how to be creative



Accept that you’ve got the creative urge and it’s never going to go away. Make friends with it. Drink some tequila if you need to.

Commit to the process. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Unless of course it was built by aliens. This is doubtful.

Engage! Things start out murky, but that’s ok. Creativity builds on itself, and clarity comes through engagement. Usually very slowly. So in the immortal words of the great George Michael, you gotta have faith, or at least act like you do.

There is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. The only way to get where you want to be is to close the gap, through practice and learning and practice and feedback and more practice. There are no shortcuts, unless of course they were built by aliens. This is doubtful.

You eat the elephant one mouthful at a time. I am speaking metaphorically here. You are not really eating an elephant. But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, baby. It’s not like you can hop in a Porsche. (I mean, you can, but it won’t help you become a better artist.)

Creativity happens in the relationship between you and your medium, whether it’s the violin or writing or painting or puppetry or interpretive dance or start-ups or some combination thereof (interpretive dance puppetry, which I hear is wildly underrated). So you need to find your medium. Keep yourself open to new experiences and be willing to try new things, because your medium might surprise you when you’re least expecting it. It might fall on your head like a piano, for example (a cartoon piano, since a real piano would probably kill you dead, and this would be counterproductive).

Find your tribe. Find the people you want to be like and put yourself in the path of their direct influence. You have to see it to be it.

Avoid toxic people. They kill your creativity and your spirit. They also don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about and are generally just saying it to hurt you. But part of your brain might not realize this and accept what they say as gospel truth. Bad idea. So let them gently know where they can go (and I don’t mean to Canada).

Seek constructive feedback. Seek mentors and coaches. You don’t have to go it alone. You also don’t have to reinvent the wheel (of cheese) — unless you want to.

Master your tools. They amplify your voice and open new dimensions of possibility. They help you close the gap.

Master the difficult. Most people won’t bother.

Celebrate your progress, step by step by step. We need that sense of forward motion to stay motivated, and nobody else is likely to do it for you.

Embrace your limitations and constraints. Magic often happens when you’re bootstrapping it (or the creative equivalent) because then you’re forced to work over and around and beside things. You’re forced to solve problems in new and interesting ways. Formula inhibits creativity – but form releases it.

If you don’t have any limitations, make some up. Create a structure, a form, in which you must work.

Develop creative rituals. They help you transition from everyday thinking, which is not creative, to creative thinking, which, um, is. The more regular and practiced your rituals, the more ingrained in your brain, the faster and easier the transition.

Control your space. Block out interruptions. Take your work seriously enough to carve out an inspiring little environment for it.

Be imperfect. Allow for mistakes. Often the art grows from the mistakes.

Reframe failure. It’s just another form of data. Before you can get to what works, you have to go through the stuff that doesn’t work, and why. The faster you fail, the faster you can figure this out.

Go for bold heroic failures. Why the hell not?

Be solitary. You need that space and time for dreaming, and mulling things over, and connecting the dots, as well as the creative act itself. These things require deep concentration, which you will not get if someone keeps interrupting you to offer you almonds or ask to have sex with you or talk about Spongebob. (Why Spongebob? I don’t know. It just came to me.)

Be social. We need that thrum of energy, that cross-section of perspectives. Creative work happens in solitude, but creative idea-gathering tends to happen in the world.

Feed your head. Don’t leave inspiration to chance. Schedule it in. Establish a creative routine, then step outside of it. Mix it up on a regular basis. Seek out sources of influence. Force your brain to think in new ways. The brain is a lazy brain. It will go on automatic if you let it, so it can sit on the couch and drink a beer and watch some godawful reality TV show featuring annoying housewives.

Steal ideas from everywhere you can find them, and then recombine them in new and interesting ways. Take ideas from a field or discipline as far away from yours as possible, and then find ways to apply those ideas. People will think you’re a genius. Or nuts. Or nuts, and then a genius.

Create conversation. Look behind the conversation and examine the beliefs and assumptions that are framing the conversation. Challenge those assumptions.

Go where the conversation isn’t. What are people not talking about, that you think we need to be talking about? Bring that into your work.

Freewrite on any given problem that’s been bothering you. Give yourself twenty minutes and go. Magic stuff happens when you do this. It’s like you channel a completely different part of your brain. When you write stream of consciousness, thoughts lead to more thoughts lead to more of what you’re really thinking. You know more than you realize. So go ahead. Impress yourself.

