration and productivity.
1. Show Up To Work.
This sounds overly simplistic…and it is. But think about it.
It’s likely that you worked in an hourly job before, or that you even do currently. So you understand that in this kind of job, the boss frowns upon someone who just decides to not show up for work. It also impacts the other staff negatively, and it sends a message that you just aren’t reliable.
So if you don’t show up to your own business (and yes, your art career is a business), what does that say about your commitment to your art, your fans, and yourself?
2. Recognize (And Bust) the Inspiration Myth
Somewhere along the line (perhaps the ancient Greeks) came up with the idea that artists have to wait for some kind of celestial permission in order to begin creating their art. We tend to wait around for some kind of golden message that tells us when we’re able to start working.
It doesn’t work that way.
Ideas are coming to you all the time. Even right now… if you close your eyes and take a deep breath, and try not to think of anything, then you will be pelted with them, like some kind of invisible rain. No, they’re not all good… in fact, they’re mostly not good. But some of them are. And you should be able to at least recognize the ones that are worth trying out.
3. Work To Your Strengths
Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage. When you’re a creative person, you usually get to pick whether you play on the home team or the visiting team. You usually want to pick the home team, where you have the advantage. That means knowing where your strengths lie, and doing work that mostly suits your natural talents and abilities.
Don’t misunderstand this to mean you don’t ever stretch those abilities and try new things… just maximize what you do well and minimize the time spent on things you don’t do well.
4. Harness Your Internal Desires
Desires are like strengths… you want to maximize them. You will be more internally motivated to create stuff when it’s something that interests you.
You would be surprised at how many people avoid doing things that they like. It’s as if they want to save that for later. Or, they may choose to do things they don’t like because someone else told them to, or because they think those will earn them more money, or for various other reasons.
We are certainly complex beings. Make things easy (and more fun) on yourself by giving preference to things you actually like doing.
5. Seek Accountability
When others are aware of our goals for ourselves, even if that person is not directly affected by them, it can really boost our desire to complete them. Because inside we know that we may lose a bit of credibility if we don’t. This can be accomplished by simply posting your goals on a message board, or telling a friend that you want to finish your book by the end of the year. You can give this an extra motivational bite by asking that person to keep you accountable and checking in on your progress.
Taking a class has built in accountability. So does coworking or partnering where your success is tied to another person’s success. When you have the bravery and audacity to do this, accountability can really take off.
6. Set Goals (And Keep Them)
Goal setting can sound corporate and stodgy, or it can be loads of fun. Think of it as a quest.
You can set a mix of near-term, mid-term, or long-term goals. Start small. Completing shorter, easier “quests” can level you up to take on bigger ones. Make it a game!
7. Set The Stage For Success
Set the stage by creating the ideal environment for you to do your creative work. Find out what works best for you, what causes you to be most productive.
You may find any number of things that work to accomplish this:
- Wearing a comfortable piece of clothing that inspires you
- Putting on a certain kind of music
- Appealing to the olfactory senses by using incense or aromatherapy
- Putting up posters, toys, action figures, or other fan objects
- Arranging your workspace to be more ergonomic
Try lots of different things and test them out… you never know what causes something to “click”, increasing your desire to create.
8. Make a schedule
It helps tremendously to sit down (I prefer once a week) and go over the next week’s calendar. You can make this a fun process. And you’ll find that once you get all the ideas, goals, plans, appointments out of your head and into the schedule, you’ll experience an unbelievable feeling of peacefulness.
Also, when something’s on your calendar it’s more real to you. It’s been given a tangible place in your world, and so it will be easier to make sure it happens.
9. Seek Inspiration
Fuel your creative fire with pictures, videos, posters, media, other Artists’ work, or anything else that inspires you. Keep a file of successful artist stories that you read from time to time if that helps.
The more inspired you are, the easier it will be to get up and work. (Warning: if you do this too late in the day you may be in for a late night!) The best time to do this is right before your scheduled work time.
Warning: don’t make this a double edged sword. By that, I mean sometimes our internal dialogue turns in on us by saying, “I’ll never be that good”. Instead, say to yourself, “That person was once where I was, and look at them now!”
10. Avoid Procrastination Like The Plague
The “P” word can really bog you down if it gets too comfortable. Make it as uncomfortable as you can by taking action.
If you entertain procrastination too long it can fester and be more difficult to dislodge from your life. You will see the signs because you will find yourself endlessly checking email and social media, doing boring tasks, doing the dishes… anything but doing what you know you need to do.
Dan Miller talks in Acres of Diamonds about a man who digs for precious gems on his land, and gives up, then goes to a distant land to work to send home money. He has to eventually sell his land and move his family away. The person who he sold it to ended up getting rich from that land… because he continued digging the hole the previous owner had started and struck gold just a few feet deeper down.
If you think about giving up, then convince yourself to stay with it just a little longer… you never know what breakthrough may lie on the other side of difficulty.
12. Give Yourself Permission to Fail
When you try to “swing for the fences” by expecting a masterpiece on the first try, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration.
Unfortunately, we often live in a culture where lofty goals and accomplishments are heralded, while the failures are not. This can make us feel like we have to go out there and be absolutely awesome each and every time.
Few things are more liberating than giving yourself the permission to fail. You will find yourself able to try new things more easily. You will also be delighted when they work out better than you expected.
13. Connect With Others
We artists can be a solitary lot. Unfortunately, that can hinder the accountability and inspiration that we can get from others that we already talked about.
There are a number of ways you can connect with like-minded, creative people. Even if you’re an introvert. (Many introverts are really extroverts when you get them in the right environment that they’re interested in, and talking to people that they have a connection with.)
Here are a few ways to connect (bonus points if it involves face to face interaction!):
- Take a class
- Join an art club
- Trade critiques
- Host an art exchange
- Start a meet up
- Start a Facebook group
- Do a cooperative show or display or joint venture
14. Look For The Benefits
Sometimes all it takes is to meditate for awhile on what the end result of doing the work is. Will you have the money to go on the family trip the kids have been asking about? Will you be able to call yourself a published author? Will you enjoy seeing your work on a billboard or magazine?
Focusing on the end result of your work, both near and distant, can deeply motivate us in ways that will last for a long time.
15. Just Take Action
Okay. You got this far. You obviously are good at consuming content… and I’m glad you read this.
But now, it’s time to go do work. Artists are producers, not just consumers. We are marked by what we do, not what we think of doing.
So go and do it.
(And please come back and let me know how it goes!)