Posts Tagged ‘you’re not creative’

One of the creative lies a lot of people believe is that they’re just not disciplined enough to do what they need to do. I don’t believe this is correct. Oh I have no doubt they may struggle to get things done, but I doubt it’s because they lack discipline. They have discipline. I bet they meet deadlines at work. I bet they pay their bills on time. I bet the things that are genuinely important to them get done on time. It’s not really a matter of discipline, but rather one of priority. If you’re one of these people, I’m not trying to beat you up here. I thoroughly understand how life happens and how sometimes our creative projects get forced to the back burner. If that’s you, this is not a beating. My purpose in writing this is to eliminate false creative beliefs and lack of discipline is often if not usually one of those.

So let’s start there. If you’re not blessed to make your living from your creativity, there will be times when the necessities of life squeeze out your time to create. This is probably not a lack of discipline. You’re doing what must be done and your creation can’t be priority one right now. It’s okay. Just try to find some time and work it in as often as you can. Break the project down into small, but meaningful steps and chip away at it until its done. Yes this may make for a long drawn out creative process, but claim the small victories in each step being completed and enjoy the journey. That in itself is discipline. I feel the need to do a little aside here. Remember, you need to rest, your creativity and your health will suffer if you don’t. Also remember family time matters. Don’t push the people you love to the back burner to reach your goals. After all, it’s supposed to be them, at least in part, that you’re doing this for.

But let’s suppose that’s not the case, you have the time, you just don’t feel like doing it. I have a couple of questions you need to answer:

1. Why don’t you want to accomplish this goal?
At the end of the day we do what we want to do. So if you’re not finishing it, maybe it’s not your dream or your goal. If this is the case, it may be time to reassess your priorities and passions and lay it aside in favor of something you’ll want to actually finish. Now if you’re saying, “…but I do want to finish my project I do want to accomplish this goal.” then we’ll need to look at the remaining questions.
2. Have you lost passion for it?
Maybe this project really fired your imagination in the beginning, but as time has worn on, you just aren’t into it anymore. Maybe conditions have changed. Maybe you got so far and realized it will never work. Whatever the reason, maybe it’s time to can the project and move on. I can’t answer this for you, but I will say this. If this is a pattern for you, finish that project before moving on.
3. Is it more difficult than you thought?
In our society, people seem to be drawn to things that are easy and things that become difficult are often easy to ditch. Let me try to discourage you from ditching. If it was easy everyone would create what you’re creating. The ones who stick with it and finish are the ones who generally succeed. The rest kick themselves when someone else succeeds at what they gave up. Don’t give up. Enlist help, collaborate, find a few people who believe in your dream and get them to help you.
4. Are you stuck?
Sometimes even the best creatives get stuck. They take the project as far as they can and there comes a point where they can’t move it any further. They’re stuck. If you get to this point, there are ways around it. As mentioned earlier, if this is a creative block, start another project. This is different from giving up in that, this project is what you work on when you get stuck on your primary project. The reason for this is really simple. We often get stuck because we’ve been on something too long. So long that we can’t see our way around the problems anymore. Jumping to a second project when this happens will allow you to think on something else for a while which will generally serve to unblock your mind.
I have a lot more to say on this… tune in tomorrow.

YOURENOTCOVEROkay I will give a caveat here. Some realms of creativity are best done alone. Painting a painting, writing a book, these are things often done alone. For the most part however creativity requires a team (even the things above, but I’ll get to that). One of my favorite types of TV is reality TV. No not the Kardashian’s, or the “Real” Housewives, or Toddlers in Tiaras, those things will rot your brain and tend to generate (and encourage) terrible people. No the reality shows I like are the competition shows and especially the creative competitions. If there are people creating things and getting voted off, I want to see it. I love to see people create cool stuff under pressure. Of course there is one aspect that is always frustrating for the contestants and even me as a viewer and that is the team competitions. Everyone hates the team competitions. Everyone is wrong.

