The ONE THING you should do to be more creative

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Welcome to good enough creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today I want to talk about the ONE thing that you should do to be more creative.

What do you think it is?

Here’s the deal: we put a lot of barriers in our own way. We might believe that we need more skills, better supplies, more instruction, more time, more of something in order to do that thing that we’re inspired to create.

But the truth is, all we really have to do is start.

At the beginning of every creative journey, there’s a gathering of supplies and materials. Think back to your early days in some of your favorite creative hobbies – remember how you maybe inherited supplies from a friend who taught you or went to the store and blindly bought a few things to get started (without really knowing for sure what the best supplies are). Right? Remember those days? We all have to start somewhere. And most of us don’t dive into a new creative hobby knowing exactly what we’ll need or which supplies we’ll love best. But we have to start somewhere.

But getting started or making the time means that we sometimes have to get out of own way, recognize when we’re making excuses that might be sabotaging ourselves, and figure out how to just do it. How to just get started, even though.

Every single person who is on a creative journey will run up against their own beliefs about why they can’t or shouldn’t. So today I want to talk about how to get rid of the excuses and just get started.

What are some of the excuses that might come up?

  – I don’t have the right supplies.

  – I need more space.

  – I don’t have enough knowledge or I don’t have all the skills I need.

– Or just, I don’t feel like I’m very good at this.

  – I’ll start when I have more time.

  – I’m not as talented as “so & so”

All of these things might feel true. They might even be based on real events – having limited space is a real thing. Being short on time is a real struggle. But… are we in danger of spending our lives waiting for things to be perfect?

The Myth of Perfect Conditions is very real – and we’re going to talk more about perfectionism in a future episode, because it can show up in so many unexpected ways that affect our creativity. But I want to speak to the Myth of Perfect Conditions today because it’s one of the most common ways that we can keep ourselves from getting started.

Every time my husband goes into the garage to work on a project, he inevitably ends up trying to clean the garage. It’s a hot mess in there – for real. When my boys stop by to see if they can cut something on a saw in the garage, my husband discourages them – No, no one can use the garage until I get it cleaned up. Me, a fixer, says something like, “babe, they just need to make a couple of cuts – they can use the saw even if the garage isn’t clean.” But in my husband’s mind, the garage is basically off limits and useful to no one because it’s a mess.

Many very talented creative people have done great work in the middle of a mess. Ideal conditions don’t always align with our time, or our goals. If the garage is a mess right now, but you need to use something in that space, you’re either going to have to work around the mess, clear a spot, or … alternatively… you just don’t work on your project because the conditions aren’t ideal.

But sometimes not having ideal conditions can lead to a breakthrough. In 2012 Alfredo Moser came up with the idea for a bleach bottle, which is nothing more than a clear liter bottle filled with bleach and water, which refracts light from the outside into the house by inserting the bottle into a hole in the ceiling. This low-cost solution – an empty liter bottle that most of us would consider trash or recycle, is now bringing light to impoverished nations in over 15 countries around the world through a non-profit called Liters of Light. These lights can last for 5 years, which is an incredible amount of use for such a very small investment.

Ideal conditions would be that these people would need to have electricity in order to have lights, but ideal conditions aren’t available. And someone who was willing to start – even without those ideal conditions – was able to create a groundbreaking and powerful solution. I’ll link to an article in the show notes if you’d like to learn more.

Thinking the conditions need to be perfect is just an excuse and it’ll keep you in a perpetual state of waiting. Imagine all of the wonderful things you could be discovering and doing in the meantime while someone else is waiting for the conditions to be right.

Not getting started leads to feelings of frustration and disappointment, especially if you see other people moving forward on the very thing that you know you want to do, as well. Delaying your creative calling can make you feel resentful and depressed. Don’t wait.

