Ok, so first and foremost, I consider myself to be a creative writer. But a few years ago, my entirely unathletic self decided that I wanted to run a half-marathon. Spoiler alert: I never did it. I mean, when I say unathletic, I really mean it. I used to not be able to run for a full 60 seconds without my legs giving out. And, I may not have made it to that 13-ish mile goal, but I can confidently say that I can now run 5 uninterrupted miles at a…..respectable pace.
And, that took work. Like, months and months of work. At the start of my little running journey, my singular goal was to be able to jog for just ten non-stop minutes (I’m really embarrassing myself here, but there’s a point, I promise!). As my muscles strengthened, I pushed the distance, little by little. Some days were repetitive, some days I felt like my progress was shifting entirely backward. But, it was all about repetitive practice, even when I didn’t feel at all like practicing.
It’s pretty much a universally accepted fact that if you want to improve your skills in a certain department, practice is key. Yet, this idea of “practice” is often overlooked by creators, and creators themselves are the biggest culprits in sabotaging their own productivity. I’ve noticed that there’s a certain pressure that creatives place upon themselves. We want all our work to be “perfect,” we fear that creating something imperfect invalidates our talent and our validity in our field.
We wait around for inspiration to strike, and we fear making something bad or ugly- writing a stupid story, painting something flawed, taking a picture in bad lighting. It’s almost an appalling thought. But, what happens to our creative talents if we decide to treat them as a skill that needs to be honed and built, rather than a skill that simply exists within us? With extensive practice, can creativity grow and develop?
It’s easier said than done. Building your creative muscles is a little more nuanced than, for example, running a certain number of minutes every day (see, it all ties together!) Here’s what I’ve learned about building the muscles of my creative craft.
With self-induced pressure comes the self-induced meticulous judgment of one’s own work. I can’t tell you how many times I’d type out a not-so-well crafted sentence on a page, re-read it, feel stupid and untalented, and delete it immediately. The first step to improving at your craft, though, is to release the fear of making something that’s not so great.
With the release of internal judgment comes the ability to grow. If you’re only OK with creating “good” content, then you won’t find yourself creating very often. Practice is key.
Create Without Inspiration
This might be the biggest takeaway ever. Think back on your creative process, and tell me if this scenario rings at all true to you. Every once in a while (less often than we’d hope), creators get hit with that “wow” moment. Like, you’re totally overwhelmed with an idea and you immediately need to work on it. It’s that rare but beautiful inspiration that strikes at random that gets you to create. Those moments are rare, though. And maybe you find yourself waiting around for those strikes of inspiration, and refusing to create when you aren’t feeling inspired.
You’ll literally never improve if you’re only working when you feel inspired. In fact, the best way to practice, to build your muscles, is to work when you’re not feeling inspired. Through doing this, you’ll find yourself facing an entirely different set of obstacles, and discovering how to overcome them. Where does your inspiration come from when you feel as if you have none? Forcing yourself to push through a blank mental slate and simply do something can reveal a lot about your underlying motivations. And again, even if what you produce is “bad,” it’s all about practicing and improving. If you wait for that rare stroke of genius before creating anything, your muscles will be lying dormant for much longer than they should.
Ok, so that’s all. Go write something bad, or paint an ugly picture. And don’t judge yourself for it! Remember, you’re simply developing your muscles.