You see every creative effort, sooner or later requires a team and so every creative needs to learn how to lead a team and how to play well with others. When you join a team, you win some things and you lose some things. What you lose is creative control. All of the sudden your vision has to flex to the gifts, talents and contributions of the team. While one person should surely lead the project, it is almost always a mistake to ignore what the others bring to the table.

What do you gain? What everyone else brings to the table. How many times have you been working on a solo creative project and hit a wall? You get to the point in the project where you are leaving your strengths and heading into your weaknesses and you realize, one of two things. You’re either completely stuck and can’t move forward—stay here and the project dies—or you get begin to realize you’re spending most of the time working in your weaknesses. To get the project all the way home almost always requires more than you. Smart creatives know their weakness and surround themselves with people who are strong where they are weak.

Earlier I mentioned the artist and the writer who work alone and that’s great, but what to do when the creating is done. The artist needs someone to sell her work. They need someone to contact the galleries, get the commissions, perhaps frame the work, etc. Now she may be able to do all those things themselves but all the time she spends on those other activities is time she’s not spending doing what they do best. She needs a team. The writer may write his own book, solo, but to go to print without a fresh set of eyes reading and editing it is a huge mistake. Trust me I know. This is not to mention the work of publishing, distributing. A creative is never stronger than his or her team. Your team can do the things you can’t do, They an help you over the roadblocks and hurdles. They can provide fresh ideas. They can see your creations more objectively and at times they save us from ourselves. The best teams thrive on what we call drudgery and allow us to do our best work.

Look for the people who are strong where you are weak because no creative is an island. Creativity is a team sport. Who is on your team?

Excerpt from my upcoming book, You’re Not Creative and Other Lies You Probably Believe About Creativity

YOURENOTCOVERAn excerpt from my book “You’re Not Creative, and Other Lies You Probably Believe About Creativity. Coming soon.

Part of all of this (picking projects) is picking the right opportunities. One thing you will find, especially if your dream is in the arts is there are a lot of people who will want you to do things for exposure, and no pay. Some creatives are against this completely. They point out, rightfully so, that you would never ask your doctor, your mechanic, etc. to do what they do for free in exchange for al the exposure you can give them. This is absolutely true, but I would also respectfully point out, that your doctor not only worked for free for a number of years, he paid tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity. It’s called an internship. I’m not saying you have to be an intern, or that you have to work for free, but some experiences are worth their weight in gold. How many professional actors spent years working for free in community theater? How many writers give away tons of their work on blogs and other venues for the sole purpose of building they skills? I know this one has published thousands of posts for no other purpose than to help people and perfect my craft. The point is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with working for free sometimes if it will help you gain the experience you need to get paid.

You should however have some guidelines:
Will this project help someone who needs help? The key word in this sentence is needs. Is this a real need or is the person trying to get something for nothing. If it’s just someone who wants something for nothing, I would avoid the project, to do anything else just supports bad behavior. As a rule, those who can pay should pay. One of the best ways I have found to get these projects is to volunteer. Look for a cause you believe in and offer your services. Look for someone who could use what you do and offer to do a project just to show them what you can do. Volunteer for your church or civic group, a community theater. Look for a genuine need and fill it, then record what you have done, and use that as evidence of professional experience when looking for paying work.

Do it for yourself. I create thousands of pieces of art for free. Well they’re not really free, they’re work I’ve done on my own projects. I’ve illustrated books, written books, designed t-shirts and other products and put them out there for the world to see. To this point most of them have not generated tons of sales, but I have a huge body of work to show to potential clients and they have fulfilled my need to create. They are also out there constantly generating some residual income. I love these kinds of projects, because they have to potential to sell 24 hours a day seven days a week in perpetuity and they also help me to improve my craft.

Will I be proud to have someone else see this. For a long period of time early in my career, I did quite a bit of work for a licensee of the Ninja Turtles. It was a blast but economically probably not the best choice and the client was really unpredictable. I made a lot of mistakes in this assignment because I had stars in my eyes and figured this would be the client to make me rich and famous. Nonetheless to this day, no one can take away from me that I once worked on art related to this amazing property, it’s especially great to reference when I work with groups of children and young people, not to mention people who loved the Turtles when they were young. In the long run, the experience was highly beneficial.

