7 Ways to Up Your Creativity in 2018

I have a sneaking suspicion that your creativity is undervalued. Here’s a friendly reminder that the world needs it, desperately. Whether you’re seeking to write the next Mean Girls or cross-stitch an Etsy-optimized Pokemon hankie, your talent can bring happiness, inspiration and maybe even enlightenment to others. So kick this year off by valuing your creativity, and then maybe even exploiting it for cold hard cash, if not mad Instagram followers. It’s your right! Here are some tips for making that happen.

1. Pick a Focus

I tend to have a new fixation every month, whether it’s using a sous vide machine or taking portraits of my dog. While these jaunts into new hobbies help me learn, they don’t help me finish long projects.

If you’re like me, you might want to try a simple exercise. Take a piece of paper and fold it twice, splitting it into four quadrants. On each, write down a creative topic you care about immensely. They can be super general, like “food” or as specific as “writing a journalistic tell-all of figure skating culture.” Once you’re done, cross out the one that you are least passionate about. Do this until you have just one left. Voila—you may want to focus your project on that. If you’re left with just the word “laughter,” try stand-up comedy. If you’re left with “makeup” start a YouTube channel. Why not? I would love to watch your beauty tutorials.

2. Find Your Voice

Easier said than done. I create voice and tone documents for brands for a living, so I’ve done a lot of thinking on how the tone you use can shape the content you create.

You’re a person, not a brand, so you’re allowed to be as multi-dimensional as you truly are. But you should also have an understanding of what makes you unique. To start, ask a few friends. You may be surprised by what you hear. It’s funny how we can be totally blind to things about ourselves that others easily see.

Then think about how that translates into your medium. Are there creative touches that add a telltale signature to your work? Think about pushing those further.

3. Delude Yourself Into Thinking Your Project is Great Until It Is

Ok, here’s the super hard part. I used to—ok still—have a problem where I’ll start writing a book and then have trouble explaining it to a friend, decide it’s super dumb and then stop working on it. At one point, my husband pointed out that this was odd. Most creative projects sound less than sexy when they’re distilled into dinner conversation. I’m sure George Lucas got laughed at when he was explaining Star Wars at a bar.

Most of my favorite books and movies have plots that sound totally preposterous when you try to explain them. It’s the ballsiness of taking an out-there idea and making it emotional, artistic and fascinating that makes art so incredible. If you’re a little embarrassed to talk about your creative project, it probably just means you’re putting your most vulnerable self into it, which is what will make it good!

4. Write a “Pitch” for Your Creative Project

To further get over the hump of explaining your project to others (or really, the super critical voice in your head), write a pitch for it. Sit down and write a cover letter or artist statement explaining why it’s so important. Read it every day. Then, when you’re done, send it to someone who you want to champion your work.

5. Give Yourself Deadlines

I know everyone hates deadlines. But it’s important to treat your creative work with the same urgency you do for other major obligations. On your deathbed, would you wish you’d spent more time on this? Then prioritize it! Find a program like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or join a local group or class that can help you stay accountable. Read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before for more tips on staying motivated.

6. Don’t Create in a Vacuum

Twitter and Instagram are great cuz you can spend thirty minutes on something, put it online and watch likes roll in. But this means spending time on longer, solo projects can feel super lonely in comparison. Find a friend who you can be 100% yourself around and see if they’ll look at your work once in awhile. They’ll probably be excited to help, and want you to do the same for them. Showing your work to someone is really scary, so reward yourself for doing so.

7. Remember to Play

It can be tough to focus on the business elements of creativity, like discipline, feedback and deadlines. They’re key to growing and learning, but they’re not going to give you the inspiration that will make you creative in the first place. That comes from a sense of fun, play and experimentation. Here’s where all those distracting hobbies can come back into the picture. They’re key to opening your eyes. Cooking helped me understand painting in a different way. Photography helped me look past the screenplay when watching movies.

Deep down, we’re all just big kids. Never lose that desire to color on the walls.

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Becky Lang is the Creative Director at Superhuman in Minneapolis. She also likes to write and draw female protagonists.