Being creative is as much a skill as it is a practice, and a process. It’s a shapeshifting rollercoaster, one you must feed and water and stretch. Struggling creatively is part of the experience. We allow ourselves to adapt to new challenges, and our style continues to evolve.
My creative practice includes photography, music and illustration. I went to college and graduate school for fine arts, earning my MFA in 2013. Since graduating, it’s taken work to maintain a fulfilling creative practice. This article outlines some tools I use to overcome burnout, self doubt, lack of direction, lack of motivation and more.
1 Review Your Toolbox
When you create, you combine technical expertise with personal touch. Everything you learn and experience plays into your style. Your specific skills and particular influences inform unspoken, nuanced qualities of your creations. This unique combination is yours and yours alone.
Make a list of the biggest inspirations of your life so far. Visual art, stories, songs, textiles, places. What first made you want to create? What abilities or techniques have you already learned to do? What sets you apart from other artists in your field?
2 Find New Inspirations
Comparison is your enemy. Inspiration is your friend. The key difference between these two things is your attitude. I find it helpful to compartmentalize inspiration; I only look at beautiful content when I am in a researching, curious mood. I do not look at beautiful content when I am feeling bad about my own work.
So, if you are in the right headspace to view inspiring work: where do you find it? Social media? Print media? In my opinion, there is nothing better to inspire than the outside world. Outside in nature, thrift stores, book stores, museums, art openings. The point is to be open to inspiration wherever you go.
3 Write to Your Audience
As artists it’s normal to be stubborn and uncompromising in your vision and style. You may not create for other people, but if you’re sharing with the world, you are certainly trying to speak to certain people, or share a specific message.
Are you trying to build community, connect with friends you already have? Are you selling your work and trying to reach your ideal client? What are you trying to say? Who are you trying to reach? What is the best way to reach them?
4 Create a Work Environment
Where do you work best? Some people like working in public, surrounded by coworkers. Others prefer answering emails from bed. Would you prefer a desk at home, or a whole office/studio? How do you keep your supplies organized?
This video of artist Maria Pratts’ studio demonstrates that a “clean” workspace is not necessarily best for every artist. You get to figure out what works for you, and how to make it happen.
Creating an environment is also about setting a mood. Is there a special snack or drink that helps you focus? What about music and lighting?
My “work and inspiration” playlist is one of many I listen to while working.
5 Learn a New Technique
The first thing I remember wanting to learn was how to play guitar, but after a few years of playing I felt like my growth had plateaued. So I learned to play the keyboard. Then I learned to record my own music. With visual art, I started with photography. Next came painting, printmaking, drawing, and most recently drawing with a digital tablet!
New mediums can offer inspiration, keeping your sense of wonder high as you move through different parts of the process. You may feel like you have nowhere left to go with your most preferred medium; being a beginner again through trying something new can help guide you.
What are some artistic mediums or techniques you’ve always wanted to learn? Do you have any notebooks, instruments, cook books or collage materials laying around that you haven’t tried using yet? Can you think of a way to rethink your current approach?
6 Create a Routine
Once you’ve decided that you want to create, set up a routine around it to make sure you stick with it. Draw up a schedule. You could set aside the same block of time every day or a few days a week. Look for classes or groups that meet in person or online. Do a daily challenge on social media. Ask a friend to collaborate with you and set a deadline.
Eventually, your practice will be automatic; you will decide from day to day what you want to work on. You may end up with so much to do that your schedule fills up months in advance. When you’re first getting started, it’s about getting used to making time to create.
To make art, “You have to be possessed, which you can’t will,” says John Baldessari in this inspiring video. You can’t force yourself to be inspired, but it helps to have a pencil in hand when the ideas come.
7 Start and Finish All Your Ideas
Have you ever thought of something you want to create, but talked yourself out of starting it because you can’t imagine liking the final product? Or have you gotten started, but then became discouraged with your progress and quit before finishing?
Sometimes, I don’t like something I make until the very end. Even more often, I don’t appreciate what I’ve made until years later. Perspective is impossible to have while you are in the middle of something. You have to try all of your ideas, and you have to see them through.
In time, you will feel the effect of this. Maybe you already do. How has your work changed in the last 5 years? Looking back, what helped you the most as you grew?
8 Create a Submission List
Having a specific audience in mind can be a great motivator. Publications also offer themes, prompts and guidelines, which serve as inspiration for new creations. Online magazines, DIY zines, journals, blogs. Look where your friends and peers are submitting. Find places accepting submissions, and keep a list.
If you can’t find any publications for the kind of work you want to see… create your own. If you were to create your own, what medium would you use: blog, paper zine, podcast?
Do you have a platform or publication that accepts submissions? Send me a message and I will send it to the email list.
Would you like to be updated on creative opportunities such as zines and blogs to submit work to? Sign up for my newsletter below to receive calls for entry to your email inbox.
9 Creative Journal
Coming soon! A physical journal for free writing and musing, for exploring and enhancing your creative process. Working with a beautiful designer on this to make an object I would treat as a companion and resource journal.
To be the first to know when the journal is available, sign up for my newsletter!
Share this story