There was another time though, that could have been hugely detrimental. I was flat broke and struggling when I got a call. The company wanted a cartoonist to design a computer screen saver. The payout would have been $10,000. Needless to say I went on the interview. When I arrived at the company, the first thing I noticed were a lot of nude photographs on the walls. As it turned out the project was to draw 1,000 pornographic cartoons. I would love to tell you that I turned them down flat and walked out of there with my head held high. The truth is I left there trying to rationalize a way that I could take the project on without violating my principles. The bottom line was I really needed the money. I thank God (quite literally) every time I think about that project that my wife and my faith won the day and I did not take the project. Had I taken it, the money would have been spent long ago, but there would still be a pornographic project out there with my name on it, and I would be ashamed of it, not to mention it would be detrimental to what I am doing now. You can bounce back from a bad project but in this type of work, it can always come back to haunt you. Choose your projects wisely. Some things are worth more than money.

YOURENOTCOVERAnother question to ask yourself is who will produce this idea. Who will take your idea and turn it into a tangible product. If it’s a one off product, like a work of art, or something that can be delivered digitally, you can most likely find a way to do it yourself. This book is an example, early in the writing process, my idea is to to self publish it and I have found the company online that can produce it and put it on the website of the largest retailer in the world. I plan to market it through my speaking engagements and online. Now I could also work with a regular publisher (and I still may make that decision). If I were to go that route, my first step would not necessarily be to write the whole book, but rather to create a book proposal and put that out to publishers who may be interested in this type of book. If I go that route, I have a better chance getting to a wider audience and into more major retailers. The downside is it will take close to a year to bring it out the public.

For most retail products, the way to go is to work with a manufacturer. If you go this route, the first step is to look for companies already manufacturing things in your space and then finding out how to submit ideas to them. Be warned, some will not accept outside submissions. Search out the ones that do. In some cases, it may be wise to have a patent in place, but be warned this can be costly. There are also some crowd sourced companies out there like that manufacture ideas and give you a percentage if you ca get enough online likes to get you into their consideration process. has a similar process in the world of design.

Speaking of design, In cases of design, like t-shirts and other products that we enhance with our art, words, etc. again there are a multitude of online companies that will produce your products for you in exchange for a percentage of the sale price. If you choose to submit your designs to companies and want to protect them, copyright is the usual vehicle, but be warned. You own the copyright to your design the second you create it (this also applies to written words, etc). The problem is copyright does not protect the idea, just your rendering of the design. I found this most distressing in the early days of my career, but have since come to realize that it is better (to my mind) to put my work out there and risk someone unethically taking the idea, than to keep it locked up here at home and never sharing it with the world. How you handle your ideas is up to you which brings us back to the point of this chapter.

The bottom line in all of this is you do have ideas, they are all around you, you just need to find them or create them and then find the way to move forward to the ultimate goal which is share it with the world.

YOURENOTCOVERSome ideas are just ahead of their time
I always remember the movie Big. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch. Tom Hanks plays a kid who was magically transformed into an adult. Through a series of events Hanks finds himself looking for a place to live, looking like a man but with the skills and experiences of about a twelve year old boy. By providence, he finds a job in research and development at a toy company where his child-like mind serves him very well. Finally he gets to pitch his own original toy idea. He goes with an electronic interactive comic book that will sell for about $20. The rest of the people laugh him out of the room and he realizes he needs to go back to being a kid. In the 80s when the movie came out, the idea of this interactive electronic book seemed absurd. Of course now we call it an iPad and pay 25 times that. Your idea might be like that. This is another reason why it is imperative that you find a way to record and store your ideas.

Are you too broad?
Another reason people think they don’t have any ideas is because they are looking too broadly. They are looking all over the universe to find that magic idea that will put them on the map. Sometimes it works, but most of the time we need to narrow it down and get really specific. Start with thinking about a problem that needs to be solved (remember problem solving is the essence of creativity), then brainstorm as many ideas as you can to solve it. Then work the process to find your best idea and do it.

