In his book, On Writing Well, author William Zissner says, “I don't like writing, I like having written”.
Such brutal honesty is so refreshing, isn't it?
Why do creative people feel such guilt and shame about admitting that sometimes the process just sucks?
I don’t always love working out, but I do it anyway because I don’t want to look in the mirror and say, “ewww”. So I throw myself out of bed and I get my lazy ass to the gym at least three days a week. So it makes sense that even successful artists lack inspiration and motivation to create.
If you’re anything like I am, you probably have at least a few boxes of art supplies laying around. Maybe under your pile of mail from last week is a sketchbook that you had every intention of filling up. I have a ukulele that seems to have turned into wall decor rather than an instrument of coolness as I had planned.
Inspiration doesn't have to feel like a nostalgic relic of the past though. Even on those days where you're like, “oh helllll no”, you can find ways to get up and make inspirational artwork.
Play more to break artist block.
Psychologist Carl Jung said, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”
When we were kids, life revolved around play. We identified ourselves as soccer players and skateboarders and gymnasts. Play is how we connected to others. When you were six, I’ll bet that you didn’t meet new friends on the playground and ask what they did for a living.
Somewhere around our mid-twenties, we find validation and importance elsewhere. We measure our success by money, title, and status rather than how happy we are.
We have more important things to do now, or so we tell ourselves. Listen, I have three little kids, I get it. However, we need to let our inner child have fun or our ability to be creative will suffer.
This doesn’t just affect artists. If your job relies on your ability to come up with new ideas, think abstractly, or problem solve than you can’t afford to let go of play-time or you will lose your edge. Even if your job involves manual labor or punching keys at a cash register, adding some play to your life will make the dull seem more fun.
Ancient philosopher, Heraclitus said in 500 BC, “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
I’m not saying you have to go join a kickball league, although if that sounds fun, then do it. Finding play-time doesn’t have to be a major commitment. Just giving yourself 5-15 minutes a day to dance in the shower or doodle on your paperwork will make you feel a little more alive.
We inherited my wife’s Grandmom’s piano a year or so ago. I always wanted to play but never stuck with it. Now that we have this beautiful piano in the house, I give myself 5-15 minutes a few days a week to mess around.
Is playing some Beatles tunes and a melody from Dr. Dre making me a better person? Maybe not, but I love it and I feel more creative when I step away from the keys.
By committing to up your play-time, you will tell the universe that you are receptive for new ideas and willing to collaborate. When you can see play-time as productive and necessary and not a waste of time, you will see your inspiration become more consistent.
Find your style by copying art.
The more comfortable you are with your craft, the more that your pencil or drum sticks become an extension of yourself. One great way to build that fluidity in your process is to copy the work of someone better than you.
I’m not talking about plagiarizing an author or selling fakes of an artist’s work. Please don’t do that. There’s this guy in Morocco selling counterfeits of my art for more than a decade and it’s really annoying, but that’s another story.
It’s hard to come up with your own style when you’re first starting out. You didn’t learn to speak on your own until you copied your parent’s words. Similarly, a great way to broaden your artistic vocabulary is to copy someone who’s already fluent in your medium. This will allow you to work at your own pace while having a way to measure your progress.
Working in someone else’s style will force you to ask why they did it this way? When you mess up, and you will, you can compare your work to theirs and in doing so you will learn from your mistakes.
This is a great way to raise the bar for your work. The more proficient you become at doing other people’s songs and paintings, the more you’ll want to put your own spin on it. You’ll start to see alternate methods and eventually, you’ll find a style that’s all your own that will no longer be a copy.
Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “When you draw or paint a tree, you do not imitate the tree; you do not copy it exactly as it is, which would be mere photography. To be free to paint a tree or a flower or a sunset, you have to feel what it conveys to you: the significance, the meaning of it. “
Start seeing and hearing the world through a new lens and watch how your own unique style comes when you least expect it.
Meditate to tap into a deeper creative state.
Meditation is a lot like play in that it reconnects you to your true self. Meditation for the beginner may seem boring or stressful, but with some routine practice, it can unlock your creative potential.
It’s hard to hear the ideas that the universe is whispering to us when all we can hear is our own damn minds reminding us what we have to accomplish today.
Artistic inspiration is always there. We don’t have to find inspiration so much as we have to remove the dirt from the windows of our soul.
Spiritual teach Deepak Chopra said, “Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”
Meditation doesn’t need to take an hour or two a day. I have found that a practice of 10 minutes a day can really boost creativity and help me to stay present. With a few months of daily practice, you will really feel the difference and see your creative process develop.
I used to rely on drugs and alcohol to change my state before I paint, but now, I much more so rely on meditation and proper nutrition and sleep. I am now able to naturally clear my mind and prepare for inspiration and it’s more consistent too.
Prepare your art studio or creative space.
I love to juice vegetables and fruit. We have this amazing juicer that we’ve been using for ten years that can grind up kale, ginger and carrots in just a few minutes.
The thing is though, I’ve noticed that if I don’t have the juicer sitting on the kitchen counter, I don’t use it so much. Walking 10 feet to the pantry to get it feels like a mile. I’m lazy. You probably are too.
This is why I have spent years setting up my art studio in the most efficient and convenient way possible. My paints are organized by color and medium. All of my brushes are within reach, organized by size, type and shape. My colored pencils are in mason cars lined up by color and my art books are stacked on my bookshelf by genre and type.
When an idea hits me, I can quickly get in the zone because there’s no delay or procrastination caused by finding all of my stuff. This is also why I have my guitars out of their cases in several rooms of my house.
If you don’t feel inspired anymore, ask yourself, “How can I make this even more convenient?” Take some time to set up your supplies and space. Clean your desk, set up some candles, burn some palo santo wood, buy a label maker and approach your creativity as though it really mattered.
Make your space beautiful and act like you give a crap. Your muse will feel romanced and appreciate the effort and ideas will start to visit you again.
Expect to suck at art & be ok with it.
Writing is hard. Painting is hard. Playing music is hard.
Even decades after doing your thing, you’re going to experience moments of feeling like you completely suck. This is good. This means that you’re pushing yourself out of the comfort zone and trying new things.
Creativity is all about trying new things. New is always hard and it’s suppose to be hard too. So if your process feels difficult still, congratulations, it means that you’re pushing boundaries.
When you can learn to accept that you’re going to be lousy at it, you can approach creativity with less expectations and just have fun. Let it feel like play again, which as I’ve noted above is also necessary.
Most paintings I’ve made, even the ones that I’ve sold for five figures and the ones that have landed on magazine covers, have felt painfully awful at some point in the process. This is normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to paint or write, or play guitar without any difficulty and that’s ok.
My good friend Karen Rinaldi wrote a book recently about this notion, it’s titled “It’s Great To Suck At Something”. She argues that we are so geared towards success, that we have developed this fear of looking foolish.
So when we approach something new, we try to dominate it. In doing so, we diminish our own lives because we can’t stand knowing that we can’t command every aspect of our lives. Rinaldi writes, “We spend more than enough time hawking our strengths…What would happen if we just lived with our complete imperfect selves?”
Art is a hobby to some, a profession for others and a way to decorate our lives with inspiration and love. Whatever art is for you, I encourage you to prioritize your creativity for a week and see what happens.
If you’d like more, I offer Creative Coaching for groups and individuals and my first book will be out this summer. I talk about these types of creative topics in detail and share mindsets and lessons that have allowed me to make my childhood dreams a reality.
I’d love to hear what you think. Leave comments below or message me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.