8 Ways to Create when you’re totally STRESSED OUT

Katharyne Shelton
11 min readMar 8, 2017


Your book/business plan/album/product line would be finished if only you had an hour to meditate, a little money in the bank and a log cabin in the Appalachians. Instead, the kids are yelling, your car payment is overdue and the cat just ate the goldfish.

My client explained to me, “It feels like a spiral — you really need the right space to work, but you need the work to create the right space.”

We’ve all been there… so here’s how to break the spiral and get creative, right here, right now. No excuses (and I say that in the kindest way possible, because life throws some pretty daunting challenges sometimes.)

But these are tips we can all follow. Close down your browser windows (especially Facebook), grab a notebook and let’s play for 30 minutes.

1. Purpose!

So first things first… what do you want to achieve? Set a purpose here. Sure, doodling or scribbling a stream of consciousness is creative but it’s not productive. You will feel a million times better if you finish the session knowing you have accomplished something. Make a choice and write it down. Using numbers makes things achievable — and the great thing with numbers is you can divide them down into bite size chunks that are even more achievable. Think lists. The numbers can be a mental thing — you don’t literally have to write your novel in numbered paragraphs (although that could be cool! The book 253 by Geoff Ryman included 253 paragraphs, one for each passenger in his fictional train that was headed for disaster!)

Great choice examples:

“1,000 word Mission Statement for my new business with 5 specific goals”
“10 product ideas for my online store”
“A romantic song. (Three verses, bridge and chorus)”
“10 chapter eBook. Each chapter features 3 frequently asked questions and my answers”

2. Be the right person for the job.

It’s easier than you think. “I am going to be a big star. Soon.” Stevie Nicks is my heroine, a woman who repeatedly said she knew she was a rock star long before she was famous — and who made her dreams come true. By dressing the part and acting like a star even when she was penniless she believed she could “plant seeds” of belief in the heads of the people she met. It worked!

Generally, we are far more likely to suffer from insecurity than overconfidence (especially women) and we get into a rut of negative thinking… “Who am I to call myself a writer? Who am I to call myself an expert? No-one will listen to me!”

Overcome it. Just tell the thoughts to stop. Even just for a little while. Just stop. Those thoughts aren’t helping you or anyone else. YOLO. Declare yourself a writer, a businessperson, an entrepreneur, an artist, a rock star. Say it out loud to yourself in the mirror or better yet, write it down in big letters in your journal. Heck, put it on a website. No-one is going to check your qualifications here. There ARE no qualifications to being an entrepreneur or rock star or artist. It’s all attitude and belief. And here’s a secret — people WANT to believe it.

Belief is an easier choice than disbelief. If you introduce yourself to me as an entrepreneur or an artist, I’m not going to say ‘bullshit!’ I’m going to be curious and want to know more.

On my first day of theatre at university, we were given a piece of paper and asked ‘Who are you?’ Most people dallied and modestly scribbled things like “Student” or facts about their age and home town. One skinny 18 year old grabbed the paper and wrote ‘A DIRECTOR’ with huge letters and a big flourish. I thought it was utterly obnoxious. 10 years later, he’s running a successful theatre business in London. Maybe it was obnoxious, but did it matter? It worked.

Now I wish I’d written down, “Millionaire supermodel”

So just pretend. Just for now. “I am a big star. I am a writer. I am an artist.” Rebrand yourself as what you want to be. Play act it. What would a famous writer do right now? Do that. (Unless it involves excessive amounts of cocaine).

Dress the part, write your thoughts out or blog under a pseudonym. If you encounter resistance, recognize it and ask yourself where the resistance comes from. Do you feel silly? Do you feel fraudulent? Usually this resistance is only in your own head. Sometimes it may come from family members. Really pay attention to it. Is it valid? I mean, don’t declare yourself a brain surgeon and take the money here… or are you just blocking yourself with doubt?

3. Output!

As humans, we’re all about input and output. We read, watch, observe, listen, taste, smell and absorb all kinds of information. We also have an amazing ability to create. We can move, speak, sing, build, craft, dance and create embarrassing white girl rap. The input builds our palette, our repertoire and our vocabulary but you only make money from your output. At some point, you have to talk, write or make… something.

