Ah, the creative.
You little neurotic creature you. I can hear the gears in your head turning right now my goodness. You have all these ideas in your head, but sometimes you struggle getting the ideas across. All the creativity is there! That’s why you’re annoyed.
Why can’t you just put your stuff out there consistently with no hesitation? You know you’d eventually become successful if you just put your stuff out there.
And you do. But you’re up and down. You go through bursts of inspiration, creativity, and productivity, but then you go through slumps and feel like quitting altogether.
That’s the disheartening part about the life of a creative — so many of them quit when success is simply a product of not quitting. Unless you have no talent, which happens but is rare, you just have to work hard and wait.
But you go through these slumps and most of you end up quitting.
I don’t want you to quit. Creating stuff for a living is as awesome as you think it is. Let me help you get there. If you’re in a slump, let’s break you out of it right now.
Each piece of art, each blog post, each video, each creation, is simply another ‘data point’ in your career. You should focus on becoming a prolific creator, period. That way, you build enough of a sample size to make judgments on the overall quality of your work. There’s no way to know how inherently good each piece is.
I’ve had articles go viral that made me think to myself, “Really, that one?” Not that I think any of my pieces are bad, but I’m never able to predict which ones are home runs. Usually, when I’m certain I have a home run, it isn’t one. Why? Because I cared too much. I tried too hard.
You’re not going to like my answer because it’s vague, but you have to try hard to make good art without being a perfectionist. Well, you could be a perfectionist, but are you cut out for it? Can you hide from the world and spend five years crafting a book like Robert Greene? Maybe, but do you want to? Personally, I don’t. I’d rather try to write 5 very good books instead. Life’s too short for me to make such long-term bets. But that’s just me.
In your case, if you’re not putting your stuff out there you’re overanalyzing. And counterintuitively, you move further away from your goals by doing this. One, no one can see your work if you don’t put it out there. Two, a carefree attitude and free creative expression comes across in your work. Does it ever seem like I’m straining super hard to get your approval with my writing? No, because I’m not. And that’s why you like it.
Creating great art is the equivalent of being cool. The more you try to be cool, the less cool you are. Stop trying to be the next great artist and ship your damn work, will ya?
Often, the act of physically doing the act of creation itself, without trying to make it good, can lead to a creative breakthrough. Take writing for example.
When some writers feel writer’s block, they tend to sit there and think about writing instead of actually, you, know, writing. Sometimes, if you sit down and physically start placing your hands on a keyboard, some good ideas will come out.
When I feel stuck, I’ll sit down and start typing a sentence like “I really don’t feel like writing now. Ugh. This is all going to suck, but I’m going to keep going anyway.” And I’ll write like this until something good comes from it. Then, I’ll delete the gibberish and start the real blog post.
The mind-body connection is real. The act of creation can lead to creativity.
When you physically perform the act of your creative medium it sends a subconscious signal to your brain — “you’re writing!” “you’re painting!” “you’re recording!” Your subconscious isn’t accurate. It just makes these vague educated guesses. It can’t tell whether or not your work is good, but it knows you’re doing it.
This physical activity creates muscle memory just like working you. And the analogy is perfect. People who are too tired to work out don’t understand that the solution is to work out. That’s the only way to solve the problem. Same with being creatively stuck. You won’t be able to think your way out of it.
Build those creative muscles.
When it comes to creativity, momentum is almost always your best friend, which is why I bring up the next point.
I don’t believe in burnout. I’ve been writing for five years on an almost daily basis and I’ve never burned out. Why? Because I paint the proper context over what I’m doing. I actually like writing. Burning out on writing is like burning out on having fun with family and friends. Impossible.
If you would just choose a creative medium you enjoyed and focused on iterative practice, gaining quick wins along the way, you’d never burn out. Your inconsistency and hesitation burn you out. At a certain point you have to decide whether or not you want to do this because if you want to make a living as a creative of any kind, you’re going to need to create a metric shit ton of creations to succeed.
Stepping away from your craft almost never leads to more creativity down the road for a few reasons.
You don’t have a sustained habit. The only people who deserve to take breaks from their craft are usually the ones who don’t take breaks. They’ve developed such a high-level skillset over a long enough period of time that they can afford to take a break without losing their skills.