Or maybe you’re wanting to create a product, let’s say a toy. Now as you well know the category of toys is practically a universe unto itself. You will probably need to narrow it down. Rather than say I want to make a toy, think of who will use it and what will they do with it. Maybe you want to create a toy that will teach a toddler the alphabet or a board game to be played by the whole family that will teach strategic thinking along with being just plain fun.

Ultimately asking yourself a few questions about who will use your product and what they will accomplish with it will take you a long way toward getting and then refining your idea.

YOURENOTCOVERSo you’ve now got a few workable ideas, what’s next? Well one possibility is to begin to share the idea. Do this very cautiously and only with people you trust. I’m not talking so much about having someone steal your idea here. That can happen but it usually doesn’t, so be cautious but not paranoid. No, what I’m talking about here is people killing your idea. At this early stage in the process, the idea is somewhat fragile. It’s not yet ready to stand up to harsh criticism or even some hard questions. Too many questions and criticisms in the early life of an idea, will take you to a negative place and may even make you give up, hence killing the idea.

What you need instead are people you can trust to be honest with you, but who can also help you to refine without killing. These are the people who can be both objective and visionary. They can imagine with you and dream with you while at the same time steering you away from something that is truly a bad idea (when you’re done brainstorming, bad ideas become real again). It should be a person that knows the area your idea will “live” in and who is willing to help you through the process or at least help you find the next steps.

You have to know who the right people are for each phase of an idea. I have some people who I will share an idea with right out of the box. They are visionary and are pretty good at dreaming past the flaws. Other people are better once you have most of the flaws figured out. By then your idea is pretty tough and can stand up to a little critique. The more concrete thinkers can help you smooth out the edges and get the thing ready to release to the world, or occasionally show you why it simply won’t work.

You have to let some ideas go

Don’t be afraid to stand up for your idea, after all if you don’t, no one will, but also don’t be blind to it’s weaknesses. Ideas can be like our children and sometimes we love them so much that we are the last ones to see their flaws. Here’s the thing your idea is not a child, it’s a thing but like a child it can cost you a lot of time and money. Children are always worth the investment, but the same cannot be said about every idea. Sometimes we have to let one idea go to develop something truly outstanding. Sometimes a harsh critic will save you a lot of time and resources in the long run. Remember time is the great equalizer, we all have the same 24 hours from the richest to the poorest person and ultimately how we invest those 24 hours may well be the difference between success and failure. Don’t be so in love with your idea that you waste your time on something that will never work.

YOURENOTCOVEROkay this is almost as bad as the original lie, that you’re not creative. Of course you have ideas, even the idea that you don’t have any ideas is, you guessed it, an idea. Ideas are everywhere. A lot of them are bad ideas, but they’re ideas nonetheless. Now when I talk about bad ideas (because I’m about to encourage you to have them), I want to be clear what I am not talking about. Criminal activity is a bad idea but it’s not what I’m talking about. Picking a fight with a ninja is a bad idea, I’m not talking about that either. I’m not talking about anything that will get you hurt, killed, incarcerated or that will destroy your key relationships or reputation.

I’m talking about ideas that will make people shake their heads. Those are all around you and they’re a great place to start. Why? Because not all bad ideas are really bad ideas. Some of them are actually the seed of a really great idea. Often, when we say we don’t have any ideas, what we really mean is we have ideas, but the inner critic or one of the billions of external critics has dismissed them as bad. We actually often talk ourselves our of things that could really be great for us and we have to stop doing that.

The way to overcome “having no ideas” is to brainstorm. Brainstorming is the act of coming up with as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can. I know what, you’re thinking (or at least I have an idea, see what I did there?). You’re thinking”…but my problem is I don’t have any ideas.” I refuse to believe that. What you mean is you don’t have any good, feasible ideas, and that may be true, but in thinking that, you are overlooking the first rule of brainstorming, which is, at this phase, there are no bad ideas. When you brainstorm, you turn off the inner critic and silence the outer ones and you record EVERY idea—every last one—good bad or indifferent. You’ll refine later, but for now, write them all down. Do your best not to edit yourself or dismiss anything at all. This is al about getting as many ideas as you can.

