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Facing the fear that you may not be that creative and all your ideas are bad

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Nearly every idea I have feels bland or stale.

Some of my ideas have been bad. But have all of them, all of my ideas and all of my projects, been so… uncreative? Some of my writing has certainly felt repetitive or seemingly outdated. Some of my artwork has felt boring and unoriginal. Most of my ideas strike me as “not all that great” on their face.

And, sometimes, when I write an idea down, or start writing an article, or open Photoshop to design, I stop myself before I even get started on the idea. Why? Because I feel that the idea is just not creative enough. What’s the point?

This, this moment of pause and stepping back in the creative process, is what’s become known as the Lizard Brain. Maybe you’re familiar with the term, maybe you’re not.

The gist of these moments is this: there’s a part of our brain that has been around since the time we resembled lizards. It’s the part of our brain that makes us want to run away any time we’re faced with something new, or different, or challenging.

When we have an idea or start a project but take just a second longer to think about what it is we’re actually doing, we realize that we could fail, or that the idea pales in comparison to others that exist. We doubt our capabilities or what our individual purpose is as an artist, or photographer, or writer, or dancer, or musician, or student.

We experience this a lot as creatives, no matter where we are at in our career. Even professionals sit down in front of the computer, or canvas, or stage, and think to themselves: “This is garbage, I can’t do this.” I know I feel that way a lot.

It’s important to recognize these moments, because what we do next is what sets us apart as true artists, writers, and makers.

The amateur – the “wanna-be” – stops whenever they feel the feeling that they’re not that creative. They give up. They put the notebook, or canvas, or computer away and turn on the TV instead. It’s easy to lay in front of the couch and watch something somebody else has created. It’s much, much more difficult to say “fuck it” and try the idea anyway.

But doing that – feeling the fear and doing the work regardless – is what makes our efforts worthwhile.

Even if the idea isn’t all that creative after-all, even if nobody notices, even if you fail, after long enough of pursuing the work (and feeling the fear of failing or being an impostor but doing the work anyway), people start to notice; we start to notice ourselves.

And after enough of that type of work a funny thing happens: we become exactly what we wanted to be. We become the writer, or the designer, or the business person, or the creative guy or gal. Because what do those people do but write, or design, or run the business, or have ideas?

Being creative isn’t about having the best, world-changing ideas, or making the type of work that gets rave reviews from millions of people. Being creative is about having the ideas and starting the work, feeling afraid that you might fail or that you have no idea what you’re doing, and doing it anyway.

When I feel myself start to shutter and shake at the thought of writing another article, starting another project, or touting myself as someone who thinks creatively, I have to remind myself to do it anyway. Because that’s just what we do.

Read this next: Starting and the fear of breaking things



How creating mental blocks from curiosity, and knocking them down, can spark creative ideas

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“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

This quote from Pablo Picasso has always intrigued me.

What does it mean to work for inspiration? Is it enough to spend time browsing the web in search of some spark? Or does the work need to be of a more difficult kind?

I found a similar quote this afternoon, from the great Greek ruler Leonidas, that may give us some additional insights. He said:

“Action produces the appetite for more action.”

This, I believe, is a crucial key to getting creatively unstuck. It’s when we stop working that our ability to think creatively also stops. So the two – thinking creatively and taking action – are undoubtedly linked.

There are then two ways of looking at this: the first is to say that we must have a problem to solve or a project to move forward on in order to give ourselves the momentum to think creatively in the first place.

In other words: it’s difficult to drum up ideas if there isn’t a purpose to doing so.

The other way of looking at this advice is that, when we feel the least creative – the least to do creative work or have new ideas – the best thing to do is anything actionable.

We can think of our brains like domino machines, and when we get creatively stuck it’s because there isn’t a block in front of us to knock down.

The solution becomes easy to identify when we view creative thinking from these perspectives: put a metaphorical block down in front of you and follow it as it continues to knock others down.

I could throw in a dozen more quotes here about how this relates to creativity being about “just connecting things.”

To be creative, and to do creative work, we have to ensure there’s a constant setup of blocks in front of us (to knock down, or connect, or whatever verb works best for you).

Here’s an example of how to use this information in order to get ideas flowing:

Go to Google.com and start typing a question, something actionable. Type “How do I”, or “Learn how to”, or “How do you” or something like that.

The results will be surprising, most likely. Topics will appear like: how to tie a tie, or how to do a backflip, or how to do crafts, or how to make the best french toast. I have never tried to do a backflip, but I wonder what it takes to learn.

These topics are our starting block. It’s time to knock one down and see what comes after it. So follow one of the ideas, maybe it’s learning how to tie a new knot or how your favorite candy is made or how to do backflips.

As you learn about the topic you can start to relate it to others: the work you’re doing or another topic that popped-up when you did your original search (as we’ll get into again in a moment).

Allow yourself to be curious about the topic.

Ask questions and follow them online, in a notebook, or just in your mind: is it easier to do a backflip off of something? How does doing a backflip under water impact your ability to do it out of water? Who do you think first invented the backflip? How many people are hurt each year as a result of doing a backflip?

The more you dive into these topics and follow them, the more questions you should have. As you dive into the answers to those questions you’ll find yourself discovering and uncovering new topics to follow as well.

Congratulations: you’ve started the process of action. This, according to Picasso and Leonidas, is a crucial step toward thinking creatively.

All you have to do now is link the topics to your work: How is thinking creatively like doing a backflip? If you tried to flip an idea around like a backflip, what difficulties would you face?

If you’re stuck, take action: setup the blocks in front of you that can lead to new and curious ideas.

Read this next: Why we get stuck

Photo by David Pacey.



“In the instance of getting an idea, I go act it out on paper — I don’t put it away. I don’t delay, I don’t put off to tomorrow doing what I must do, right now, to find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart. And then it speaks, and I have enough brains to get out of the way and listen.”

Ray Bradbury on the Secret of Life, Work, and Love (via zenhabits)

(via zenhabits)

Posted at 9:47 am



All my best ideas come from just okay ideas.

(Permalink)

Posted pm



“You’re going to have to do certain things to make money and certain things to fulfill yourself creatively and they’re not always the same thing…”

Sara Blake via The Great Discontent, on feeling satisfied creatively

Posted at 1:24 pm



Know a good idea when you see one

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How do you ever really know if an idea is worthwhile or not?

Nobody can really tell for sure. I certainly couldn’t tell you.

It seems that the best thing to do is have a purpose or a goal on which to evaluate your ideas. The goal can be anything: to write the book outline, to doodle the plan, to tap out a rhythm, then do what it takes to accomplish that goal.

With a goal in place, any idea that meets or exceeds that marker can be identified as a good one.

This way there’s no confusion, no wondering. The idea is good – no matter what it looks like, how it works, or how far away it is from what you originally envisioned – because it accomplishes what you set out for it to do.

One of the best ways to determine whether an idea is a good one or not isn’t whether it fails. It’s whether you created what you set out to do, whether someone (somewhere) connects to the idea, and whether you keep being drawn to it in some way or another.

If you can address all of those things and the idea doesn’t seem sound, it’s time to consider that all of the other factors – the environment, the presentation, the timing – may be off, not the idea itself.