A Road Map to Unlocking Your Creativity

photo courtesy of annie spratt via unsplash

For a long time, I didn’t think of myself as particularly creative. I was not a crafty child, always too critical of the way my projects turned out looking versus how I wanted them to look. I considered myself useless when it came to paints, clay, or any amount of decorating. My perfectionist qualities popped up early on and, sadly, the joy I got from making “pointless” and imperfect art started to fade from there.

That’s not to say I never created. I often lost myself in constructing stories and exploring the weird and fantastical worlds in my mind. I took up knitting on and off through the years, finding peace in the meditational act of making knot after knot and ending up with something wonderful.

I still didn’t consider myself creative for two reasons. First, my writing and knitting only ever came in bursts and splotches of inspiration, and if I ended up with something I deemed less than perfect, I’d often take a long break until I felt inspired once again. Second, I was constantly comparing myself to other creators. I saw my friends thrive and excel at their own creative pursuits and felt ashamed of my accomplishing anything less. If what they did was considered creativity, then what I was doing certainly couldn’t be called the same thing. So I thought.

I see all of that as pretty silly now. I recognize that I am creative. Have always been. The real roadblocks to my creativity were not that I wasn’t good enough or didn’t have enough inspiration, it was that I was constantly comparing myself and my process to others, and that I was waiting for inspiration to hit instead of just starting.

To get out of this funk, I had to start over from square one, focus on the process rather than the outcome, and begin creating regularly without judgement. I’d like to share that journey with you (get ready for, like, a lot of travel metaphors), and give you some tips and tricks for discovering your own creativity. Because I believe we’re all creative. Sometimes, we just need a little extra direction. I hope you’ll find this useful. Prepare for the ride.

Get A Map And Choose a Destination

First step in the journey is to get a map and figure out where you want to go. Start considering your options for what medium you’d like to explore. Did you really enjoy a pottery class in high school? Do you swoon over watercolors? Do you like to spend a little extra time putting the finishing touches on a delicious baked good? If you have things you’re naturally drawn to, great – begin the journey there!

That said, don’t limit yourself to things you think you should do, places you think you should go. Part of the journey toward more creativity is being open to and curious about trying new things. So if you like the idea of making jewelry but have always been intimidated by the process, consider just learning more about it, and see if learning the basics sparks something in you. Don’t put a cap on your creativity, or cross things off of your map before you even begin your journey. Because giving yourself permission to create is crucial to learning to be creative.

Get Your Supplies and Pack Your Bags

Before you go on a trip you need to do your research about where you’re going and figure out what you’ll need to pack. Of course you can jump in and begin without doing too much work, but if you want to make a smooth and easy transition and not end up in Iceland in the middle of winter wearing shorts and sandals, or in this case, trying to knit a sweater using chopsticks, a little research can go a long way.

Don’t be afraid to read books, articles, watch videos or take classes to get started on your creative pursuit. When I first found myself getting more into design, I had to do a lot of un-learning of preconceived notions I had of myself and my ability to design something I liked. I wanted to know how to do it. I simply didn’t know where to start. Taking a class despite knowing that a lot of creativity comes from doing and experimentation helped me to find that starting place.

There are so many options online. I took a few classes on Skillshare to help me get started on my creative journey with home design, and I know there are plenty other classes, articles, YouTube videos, etc. on the basics whatever creative pursuit you’re going for. Don’t hesitate to check them out.

Find Your Fellow Travelers

Traveling solo can be fun and fulfilling and necessary sometimes, but getting the chance to travel with others can be equally as invigorating and rewarding. The same goes for exploring creativity. A lot of creative pursuits are solitary activities. Things like writing, painting, and calligraphy are technically things you can do alone… but you really don’t need to.

Whenever I’m feeling my most creative and doing the majority of my creative work it’s because I’m surrounding myself with creative people, reading books about my topic, thinking about it a lot, and engaging with other people doing the same. When it comes to creativity, I think one of the most important things is to make sure you have an input, so that you can have something to output.

I experience this personally as a writer by making sure I am constantly reading. When I’m engaging with other people’s writing and communicating and brainstorming with other writers (input), then I feel like I’m at my creative peak, and able to make work and spend time in my creativity more easily than before (output).

Engage with others doing the things you’re hoping to do. Whether this be through YouTube, Reddit, following people on Instagram, joining a group on Facebook, picking up books and magazines, taking classes and attending workshops by people doing whatever you’re interested in (virtual or in-person when it’s safe to again). This will breed inspiration, making sure that your creative pursuits are on your mind, which will make you want to make time for it instead of pushing it off.

Begin Your Journey

If you know where you’re going, you’ve done your research, gathered your supplies and have found people to travel with, you’ve got nothing left but to begin the journey. And it’s probably not going to start out perfectly. Look, your first attempts at any creative pursuits are probably going to be… pretty bad (speaking for myself here as I remember the first hat I ever knit…). And that’s normal and fine. Not all trips are ideal anyway. You get sick on the first day. You realize you forgot to pack enough underwear. It rains every day of your beach vacation. Things don’t go exactly as planned all the time, and with creativity, I think it’s important to lean into this.

Whenever I feel insecure about my writing abilities or get frustrated with how a knitting project is looking, I make a promise to myself: I will continue to work on this project, but I will allow myself to be bad at it. I was first introduced to this idea by Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird where she talks about writing “shitty first drafts” before you end up with a good second draft and a terrific third draft. This easily applies to other creative pursuits as well. No matter what, when you start, you’re not going to be the best at something. And honestly, not worrying about how good you are in comparison to other people makes the act of creating so much more fun.

Working with kids has helped me be able to internalize this a lot more too. Kids don’t give a shit about how good they are with something – they just scribble a stick figure on their piece of paper and call it a masterpiece. I feel like we could all do with having some more of this childlike confidence and delight with what we create no matter the outcome. Besides, even if you do attempt to make something bad, chances are it will have more gems to mine out of it than you realized. And the age old wisdom still stands: the more you practice, the more you improve.

Be Open To Unplanned Exploration

When traveling, I find it’s good to have a list of places you want to go and things you want to do, but there’s definitely a sweet spot between planning enough and planning too much. If you feel like you aren’t enjoying yourself when you’re traveling, then it’s probably a good idea to switch up your plan and do something else. The same goes for creativity when you find yourself getting stuck.

So much of creating is about getting out of your head and allowing yourself to be present with what you’re doing, trusting your judgement and letting things flow. I find that when I’m struggling to get out of my head and create, one of the most useful things I can do it to physically get outside and walk, hike, sit, run, whatever.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Sit down and people watch. Bring a little notebook and write things down or doodle or keep track of how many different kinds of birds you see. Notice, notice, notice. Anything. Eventually you’ll find that the more you do this, the better attuned you are with what’s around you, which can certainly help with inspiration.  You don’t necessarily have to try and search for inspiration (and in fact, I find searching for it to be a surefire way to not find it), but just observe things as they are. Be patient and eventually that spark of creativity will return and the only thing left to do is create.

I hope these tips help you get a start on being more creative. How do you keep the creative spark going? Do you use any of these methods or something else I didn’t mention?