A reflection on creativity, one year later

My husband and I chose to make our theme for 2013 Create & Simplify. Earlier this week, I wrote about the Simplify half of our theme. You can read about it here. This is my attempt to describe the Create side of our theme.

Create and Simplify header image


I was so excited going in to last year knowing I was going to focus on creating. I thought of myself as a closeted creative person, and I thought all this secret talent needed was a little focused time to give it some polish and make it shine. What a lark! I thought. It’ll be fun. I thought I’d unearth hidden gems of brilliance if I just looked.

You see where this is going. I can almost feel the internet laughing at me through my computer.

I quickly learned that being creative is hard. Being creative and then sharing it with others takes lots of everyday courage. And I had no idea. Because to attempt something creative is to take a risk. And taking any kind of risk puts you face to face with all the voices inside you that typically keep you back in the safe zone. And when you’re not practiced at it, even the smallest act of public creativity (I’m talking seriously small, people, as in making curtains with fabric you picked out and then showing people and writing about it) represents a victory over a negative voice.

The voices

I could almost write a book on this topic, but I’ll limit myself to the three of the biggest voices that spring up as soon as inspiration strikes.

Voice #1: One of the first voices I had to confront was the voice that said, “This DIY/decorating interest is stupid and fluffy.” I think of this interest as a hobby. And hobbies are meant to be fun and playful. I can’t defend it as being of huge importance to the world, but being drawn to beauty and wanting to highlight it in small ways isn’t entirely fluffy. I could learn an instrument, I could take painting classes, or I could explore my decorating hobby. For whatever reason, DIY/decor is what I’m drawn to and where I choose to explore beauty. And that alone is good. I’m learning not to judge it so harshly.

Voice #2: “This (fill-in-the-blank) project is a waste of time and money.” As I’ve shared in other posts, I’m frugal to my core. It was hard for me to spend money on this hobby, especially on a project that might not work out. But I quickly learned I had to allow for waste. Waste is an inevitable byproduct of something in its beginning stages, and it’s useful. Waste is a sort of failure. And there is much to learn from failure. So yes, I wasted some money on projects that didn’t work out. And we routed one door with the hinges facing the wrong way when we replaced our old doors. But if I only stuck to what I already knew I could pull off, I wasn’t taking a risk, and I wasn’t reaping the benefits of  overcoming that risk. And my projects that didn’t work weren’t a net waste to the planet—there’s always the Goodwill and Craigslist—they were a waste of my small House Over Head budget. But not really. Because I learned as much from the things that didn’t work as from the things that did. And I’m getting better at avoiding the biggest wastes.

Voice #3: Then there was the ever present, “What makes you think you have any talent here?” Or “Who do you think you are?” This is a universal lie that attacks all of us, and one on which  shame and vulnerability expert Brené Brown has insightfully written. It is a voice I am leaning to stare down and ignore, because it will keep me from ever doing anything I could be proud of. The podcast from On Being of Krista Tippett’s interview with Brené Brown quickly became a favorite soundtrack for long walks. Here’s the transcript with a link to the podcast. I highly recommend that you become familiar with it.

The process

When you’re not practiced at it, and probably even if you are, the creative process requires perseverance. At the end of the summer, a good friend invited me to Canvas and Cocktails, one of those places where an artist/cheerleader leads a group of reluctant amateurs through a step-by-step process in order to paint a canvas that looks exactly like the leader’s, all while imbibing cheap drinks. It’s billed as fun affair with friends, and I expected to love it.

And I almost did, except that I spent a lot of the evening fighting frustration. All of us novice painters were, and the people running this business knew we would be. The whole time we were painting, they were playing loud, feel-good music, the likes of which you here during the breaks at a football game. Every song was a sing-along, and the artist/cheerleader spent half of her instruction time assuring us we could do it and helping us lighten up enough to follow her simple instructions.

I had just seen this graphic describing the creative process by Marcus Romer, which was shared by Susan Cain, author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts, and I couldn’t help but think the purpose of the cheap drinks, loud music, and perky leader was to hurry us through stages  3, 4, and 5 before we could throw down our brushes.

The Creative Process graphic

The creative process requires perseverance, and no one escapes it.

The light

So I approached this experiment to create expecting to discover the physical goods I would make—the glowing after pictures of completed projects, the rooms transformed, the furniture saved from old, dark basements. But I quickly learned that the creative process is immensely valuable for the goods it produced in me. I need to confront those negative voices, because they lurk in unexpected places and keep my life smaller than I want it to be.

I’m hoping that overcoming these small risks in a safe arena will help me overcome bigger, more challenging and more rewarding risks later. So, even though it won’t be fun, I think you should force yourself to create too.

Also check out

A reflection on simplifying, one year later

Create and Simplify header image


8 thoughts on “A reflection on creativity, one year later

  1. Pingback: Our theme for 2014: Don’t Hush Yourself | House Over Head

  2. Pingback: Weathered black coffee table | House Over Head

  3. Pingback: A reflection on simplifying, one year later | House Over Head

  4. Your beautiful writing causes soul searching within my own mind and heart. I don’t know of any talents I have but you inspire me to try new things…things that are creative. Maybe I will discover something I never knew I could do.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I related to your insights and think the graphic is a great expression of what I now realize I go through in my own creations. 🙂

  6. Love the Romer graphic. What’s even harder, is trying to create gifts for others. That’s what I often do with my hobby because I think it’s fun to give others something homemade; but boy, do I get even more judgmental of my own work when gifting it! Thanks for this:-)

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