I think most of us are pretty connected to the idea that a full life includes creativity.
We’re meant to draw, paint, sing, dance, and tell stories. Virtually all little kids do these things. And then we “grow out” of them. And that’s sad.
I spend tons of time with creative people. I also spend time with people who feel they aren’t creative — but they want to be. I’ve made some observations about why it’s so hard for us to put creative time into our lives.
#1: We’re intimidated
Unfortunately, our pragmatic, ruthlessly productive culture tells us that being creative is only for specialists.
- You can’t draw or paint unless you’re an “artist.”
- You can’t make music unless you’re a “musician.”
- And you can’t write unless you’re a “writer.”
Common sense would tell us that of course we can be any of those simply by doing. We can draw, play music, and write, and then we will be artists, musicians, and writers.
But it doesn’t feel that way. Creative work feels like something we’re supposed to watch someone else do.
We watch cooking shows rather than cook. We watch sports rather than play.
If you have any kids in your life, you’ve probably noticed how often they watch someone else play a video game on YouTube, rather than play it themselves.
We’ve become a culture of spectators. And that takes real effort to break free of.
#2: We’re distracted
Maybe you’ve noticed this whole internet thing.
Maybe you’ve noticed how absurdly distracting it is.
Maybe you’re reading this post right now while you put off pursuing some big juicy goal, like training to climb Everest or writing your novel, or just dancing around the living room flinging scarves like Isadora Duncan.
Just like easy access to “junk food” makes it all too easy to live mainly on sweets, fat, and starch, our easy access to “junk amusement” makes it painfully easy to lose our free hours on mindless diversions.
And when I say “We,” I don’t mean, “All those other people.” My phone has started telling me how much time I spend every week using it to play Sudoku. I was enjoying being in denial about that.
I’m not some anti-digital extremist who thinks we need to give up every online game and distraction.
But just like sweets and starch and fat, we want to keep them in balance with more nourishing things.
#3: We’re actually busy
One reason we chase those distractions is that we really do have a lot of obligations.
We have families and jobs and living spaces to maintain. We have friends who need an ear and pets who would like more of our attention.
For many of us, making a living is stressful, and paying the bills is a constant drain on our attention and energy.
Not to mention the daily struggle to get enough sleep and exercise.
There are so many things we should be doing. And things we truly do have to do.
Making time for creative work just gets pushed to the bottom of the list. No matter how motivated we are.
What I’ve found can help
After many years as a non-artist, I started drawing again a few years ago. And it was intimidating.
I was attracted to “urban sketching,” which is drawing the world around you, in front of people, and tackling all kinds of stuff that can be hard to draw.
I reduced my intimidation factor by taking classes. That got me into a regular rhythm of just trying things out.
At first, I would go out into the world with a tiny sketchbook and spend literally one minute, standing somewhere unobtrusive, making a fast drawing. My heart would pound and my mouth would get dry. I was terrified someone would notice what I was doing.
These drawings weren’t particularly good. But they were marks on the page, and that’s what needed to happen.
Over time, I got less freaked out and started to spend more time. I began to look for opportunities when I could flip open my sketchbook and capture something — whether I had a minute or an hour.
Last week I went to Santa Fe for a few days, found a little niche in an adobe wall to plop myself and my materials, and made a quick watercolor sketch of the St. Francis Cathedral and surrounding streets. About ten people came up to look at what I was doing and talk to me. I had to draw cars, which are my least favorite things to draw. I drew people moving around.
It was all fine. I don’t get intimidated by drawing in public any more. And there’s nothing I’m afraid to draw — whether I’m “good at” drawing it or not.
Taking classes gave me the daily assignments I needed to work through the whole “intimidation” thing.
Those daily assignments also helped me to corral the distraction problem. Rather than making excuses to play a game on my phone or catch some Pokémon, I made excuses to go draw.
Again, because I had those assignments, it just slotted into my day. It wasn’t painful to give up 20 minutes of some silly diversion, because I had something more fun to do.
And even though I had as many obligations as I ever had, I found that doing some drawing every day, even if it wasn’t a marathon session, helped to refresh me and bring new energy and enthusiasm to all of those pursuits.
Over time, because I got a lot of practice in, I got a lot better at drawing. And I was able to make it a regular habit — although I still spend more time drawing when I’m taking a class.
That’s where I took my inspiration for the Remarkable Writing Workshop
So, about once a week, I review applications for our Content Marketing Certification over on Copyblogger.
And I notice that there are, roughly speaking, two kinds of writers who don’t pass their reviews.
One kind needs to tweak their strategy. They need a little more work on headlines, calls to action — persuasive copywriting stuff. It’s not too difficult to get those folks to a point where their application passes review.
The other kind needs writing that’s just … stronger. Their writing voice isn’t distinctive. Their ideas are generic. The writing lacks vibrancy, and isn’t memorable.
These aren’t “bad writers.” They just need a little more practice and instruction. Writing well isn’t a gift from the muses. It’s a collection of skills that we can improve.
My experience with drawing classes helped me to structure my writing workshop so that it moves folks through the intimidation phase. And I’ve chosen exercises that are fun and interesting enough that the assignments are easy to fit in, even with all of the distractions and obligations that want our attention.
The other thing I lovingly swiped from two excellent course creators was the importance of a group to keep us accountable and engaged.
In this new version of the workshop, you have a Slack group that you can pop into and let us know how your assignments went today. We use Slack instead of Facebook, because Slack takes about two minutes, and Facebook has a habit of stealing every minute of your life if you let it.
You can bring your proud moments, your stuck spots, your triumphs, and your frustrations. The group and I will be there to make sure you keep moving forward, no matter what happens.
At this point, I’m committed to running the group through 2019 for anyone who joins one of my workshops this year.
That gives you nearly a full year of access if you join the workshop this week, so feel free to keep using it as long and as much as you wish.
If you want to be more creative, figure out how to get the practice in
- Focus on straightforward, well-defined daily assignments, to avoid intimidation and get the practice in.
- Choose exercises that are fun and interesting, to make it more enjoyable to get the practice in.
- And get connected to an accountability group … so you get the practice in.
If my creative writing workshop would help you to do those things, you know we’d love to have you. We start up again this week … watch this space to learn when we’re open for new students.
(The first week we’ll be working on Voice and Persona. If you want to join that session live this Wednesday, be sure to get signed up tomorrow. You can drop your information into the form below and I’ll shoot you an email as soon as we’re ready for you. That also gets you access to the pre-workshop “Kickoff” session for free.)