Most, 99 percent, of aspiring creatives fall into the camp of total beginners. If you’re a total beginner, you can’t afford to lose any momentum. Even if you’re intermediate, you don’t know enough yet to lose the momentum you’ve gained so far.
You need to develop resiliency and strength. I remember going through phases early in my career where it seemed like everything I wrote sucked. I’d start and stop tons of articles.
I have half-written drafts of entire books sitting on hard drives of old computers. That period of time where I still doubted myself but pressed on anyway solidified the career I have now. I got frustrated, but I never seriously contemplated quitting nor did I burn out because I knew things would work out eventually.
Most people quit too early because they haven’t bridged the taste gap. Knowing you’re not that good yet but still committing to the craft can be one of the most painful periods in your career, but also the most beneficial.
I’ve stolen and used this technique from James Altucher for the past five years and doing it over and over again almost permanently keeps me from having creative slumps altogether.
His idea? Very simple. Write down 10 new ideas every single day — could be ideas about your craft & specific field, random ideas for things in your life, or ideas that can help and benefit other people. Getting in the habit of coming up with new ideas keeps your “idea muscle” strong.
Noticing a theme yet?
Activity itself is worthwhile, even if you don’t consider it super productive activity. Usually, when I write down 10 ideas, eight of them suck. Are the eight ideas wasted? No. They’re the reason I came up with two good ones.
Writing down new ideas, in general, helps me form the identity of a person who comes up with ideas. Get it? After writing roughly 15,000 new ideas down on paper, it’s almost impossible to look at myself as some creatively stifled person.
If you wrote 10 ideas a day for the next 365 days, you’d have 3,650 ideas.
What if just one percent of those ideas were good? You’d have ~37 solid ideas to work on. Would you have an amazing year as a writer if you published 37 amazing blog posts? Yes. Could you build a career as an artist creating 37 amazing pieces per year? Hell yeah.
Out of the massive pool of ideas you create over a lifetime, a handful of really amazing ideas can shift the trajectory of your career.
Actively generating ideas also adds another unintended benefit. You get your idea muscle to start working in your subconscious mind and it kicks in during times when you’re not focused on your craft.
You’ve had moments like this. Ideas hit you out of nowhere while:
The key? Capture the ideas you come up with “in the void” so you can use them later when you’re focused on your craft. Some people keep a pen and paper handy on them at all times (I almost always do).
If you don’t want to go analog, you always have your smartphone. Just open up the “notes” feature on your phone and jot down the ideas for later.
Some advise to create instead of consume.
I advise to create and consume at the same time.
You need the right input to create amazing output. For me? That’s doing things like reading, both about the subject matter I write about and resources that help me learn the skill of writing itself — copywriting books, persuasion books, books and blog posts about writing techniques.
I also feed my brain indirectly by consuming content and art that inspires me. I visit art Museums, watch movies and really try to dig into how the movie was created, e.g, observing the lighting, score, camera angles, etc., travel to beautiful locations, and in general, try to have more amazing experiences I can draw from to use in my craft.
I tend to look at almost everything as material, as a resource I can use to become a better writer.
Regardless of the craft you chose, you should draw inspiration from everywhere, even the seemingly mundane. It seems a little robotic and formulaic to look at every moment in your life as a means to an end, but you need all the motivation you can get to sustain a career as any kind of artist, right? Our road isn’t an easy one.
As an artist, you’re like a vehicle on that road. You need fuel.
What fuel are you putting into your mind? Are you actively cultivating it or just waiting for inspiration to strike?
If you’re a writer, go to your favorite writer’s blog and see how old their archives are.
Some of my favorites:
Settle in friend. This is going to take a while.
I did the same thing for YouTube channels since that’s a new platform I’m working on. Most of my favorite creators have a decade under their belt.
You’d never get into a creative slump if you realized how long success takes. Each individual act of creation wouldn’t be such a huge deal. Why are you fretting over a little blog post, video, or painting when you know you have multiple decades left in your career?
Chill out and do the work. It accumulates. I’m 105 videos and 8 months deep into YouTube and it feels like it just sort of…happened. I’ve been writing for five years and must have written at least a million words. I’m committed for life.
If you do the work long enough, you’ll be committed for life, too. Creative slumps permanently erased.