24 Things I’ve Learnt About Creativity

(since actively trying to be ‘creative’)

Are you creative? Did you consider yourself a creative kid? I didn’t. I never pursued what I was passionate about, I just wasn’t someone who made things. I aspired to perhaps be a photographer, writer, designer, musician, etc, but never put in the work.

I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I must’ve looked in the mirror and realised I was either going to try and accomplish something — or not. ‘Aspiring’ was an appeasing way to say ‘procrastinating’, but no more! The past few years have been filled with incremental steps towards creating meaningful work of my own, so here is a non-exhaustive collection of truths I’ve noted along the way — many I wish I knew earlier.

1: Stop waiting for inspiration before doing any work. We have to do the work first, and inspiration will (hopefully) come during the process. Present yourself professionally, sit your ass down and get to it. You have to sift through dirt before getting to any gold. Usually lots of sifting.

2: If you want a ‘creative’ title, no one is going to hand it to you. If we want to be known as someone who does something — we need to DO that thing. Stop waiting for permission, no one will come knocking with a certificate stating ‘CREATIVE DIRECTOR’ — yaahooo, you made it! Nope, just BE one. Write? You’re a writer. Take photos? You’re a photographer. Own it already.

3: We’re all idiots. We have so much so learn, experiences to… experience…and failures to be had. The learning never stops, but we’re here, ready to try.

4: Failure is important — but we shouldn’t festishize it. Aim beyond comfortable. If we’re too scared to fail, we won’t do the risky things that might actually pay off. Call that person, make that pitch, be daring in your ideas, try that technique. Be like a kindergartner, willing to screw things up just to see what happens. What’s the worst that could happen?

5: It’s normal to hate your own work. It just means your taste is growing and your skills improving.

6: On taste — keep developing it. Art is objective, but find what excites YOU and understand why. Then you can make things that are also good, see? Follow the work of other artists, go to galleries, consume different types of media, fill that head of yours with inspiration (but refer to #1).

7: Make time everyday. We must carve out blocks of time for deep work. 24 hours is bestowed upon all of us, so kill distractions, get time-vampires out of your life, and organise zones for flow-state work to get the most important, original stuff out of your head.

8: We all compare ourselves to others. Just keep trying not to. Be proud of what only you can create. Let others be good without resentment, there’s room for everyone. Community trumps competition.

9: Speaking of community…spend time with other creative people. Being around supportive people chasing awesome dreams has been foundational to my own growth. If you’re around uplifting, ambitious people, you’ll feel uplifted & ambitious. Simple.

10: Take feedback and criticism — just not personally. Your opinion, especially of your own work, isn’t the only one that matters. Learn from others better than you (refer to #14).

11: Let ideas ferment. You needn’t act on every impulse right away, often it is the ideas that brew, build, zig, and zag that come away with the most sculpted final form. Under mediocre ideas are better ones.

12: Don’t feel guilty about relaxing — switching off can help ideas switch on. You don’t need poop out content. Live. Do things that add to your perspective and give you something to say, everything that happens is material. Learning to be an artist is learning how to see the world around you, so go see it.

13: Simple goals, daily tasks, one hour at a time. Easy as that. Dreams don’t come true, decisions do. We won’t get anywhere if we keep making excuses.

14: Find mentors. A lot has been written about the benefits of having mentors, so whether they’re real in your life or people you otherwise follow/aspire to be like, take their advice and use their ingredients to build your own recipe for success. They’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to. Learn and build.

15: It’s hard to find joy in external validation, instead follow your internal creative compass. Let whatever is genuine and bottled up inside, out. Your silence serves no one.

16: Care about your creations but don’t take yourself too seriously, goofball.

17: Gear doth not maketh a good artist. Focus on what is necessary for you to create, that’s all. Gear is not special, you are.

18: Perfection will destroy you. Aim for A instead of A+. Good enough is better than non-existent.

19: Ideas are nice, but ideas combined with action are WAY better. It’s easy to have ideas, much harder to follow through with them. Be a doer.

20: Resistance and fear will express themselves through procrastination (or ‘aspiration’)— defeat it. Stop inventing other things to do, stop waiting to be ‘in the mood’, you never will be. Set deadlines, remind yourself of your priorities, remember your why. WHY are you learning/making/trying this? Whatever your reason, it’s probably better than the reason why you might want to lounge about and watch Love Island. We are lucky in that most everything we do is our choice, so make good ones.

21: Be willing to waste time. Don’t confuse effort with results — the two do not always correlate (unfortunately). Hours spent writing may not yield anything worthwhile, and yet sometimes the best ideas can be executed in minutes.

22: Say no to things that don’t serve you. Focus on what matters and know your priorities.

23: Success is a byproduct, not an aim. Do what you love for the love of it.

24: Everyone has the ability to exercise creativity. That’s right, young Anna. It’s a muscle that grows with practice — so stop aspiring, start trying.

Just remember that green is not a creative colour.

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I’m a photographer / writer based in London. You can follow me on social media @annaholling and view my work at https://annah.co/.

If you’d like to chat please leave a comment or drop me a line at hi@annah.co