Shift perspectives. Create a cast of characters and examine your work through their eyes. What would Steve Jobs tell you to do? David Bowie? Michael Cunningham? Your younger self? Your older, fabulously successful, world-famous self? Your objective self? Your emotional self? Your friendly animal totem self?

Develop your signature voice. Follow your obsessions and bring them into your work. Build on your strengths. Do more of what you love. Do more of what you know. Do more of what you do too much of.

Be a freak. Your kind of freak.

Be generous. Give work away. When you empty the box, your brain will refill it. There’s always something in the box.

Ask yourself lots and lots and lots of questions. Your mind will come up with answers.

Write stuff down. Keep an ideas journal, or a creativity journal, or just a list of stuff that comes to you. Otherwise your mind will think it has to keep hold of everything itself. Then it stresses out. So do a brain dump on a regular basis. Clear the space for the fresh and the new.

Love the world. ‘Cause love rules.

Be a maverick. Have some swagger. Own it and work it. Why the hell not?

Feb 9, 2012

18 comments · Add Yours

I’m at my day job right now, and (not too unusually) I can’t wait to get home. Why? So I can print this out, highlight parts of it (okay, all of it) and post it on my wall. If that’s okay. :)
Thank you!


I’m going to eat the elephant one bite at a time, and swagger, not just swagger but own it!! Love the post, I’m off to be creative…you’ve inspired me.



This is simultaneously hilarious and inspiring. Thank you for another wonderful post.


Last week I finally got the courage to write a short story. A few years ago, I submitted one to a local newspaper and it got brutally rejected. But I’ve been working on it slowly. Trying to get up the nerve to write, and to improve my writing. It can be a really hard process. Reading pieces like these help me work up the guts.

Thanks for being so incredibly inspiring. :) I love your writing!


I love this post. Funny, real and inspiring. Like Aurooba I have experienced rejection of my first attempt to get my work out there other than via my blog/online shop. This year my goal is to find other avenues that want my work as part of it. I guess some would think that the stereotype is that creative people might not stick to routines, but I have definitely found that a “loose routine” as I call it, is so imperative to my creativity. Now, I find it tends to kick in on those days automatically. Additional creativity in the unplanned times are also great and that’s when the notepad comes out. While I can physically filter out those negative, hurtful people, I’m still learning how to let go of the emotional hurt that lingers in my mind for a lot longer after. So many thoughts come from this post, sorry for the babbling!


I love this: “Create a cast of characters and examine your work through their eyes. What would Steve Jobs tell you to do? David Bowie? Michael Cunningham? Your younger self? Your older, fabulously successful, world-famous self? Your objective self? Your emotional self? Your friendly animal totem self?”

My younger self would be in awe of me.
My older, successful self would say, “All that hell you’re going through WILL pay off. Stick with it and try not to let the anger eat you up.”
My objective self would say to get out and do something more profitable.
My emotional self – well, it’s not repeatable.
My friendly, animal totem self says, “You are lovable. Come give me a fuzzy hug.”

:) e


I read that one line as “starts with a single step, baby.” I guess it works both ways.


Oh Justine, I want to be like you when I grow up. Smart, sassy, and totally insightful. Bravo.


Nice article, and good points – but it’s all folly. Humans are incapable of ‘being’ creative. Though no one wants to admit that, because it’s too humbling.


You are an inspiration.


@Adam Casalino I just edited the post to read “…single step, baby.” I prefer your version. :)

Everybody, thanks for the delicious comments.

I like the phrase “loose routine” a lot — that sounds to me like the perfect way to think of it.

And rejection deserves a post all its own. Would love to hear more thoughts, experiences, about dealing with it.


This was so inspiring for me!! thank you. :-)


“Formula inhibits creativity–but form releases it.” I love that. I also love how much of what you wrote here involves the play between opposites: be solitary/be social, make conversation/go where the conversation isn’t, master your tools/be imperfect. That kind of tension–that place where things collide–is often where the sparks fly, isn’t it?


This is fabulous, thank you! I’ve printed it out to post on my wall too. :-)


You mentioned puppetry. That I approve. Hehe.

I am indeed finding my tribe, even though I might not be the tribe leader. It was good to find these people, though, and I see many possibilities and potentials in this ongoing process.


This is awesome, i have been wondering how am i going to be damn creative. That’s why i searched online and thanks to God i found the right place. God bless the writer of this article.


This is the best post on finding and pursuing and developing creativity I’ve ever read! Awesome:)) I am realising I need to find my bad ass ways – right about now.
Thank you!!


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