As humans, we are equipped with an amazing range of tools. Even if all we do is speak, we can deliver all kinds of information. What is even more incredible is that we have more ability to broadcast our output than ever before. YouTube, Facebook Live, downloadable MP3s on Amazon, Audio files on GumRoad. A guided meditation, 10 routes for happy dog walks in San Diego, 50 things to make with couscous. You can record it right now.

And I know you feel embarrassed about how you look or sound or whatever. Take a look at some of my first videos. Scruffy hair, lots of ‘ums’ and fiddling with stuff. But it doesn’t matter. We want to see humans. The Hollywood perfection thing got old. YouTube means regular people. We’re getting used to regular people again and we trust the human connection way more than slickness and perfect teeth. Your voice is fine. You use it every day. Every single person you’ve ever met, you used THAT voice. It just sounds weird to you.

If you really, really want to produce work and hide from the world though, why not hire a speaker or writer to help you deliver your message? Fiverr and UpWork are full of people who can help at very affordable rates.

4. Audit your past work!

So if you don’t know where to start and you want to make something awesome now, audit your past work. Set yourself a structure. Write down each year on a piece of paper. Maybe a milestone like this:

Christmas 2001. Christmas 2002. Christmas 2003.

What were you doing on each of those Christmases? You can use your birthday or another holiday if you prefer. Think back on the decorations, the smells, the people, the voices, your comfy couch or the breezy walk by the beach. By connecting yourself to a specific day, you can remember how you felt. Your health, finances, the toys your kids were playing with, the shows you were watching.

Now think through that year — what success did you have? Anything counts here. A painting that someone paid for. A stupendous roast dinner that everyone loved. A fantastic sales meeting? Barista of the month? Write it down. Write down as many details that you can remember about what you achieved, the methods you used to get there and the work you did. Why was it successful? Can you repeat it? What would you do differently if you did it again? What have you learned since? What if you took it to a different audience? What if you changed the medium? What if you charged more? What if you taught other people how to do it?

Take your time with this, year by year. You’ll be surprised by how many ideas you generate. Every achievement you have makes you a micro-expert! Success is valuable. (Heck, failure is valuable too. Document those too!) And remember — technology and society may evolve and date but people always have the same needs and drives and those are at the heart of any real success.

5. Turn simple things into a framework and now you’re a genius

Stuck on your writing, your blog, your song, your plan, your t-shirt design? Make a framework. You can narrow any process down to a simple framework and people will think you’re a genius. Take a look at a business textbook. They’re full of acronyms (SMART goals, STEP analysis, Four P’s), pyramids, simple four square matrices, flowcharts, Venn diagrams and so on.

Really, any simple process can be turned into a framework. Write down the most important things about what you’re describing. For example, if you’re creating a wine tasting journal or guide, you may want your users to write about the Color, Flavor, Acidity, Sweetness. Hmm. These words are almost spelling something. How about CARAFE?

Red or White:
Emotional Response:

Boom! Each wine page starts with that acronym (and to be fair, you could probably now call yourself an educational pioneer in the oenology field! Your framework will surely be quoted at Sommelier tables from Paris to Tuscany).

You can add in a four square matrix (just think of two measurable factors you can plot on an axis) or a pyramid (stack your ideas in order of importance) and suddenly your journal or workbook starts to look seriously pro. Use Canva or any one of the many online infographic tools to make it beautiful.

6. No more blank pages. Get inspiration!

In the creator’s great cosmic game of Rock, Paper Scissors, inspiration trumps writers block. Inspiration is the great ice breaker that sets you on your path to greatness. It can come from mountaintop transcendental meditation or from the back of a cereal packet. It really doesn’t matter — and here’s a secret. It can absolutely be forced. Xavier Du Maitre’s ‘Journey around my Room’ was a travelog written under house arrest. The key is just to look at things in a different way. Grab the nearest object to you. Ok, it’s a perfume bottle. Perfume begins with P. Write down 10 other things that begin with P as fast as you can. Perfect! (See what I did there? Perfect!) Or write out a word for each letter in the word ‘Perfume.’ Write down 10 people who use perfume. Or 10 alternative uses for perfume. Or 10 things that come in a bottle. Or 10 perfume scents you wish were invented (Bavarian Creme Donut, naturally).

So you may have a bunch of nonsensical lists but it’s better than a blank page. Now revisit your goal. What do you want to create? A song? A poster? A product?

