One of the best parts of the world we live in is the ability to connect with people from all over the world, from various walks of life, and from all different parts of society. One of the best things for me as a follower of Jesus is to be able to so freely and openly communicate with those who, before the advent of social media, I never would’ve had a chance to meet. Or at least, I would’ve had to work really hard to meet.
This can be a blessing and a curse. There have been a plethora of articles written lately about being yourself and presenting your truest self on social media. We live in a world where every tweet, every Facebook status update, and every Instagram photo are all perfectly curated. Which filter makes me look the best, which hashtag is going to get the most clicks, which blog title is going to get the most shares. It’s all scripted, right down to the very last detail.
And in a way, none of this is bad. It’s fantastic to see people I know and care about go about their creativity with such careful attention to detail. I have a friend who is a master at getting your blog noticed. From layout, to blog titles, to sidebar content, to social media. He’s a guru. He knows it all. I have another friend who will spend hours carefully editing an Instagram image to maximize its clarity and exposure, and they’re honestly some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen.
Maybe you know people like that. People who, for one reason or another, seem to have all the time in the world to craft the perfect blog posts or edit the perfect Instagram photos or write the perfect articles. They put out books, they get things published, they have ten thousand twitter followers, or they just seem to be good at everything they touch.
I’m not one of those people. I struggle to sit down at the keyboard. I will go days without writing anything, reading anything, or even thinking about doing anything remotely creative. I’ll say things like, “Man, I really need to write something tonight after everybody goes to bed,” and then end up watching 3 episodes of Bob’s Burgers on Netflix and fall asleep on the couch. You know the feeling?
So for those of you who seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to creativity, this post isn’t for you. This is for the rest of us. The ones who scarf down an Eggo waffle in the car on the way to work. The ones who get home at the end of the day and hold on by their fingernails until the kids go to bed, then collapse into the couch with a snack and Hulu. The ones who want to write something profound or create something beautiful, but just can’t seem to find the time. I’m preaching to the choir here, but maybe, like me, you need to make lists, and then check things off of them to feel productive. If so, this is right up your alley.
1. Know what you’re good at
This has been the most important thing for me. I’m not handy. I’m not going to build a dining room table, I’m not going to have a work bench stocked with tools where I spend my spare time building stuff. I can barely change a light bulb, much less build stuff. I’m not a photographer. The iPhone makes me think I am, but I’m never going to have an Etsy shop where I sell my black and white photos of leaves and empty furniture and old cars.
After trying a lot of stuff, I know what I can do is write. I have a way with words. So as best as I know how, I’m going to pour my creative energy into that outlet. I don’t feel energized building a website or a piece of furniture. I do feel energized when I spend an hour writing and I get 2 or 3 really good sentences out of it.
Figure out what you’re good at and start doing that.
2. Schedule your creative time
This seemed counterintuitive to me. Shouldn’t creativity be spur of the moment? You know, you’re walking along, an idea hits you, and you whip out your little notebook and jot it down? Then you light a cigarette and stroll off, so pumped up about your idea that you can’t contain it?
Maybe that happens for some people. That has literally never happened to me. Dont’ get me wrong, I get ideas. But I’ve never woken up in the middle of the night scrambling for a notebook to write down the plot of the next great American novel.
Schedule your creative time. For me, I’m not a morning person, and I never will be. I’ve accepted that. It’s just not in the cards. If you can wake up at 5AM and be coherent enough to put together a cohesive thought, more power to you. I can barely push the “brew” button on the coffee pot in the morning.
So for me, my creative time comes at night. After the kids and my wife have gone to bed. It’s usually no more than an hour, but I do everything I can to make it as conducive to creativity as I can. Put on music with no words, pour a glass of bourbon, and just start writing. Sometimes good things happen. Sometimes nothing happens. Both are fine. Let them happen. Figure out what works best for your schedule, and stick to it.
3. Find an encourager
It’s hard to commit to something if nobody knows you’re doing it. Or maybe that’s just me. Find someone you trust and confide in them. They don’t even have to be interested in what you’re doing. My wife is my biggest fan, but she is not a writer. That’s just not her gift. She’s read everything I’ve ever written, but I don’t think she’s ever read anybody else’s blog. She’s just not interested. But for me, having her in my corner has been an immense help. She pushes me. She gives me ideas. She doesn’t always have something brilliant to say. Sometimes she reads an article and says, “It’s good. I like it.” Sometimes she reads it and says, “Here are 20 things I would change.”
The point is, find someone who will be honest with you. And if at all possible, find two of those people, one of whom is not related to you. Family is great, but sometimes they can be afraid to be completely honest. You need honesty.
4. Go easy on yourself
You’re not going to be the best writer on the internet. Sorry. Hate to burst your bubble. There will always be someone out there better with words. Someone who takes better Instagram photos. So go easy on yourself. Recognize that while that article may have been written before, it’s never been written by you. I firmly believe that one of the greatest gifts you have is your story. However you choose to tell that, tell it. Nobody else has that weapon in their arsenal. Nobody else can play that card. Donald Miller already wrote a book about having a faith that is messy and disjointed. But you know what, I’m not Donald Miller, and he’s not me. And that’s okay.
5. Know when to quit
This may seem like an odd one, but I believe it’s crucial. At some point, your voice will change. You will grow, go through seasons of life, and what was once a blog that made sense, will make no sense. If the thing you were so crazy passionate about three years ago doesn’t make any sense anymore, shut it down and go in a different direction. There’s no sense in going down with the ship. It’s okay to bail out and start over. You have permission. It’s your story and they’re your words.
Life is tough. We all have competing priorities. The car needs fixed. The lawn needs mowed. The job needs your forty hours. The kids need baths and your spouse needs your attention. Sometimes it seems like you may never have time to create. I know the feeling. Between work, two kids, yard work, projects around the house, and a social life, it seems like time to be creative is always the last thing on the agenda, and therefore the thing that gets cut.
Don’t let it be the thing that gets cut. Guard that. It’s precious to you. You must do it. If you don’t, you’ll dry up and drift through life. You’ll be alive, but will you really be living? We all have that thing that makes us feel alive. Maybe it’s writing words. Maybe it’s taking photos. Maybe it’s painting. Whatever it is, if you don’t do it, if you ignore it, if you push it off until every other thing your life is taken care of, you will never do it.
And that may be the greatest tragedy of all.