So let’s talk about how to navigate some of the excuses that we might be letting get in our way and how we can navigate them:

  – For supplies: Start with what you have. I’ve seen highly trained painters use a child’s school watercolor box for a painting, just to prove that you can make something lovely even if you don’t have the best supplies. Improvise where you can. That’s part of the fun of being creative! Figuring out how to make it work when you don’t have exactly what you need can lead you to surprising new ideas and innovations. And focus on the process, rather than the outcome. Sometimes our creative work is about the experience we have while we’re doing it, not just what comes out the other side.

  – For your workspace: Most creative people I know would kill for their own art studio, but most don’t have one. For years my “creative space” was really just my spot on the couch and the basket that sat next to me. But that evolved into my own little cart of supplies, and then to a closet. And now that our boys are grown, I have a whole room. What a luxury! Space is great, but if you don’t have it, find a way to make what you have be enough. Carve out your favorite corner and make it the best you can. And even if your space is a messy garage, start a little at a time making a spot for yourself to work.  

  – For knowledge: If you’re new to an art form and you’re worried about failing or looking silly (which is absolutely something I worry about) start with beginner-friendly projects, or online tutorials. It’s important to recognize that learning is a huge part of the creative process. Nobody rolls out of bed on a Thursday thinking, I’m going to try weaving today for the first with no experience and just suddenly sets up the equipment and weaves a sarape on the first go. That’s not how it works, and we know it. But we do sometimes expect ourselves to be really good at something right out of the gate, and for some people, fearing that it won’t be very good might be what’s preventing them from even getting started.

  – For a lack of time: We could discuss time-management strategies until the cows come home, but we’ve heard them before. And if we thought a time-saving strategy was all it would take, then this excuse wouldn’t come up as much as it does. All of us have access to timers and planners. But that’s not enough – because what we really have to do is change our relationship with time. One of my favorite books, 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkman spins this idea a different way – part of our struggle with time is just that we always think we have more of it than we really do. And he suggests that, instead of trying to squeeze more and more and more into the limited hours we already have, what we really need to do is just accept that we’re going to have to pick and choose. We won’t be able to do all of it, so with this in mind, if it’s important to you to make creativity part of your life, then you’ll have to choose that as one of the things that deserves space on your schedule. You know how much time you can devote to it, and it doesn’t have to be a lot. We have to accept that there will never be enough time, there will never be more time, there’s just today and the time we have now. My friend Erika likes to remind me that if I don’t have time for something today, then I’m not going to have time for it in 6 months. It’s good to recognize that there’s not a beautiful, open schedule with no pressing demands on the horizon. Next week will be just as busy as this one; maybe in a different way, but busyness will keep on following us. It’s relentless. If being too busy is your excuse today, then it will always be the thing that keeps you from fulfilling your creative potential. The only time anyone ever really has to get started is right now.

There’s this idea of “imperfect action” vs. “perfect inaction.” Imperfect action. Or Perfect inaction. Those are interesting, right? Imperfect action means getting started, even if you know darn well it’s not going to be perfect. You know you’ll probably make mistakes. Or you know that you don’t necessarily have the right supplies, so it’s not going to turn out exactly the way want, but you do it anyway. Perfect inaction is when we have a great idea, but it’s so great that we don’t want to start on it until we have everything we need, the right amount of time, the perfect situation so that we can take action. And since those conditions are never met, our idea gets to live in its perfect, untouched state in our minds. And instead of trying it out and maybe not executing it perfectly, we get to imagine how perfect it might have been. But this is such a quick path to regret. I haven’t regretted the things I’ve tried and failed or achieved, but not perfectly. I DO regret the things I didn’t try.

No one lives a creative life under perfect conditions. Few people start with raw talent and the right supplies. Most of us are squeezing creativity and art into the margins of our busy lives, using the things we have on hand, or what we can afford to buy, and doing our thing in whatever space we’re in. That’s how you live a creative life. Remember that perfect conditions are a myth and that few of us can bring an idea to life without a few flops.

Do the best you can with what you have, where you are, and just start. Do the thing. Figure out which excuses are holding you back and then tell them, no. The things standing in your way might be real things – but that doesn’t mean they’re allowed to stop you.

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