Now, and this is important, once you have all the ideas together, look at them as open-mindedly as you can. Some of the worst ones will start to filter out, but some others that at first glance seemed improbable are probably starting to trigger imagined possibilities. Highlight these for further study. What will eventually happen is the winning ideas will start to surface. These are the ones you will develop further. What do you do with the rest? File them, you never know what will surface in the process of development.

YOURENOTCOVER(An excerpt from my new book You’re Not Creative… and Other Lies You Probably Believe About Creativity coming this Fall from AMOKBooks.)
Ultimately this is what it all comes down to. People start to believe they simply can’t be creative. They start to believe that creativity is for other people, at best they relegate themselves to the audience at worst they give up completely. Maybe you heard the person tell you that you don’t have talent or that you’re not good enough. These are some of the most painful destructive lies of all because these are the ones that make you give up. They say you don’t have the right look or the right style of the right whatever. It’s not your fault, you just weren’t born for this. It’s all a lie. First of all, remember what we’re about in this book. I’m not necessarily trying to make you an artist of any stripe, unless that’s what you want to be. I’m trying to help you to overcome the lies that stand between you and a fantastic creative life. Creativity is about so much more than the arts. It’s first and foremost about solving problems and creating better lives and for that, you are enough.

We’ve already touched on this numerous times in this volume, but you have what it takes to be creative. You have no doubt already come up with hundreds of creative solutions to many problems, but no one ever called it our as creativity so you went through life wrongly thinking that you’re not creative. SO let me say it again. You are creative. You have what it takes and you are enough at least to get started on your creative journey. To believe anything less is to deprive yourself of the kind of life you could have and to deprive the world of your genius and trust me when I say, you have genius too, but one step at a time.

If you’ve went beaten down by the creative process, the best thing you can do is start to create. For many people this is an artistic endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be. If you decided to create artistically, please know your first attempts will rarely be stellar and you have to be okay with that. There is no substitute for practice and paying your dues. Take advantage of opportunities to create and if you don’t find any, make your own. This also applies to those who do not wish to be creative artistically. Every problem is an opportunity to be creative. Find a problem you think needs solving and work to solve it. Again, your first ideas may not be great. They may not work at all. That barely matters, as we’ll see int next chapter. What matters is that you started. You heard that voice that said “You’re not enough.” told it to go jump in a lake and did something. That is the first step in any creative process. You start creating, share your creations with the world, knowing not everyone will like it, telling the haters to go jump in a lake with that first voice, and finding the ones who resonate with what you do. You will touch them. You will bless them and you will find out that you have more than enough of what it takes to have an impact on someone else.

You are enough, so start!

YOURENOTCOVERI say it here a lot, but failure is part of the creative process and a necessity to creative success. After all the only people who never fail are God and people who never try anything new. Since we’re not God and creativity is all about trying new things, failure is inevitable. PERIOD! Since failure is part of the creative life, we creatives need to learn to fail forward.

The first step is to start ,and fear of failure keeps more people from starting than any of us will ever know, largely because these great things they should have started never made it out of their imagination. Once you have started, the next step is to finish, but before you’re completely finished, it’s a good idea to take the idea far enough so that someone else can see it and share it. This might be a drawing or a mock up, maybe even a prototype, depending on what you do. The idea here is to get some feedback before you’ve invested tons of time and money in something that is not going to work, because nothing crushes the creative spirit faster than an epic fail (especially if other people’s money is involved.)

Please note I am not necessarily talking about sharing this half formed idea with the world and certainly not with people who are consistently nay sayers, but with a couple of visionary people (you should be building this group if you haven’t already) who can look at an idea and see potential. The main thing with this group of people is that they can be constructive. In some cases one or two will not see it yet. Most of the time, this is not yet time to put on the brakes. If everyone sees too many fatal flaws, it may be time to scrap the idea, but more than likely, it’s just time to go back to the drawing board and work out through the flaws. By the way, I am not a fan of scrapping any ideas. There are some ideas that may just be miles ahead of their time and the rest of the world, technology, etc. may just not have caught up yet.

