Creativity involves taking the known and making something new. Although we often associate creativity with the arts, we are all creative and creativity is found in all aspects of our lives. You are creative when you come up with a new recipe, use humor, find a shortcut home, envision a building’s design, learn a new language, or collaborate with others.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
When you try new things you will feel unsure, vulnerable or like you aren’t good enough. Here are six strategies to help you mind the gap until you are able to create work that is as good as your ambitions.
6 Strategies to Help You Persevere Until You Close the Creativity Gap
1. Acknowledge the Gap
When you start something new, it often won’t turn out like you intended. This is the gap between what you had in your mind and what you produced. You won’t be able to create exactly what you envision. Or you may not have clear vision of what you are trying to create. You might not be very good at sharing your feelings and being authentic. You might not be a good pilot, or blogger, or whatever it is you’ve decided to try for your new career or side-hustle.
You’ll tell yourself it isn’t very good and it probably isn’t very good. But stop there. Don’t say: This painting isn’t very good, so I’m not a good artist. Or my post didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I’m not a good writer. Or I wasn’t able to share my feelings, so I’m not going to bother. Allow yourself to judge the work, but don’t extend the judgement to yourself. Acknowledge the gap, but don’t make the gap about you.
2. Embrace the Suck
Avoiding something because you don’t know exactly what you are doing is just an excuse to not get started. You’ll never have it all figured out. Start before you are ready. Developing a new skill demands tenacity and grit. Don’t give up. In the beginning it will be ugly. There is no way around it other than to work through it. This is the part that sucks. Embrace it.
3. Enlist Help/Create Community
Creativity often happens through collaboration. It might mean asking for help or sharing your ideas and surrounding yourself with a supportive community. When I first started writing, I was reluctant to share my work. I knew was extremely vulnerable and had I heard much negative criticism, I may have given up. When we start something new, we need positive reinforcement. Now that I have more confidence as a writer, I’m more able (and eager) to hear what isn’t working in my writing. Find the supportive community. Later seek out constructive criticism.
4. Call Your Work a “Practice”
Why is it that some professions are deemed a practice? For example, medicine or law? (Do you really want your surgeon to be practicing?) We can also have a meditation or yoga practice and we readily recognize the need for practice in sports and music. So why don’t we allow ourselves the freedom to practice when we are starting something new? By calling your work a “practice” you’ll be less likely to expect perfection. I’m not advocating that you consider your whole life a practice, this is your one amazing life, but aim for progress not perfection.
One summer when I was in elementary school, I took art lessons with a neighbor. I cut out a picture of an orca from a magazine and redrew the image using pastels. It turned out alright and I was encouraged to enter it into the Alaska State Fair. When I came by later, it was adorned with a grand champion ribbon. You would think I would’ve been proud, but I felt like I was a fraud. All I had done was copy the picture from the magazine. In my mind it didn’t count because I hadn’t created something totally unique. It was as if copying from a magazine was cheating, whereas copying the image from my mind’s eye would have been okay. Now I can see that this isn’t true at all.
Emulating others is a natural part of the learning process. We need role-models and examples. I’m not advocating for plagarism (and unless you are copying words, it is rare you’d actually produce something identical). In the beginning, it is too much to expect yourself to create something completely new. Emulate those you admire and soon enough you’ll be innovating.
Your job is to make the next version better. Tinker. What are you going to improve upon in the next version? Not perfect, just better. Give yourself permission to play, try new things and explore. This will allow you to develop your craft and it will begin to resonates with others.
The only way you can fail is by sitting in the stands and deferring your dreams or quitting before you close the creativity gap. Until then, be strategic. Need a little inspiration? Check out these TED talks on creativity.
Where are you being creative in your life right now? What helps foster your creativity? Share in the comments.