Well, now your list gives you a starting point. Who would have thought The Pina Colada song would be a big hit or a tin of Campbell’s Tomato Soup could be a work of fine art. Don’t reject inspiration because it seems silly. Exhaust the possibilities. If toothpaste is really not what you want to base your novel on, dig a little deeper think about what purpose toothpaste serves or signifies. Brushing your teeth before a big date or journey? Then what? There’s the first scene of your crime novel… or your new product line of ultra chic toothbrush holders.

7. Intersect like crazy

Disney on Ice, Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, sweary coloring books, The Jerry Springer Opera, Cronuts, Sporks… Intersection is at the heart of creativity. Think about all those childhood jokes. “What wobbles and flies? A jellycopter!” “What do you get if you cross a karate expert with a pig? A pork chop!’ They’re all about putting two ingredients together and getting something back that is fresh, new and unexpected.

There is an art to intersecting and it is difficult to pinpoint a rule because the most unexpected intersects can be the most beautiful. Sometimes an intersect is as easy as blending a spoon and a fork into a Spork, or blending two food styles into a ‘fusion’ or all those ‘versus’ movies — Batman vs. Superman, King Kong vs. Godzilla. Commercial interests tend to favor the safer intersects. Superhero versus Superhero.

But the most exciting results seem to happen when you pick two completely unrelated concepts which have some beautiful but unexpected link in common between them.

Ice Skating + Disney Cars are both about speed and spectacle = Disney Cars on Ice
The Jerry Springer Show + Opera are both about drama, tragedy and being loud = The Jerry Springer Opera
Swearing + Coloring Books are both about stress relief = Sweary Coloring Books

Go through your inspiration lists and start picking random concepts to pair.
‘Purple’ and ‘Yoga’ — Maybe yoga for older people (like the poem — when I’m an old lady, I’ll wear purple) . ‘Breakfast’ and ‘Snake’ — Maybe a snake shaped breakfast dish for picky kids with different segments for different foods.

See concepts through other perspectives — if you’re planning a Halloween party, what would Shakespeare do? What about Dracula? What would he think? Queen Victoria? Bill Gates? Different perspectives can turn one idea into dozens.

Don’t stop — try to find several connections. And don’t censor your ideas, even if they seem weird or silly. You don’t ever have to share them with anyone until you’re ready to.

And bear in mind, people bring me weird and wonderful product and marketing ideas all the time and are sometimes very nervous about finally showing their work to someone. It’s natural to feel embarrassed or weird about something you’ve created, but it’s honestly only you that is embarrassed. I never laugh at any of these ideas. The worst case scenario is they’re too safe and boring. Get weird, get creative, get attention seeking. If your plan is to make money, you want people to be talking about your idea all over social media!

8. It doesn’t matter!

There are two parts to creativity. The first part is the divergent phase. Brainstorming, generating ideas, scribbling down thoughts. Keep notebooks around. Scrawl away. If a word keeps coming up in your day, write it down. If you see something interesting, take a picture of it. If you love a picture, bookmark it. Value your creative time. It’s ok to stop and take a picture or make a note of something. Let all your ideas out, even if you are pretty sure they’re stupid. Sometimes the most stupid ideas generate the most brilliant. And even if they don’t, you can sometimes get hung up on a stupid idea, revisiting it and rejecting it. Just write it down and move on.

The second part is the convergence. This is when you sit down with your coffee, turn on the desk light and settle in to really create. Pick your ideas and execute them. Go back to your purpose. What do you want to achieve today? You are a writer. You are an artist. You are a speaker. You are a businessperson. You are an entrepreneur.

And you have something unique to share. You really do. You just created it!

Nothing else matters. No-one is judging you. You can set your own rules, break them and set more. And don’t get hung up on perfection. You can always try again. Once you trust in your own creativity, you realize that you can throw out one idea and a million more will take its place, so get your thoughts out there. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is output. You have a lot to share. So go share!

The world wants to hear from YOU.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d love to hear from you! You can join my Facebook group ‘Treasure Hunting’ at facebook.com/groups/katharynetreasure

I also have a full length course, ‘Curate’ which teaches you how to create digital products that you can sell on platforms like Amazon, Merch, CreateSpace, GumRoad and more, with no experience! curate.blueskysuite.com



Katharyne Shelton

Katharyne takes people who swear they haven’t a creative bone and leaves them sleepless with ideas…that turn into money. Learn more at katharyne.com