Now suppose everyone thinks your idea is the best thing since sliced bread (what did they say before sliced bread was invented?), what do you do next? The obvious answer is to finish it and make the thing real. Here we need to set a deadline. When will you release your project? Set a realistic deadline and stick with it. Here’s why. Fear of failure is still out there and at this stage it manifests in endless tweaking rather than what must be done. What’s that? It needs to be released, It needs to be shipped. It needs to be shared with the world however that happens in your world. You send the manuscript to the editor. You release the song. You perform the play. You hang your painting in the gallery or wherever you put your work.

Here’s the thing, even with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, there will still be times where your work will flop. You will still fail. What to do then? Learn and move forward. If your work is flawed, fix it and try again. If it feels hopeless, put it aside and start the next thing, remembering you’re not a failure, you just tried something and it didn’t work (for now). For scientists, this is called an experiment. Thank God they don’t quite when one of those fails because they fail by the millions daily. They learn from what didn’t work, and try something new. We creatives have to do the same thing. While focus is huge, you should always have another idea on the back burner. The reason is simple. We get invested in what we do, sometimes so invested that we will wallow in a failure and give up. The only fatal failure is the one that makes you quit. Don’t do it. Get right back on the proverbial horse and start again. Fail forward until eventually you succeed…

and you will succeed.

YOURENOTCOVERWell, yes. I already listed several proofs on the previous page but the basic proof is pretty simple. If you have every solved a problem you’ve been creative. If you’ve ever had an original thought, you’re creative. If you’ve ever been lost and found your way home, you’re creative.

If as a child you played and used your imagination that was creative, but therein lies part of the problem. So many of us, if we don’t tie creativity exclusively to the arts, relegate creativity to the realm of childishness and act as if we need to put it away and grow up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes creativity is born in childhood and it should definitely should be nurtured there, but it should never (or at least very rarely) be put away. The fact of the matter is, as we grow up, as we get busier and our problems get more complex, creativity becomes more essential, not less. Oh, and by the way, as much of the developed world’s economy becomes less about manufacturing and more about generating ideas and new products, creativity will become more and more essential to earning a living. The MFA is quickly becoming the new MBA, and the business world needs more creatives than ever before.

Going back to childhood. Do you remember making up your own games, building forts and sand castles, making your own toys or adapting them to be used in new ways, even making toys out of rocks, sticks, our fingers, even making up nicknames and those rude little “…sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” jingles we all made up. These were the seeds of creativity. We all made art. We all sang songs, Many of us created and acted out our own stories, skits and plays. We played with puppets, made up new songs and just generally found ways to amuse ourselves. No one told us to do it. It came naturally. Essentially, you were born creative, artistic, etc. So what happened?

Well a couple things probably. Maybe you got a bad grade on a project, or you saw someone who was better than you, or someone told you, you’ll never make a living doing that and before long you got the idea that creativity and the arts were the realm of a chosen few that we deemed talented. These anointed few would make the cool stuff and for the rest of us, growing up meant doing something menial or boring, living for weekends and vacations, wishing our lives away until the ultimate panacea, retirement, when we can finally get around to doing the things we enjoy.

But wait a minute. What if we missed it? What if those things we love to do, those things that make life meaningful and fulfilling were actually what we’re supposed to be doing all along. What if the things we enjoy are a window into our souls showing us what we were created to do. You say well there’s no path to that. Maybe there isn’t, but maybe you could get creative and blaze one. What I don’t want you to do is read this and begin to lament over wasted time. No experience no matter how good or bad is wasted if we lear from it. What I want and what I hope to accomplish with this book is to get you to dig up your creativity, bury your fears, burn your regrets, stop believing the lies and start to create the life you have always envisioned.

So yes, you are creative. You just have to embrace that FACT, and start something. Not sure what to start? Go back to that list of ideas you created yesterday and find the one that makes your heart sing. Then take the first step toward making it real.

You know what they call making an idea become real, don’t you.

It’s called creating!