How to Develop a Creative Habit

Last month we’ve been tackling writing and NaNoWriMo tips, but I wanted to branch out a little bit to help those who want to develop a creative habit – no matter what it is!

Whether you want to write, paint, sculpt – the list goes on – the list of quick tips can help you. It’s no secret that creativity is great for your mind, body, and soul, but creativity doesn’t happen without you making it happen. Let’s dig into how to make creativity part of your life.

Check your mindset. When I was starting out as an author, I knew I had to treat it like a non-negotiable element of my life. I couldn’t really publish books if I didn’t actually write them. But as I began to devote time to writing, I noticed some comments coming from the peanut gallery. Comments like:

“It must be nice to be so creative!”

“It must be nice to have time to write!”

“I wish I was creative – I could never [insert creative task]”

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big fan of ignoring literally every random comment that doesn’t help you on your path. But if you’ve noticed this sort of negative mindset about other creatives in your own head, now would be a good time to check yourself.

You are creative! People don’t have time, they make time. Sure, some people are lucky to be born into environments that make it easier to really dive in and explore, but we’re all born with innate creativity that is 100% us. Your job is to create a place in your life to really use it.

Don’t let cynicism or victimhood keep you from finding and sharing your voice. If you truly believe that creativity isn’t for you, your journey ends there. How boring is that?! Whatever you need to do to get out of that mindset, do it, and then get to work! (Pro tip: sometimes saying “I’m not going to let that negativity dictate what I do” is enough to call yourself on it.)

Make note of your obstacles. Here’s the thing about building a creative habit: big steps don’t really happen. Instead, it’s all a series of very small things that ultimately build up to bigger moments, epiphanies, and projects.

One of the most important things you can do to build a habit is to isolate your obstacles. And I don’t just mean the mindset ones! I mean the tangible objects that are literally in your way to doing the work you want to do.

If you want to draw more, do you actually have pencils and pens somewhere handy? Or are they buried somewhere in a drawer, beneath last year’s tax statement?

If you want to write more, do you have a space to set your laptop, so you can think without staring at the rest of your to-do list?

If you want to exercise (yes, I consider this a creative habit!), are your shoes and sports bra easy to grab every morning?

No matter what creative habit you want to build, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to block it when you’re starting out. Your brain doesn’t want you to try new and scary things, so small things like “oh no, my sketchbook is in the drawer over there, and not sitting on my desk” is actually enough to stop you from taking that step to using it!

Examine your obstacles and make it as easy as possible to actually get started. Starting is always the hardest part, but once you do, you’re 80% there.

Make a plan. Yep, time for the boring bit. It’s easy to think that creatives are just wisps on the wind, engaging with every random creative thought we have, letting our intuitions guide us toward greatness. (Hah!) The reality is, being a professional creative involves a lot of routine, habits, and discipline. There is intuition there, but think of your plan as a way to actually meet that intuition.

When trying to build a creative habit, it helps to actually plot out a time and place to do your creative work. I’m a full time author and illustrator now, so I can (and must) devote a good chunk of my life to making books. But when I was starting out, I carved out extra time in the mornings and evenings to write. It wasn’t easy (or pretty!), and yes, I would describe that now as ‘burning the candle at both ends’, but I don’t regret it, because sometimes, life demands a little more from you.

There is no best time to create, except for the time you’ll actually use! Take a look at your schedule and block off some time to do your thing. Whether it’s once a week or once a day, you’ll soon notice that this time is a gift you’re giving yourself – which, in turn, sends the message that your creativity is important to you. From there, it’s a short step to creative inspiration!

Make inspiration a habit, too. This was a huge one for me. When I first started out, I managed to carve out my writing time, but often would find myself sitting there, thinking ‘okayy…what now?” I’d have vague ideas about what I wanted to do (like “Write something amazing, Jess!”) – but guess what?! That vague stuff doesn’t actually work very well to get a fire under you.

Urgency minus content is just a recipe to spin your wheels.

To combat this, start making lists or keeping track of stuff that inspires you and prompts you to want to make something yourself. Think of it like a ‘dream work’ list – collecting all of the projects and work you’d love to make if you had the time. For example, I was inspired by blobfish years ago (I thought kids would love them!), and knew there was something to the idea. But, I had no clue what that idea actually was! Simply jotting down ‘look into blobfish more’ was enough for me to begin researching more, doodling, and playing around with some nonfiction ideas. Eventually, that little note turned into Pink is for Blobfish, which has now branched out into a five-book series. Creativity is the process of making connections between things, but if you don’t make note of those things, you’ll have nothing to connect!

Get into the habit of noting your inspiration, so you can use it every time you need it.

Find an accountability buddy. If you’re fortunate enough to have creative people in your life, use them! Be open about your creative pursuits, and see if there’s a system you can devise to keep you both accountable. Note: there is a certain subset of people for whom this will feel icky – I’m one of them! I hate the feeling of needing to create something for critique groups on a certain schedule. It just feels so constricting to me, and I’ve never enjoyed the feeling.

If this is you, you can still engage with an accountability buddy: I call it Google Calendar! My trick? Every Friday, I write down whatever ‘extra creativity’ I’ve engaged with through the week. My deadlines and contracted work don’t count, so if I haven’t spent time on my ‘extra’ stuff by Friday, I know I’ll be facing a big ol’ blank spot for that week. Unacceptable! By visually plotting out my creative tasks on a calendar, I’m able to see the larger scale reality easily, which helps me stay accountable.

Note: there is a big difference between internal and external accountability. If you’re someone who is already quite internally motivated (*waves*), the Google calendar method will probably work for you. If you’re not super motivated internally, external cues like real life and public accountability can get you started!

Lastly, keep it all in perspective. Does it seem like I say this a lot? It’s because it’s true: while building a creative habit is an important aspect of being an author or artist, there is absolutely no need to beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon every so often. Think of it like healthy eating: diets don’t work because they’re too restricting, but healthy eating is something you can take part in for a  lifetime. As you continue to grow, you’ll learn where you’re being too strict with yourself, and where you can probably stand to throw in a little more discipline.

Nobody knows you like you do, so however you’re inclined to start building your creative habit is awesome! You don’t need to overhaul your life to do it; you just need to make small, tangible changes often. You got this!

As always, I’m rooting for you!

PS I've got a free resource to help you level up your creativity here: download away!

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