The Guide To Living Creatively

Creativity takes courage.

The easiest thing in the world is to let go of your creativity. To say you’ve got a *real* job and give up the creative work that used to matter deeply to you. To find an excuse to prioritize Netflix over your artist’s studio. To find an excuse to stop painting, writing, filming, building, making, crafting and discovering.

That’s because being creative is the hard part. Giving it up forever is terrifyingly easy. But you don’t have to let it all go. You can live creatively and embrace your creativity every single day…

5 Ways To Live Creatively

1. Balance your time’s checkbook

This is something that creates a huge obstacle to creativity for so many people. They don’t have their time’s checkbook balanced. It’s all over the place. There’s huge chunks missing. Huge chunks unaccounted for. If they audited it, they’d be in shit with whatever the chronological version of the IRS is.

If you look at your own checkbook, and look closely, you’ll probably see an inordinate amount of time spent catching up with people that you frankly don’t like very much. Or watching a TV show you stopped enjoying in season 3 because you just have to finish season 9. Or working on extra projects for the office that you aren’t getting paid to do and don’t even matter that much in the first place.

This imbalance blocks creativity. Because you haven’t just taken your time and paid it out to all these activities you don’t want to be doing. You’ve taken your time away from the activities you want to be doing. From your art or your music or your film making or whatever.

So if you’ve taken that time away, you just don’t have the resources to spend on creativity. Don’t do that. Start taking it back.

2. Think about what you surround yourself with

Do you surround yourself with great books, great art, great music, great films, great products, great design? Or do you not even think about your environment? You’d be stunned to know how much of a difference your environment makes. Even just the four walls around you. They make the difference, sometimes, between living creatively and just cruising with your brain and your heart switched onto airplane mode…

Think about this, from Sam McNerney:

Consider a study published in Science by Juliet Zhu and a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia. The psychologists recruited six hundred subjects and tasked them with several basic cognitive tests that required either an analytic approach or a more creative mindset. The key part of the experiment was that the tests were conducted on computer screens with red, blue, or neutral backgrounds. Did the color of the screen matter?
The differences were noticeable. Computer screens with a red background boosted performance on analytical tasks including memory retrieval and proofreading. Blue computer screens, on the other hand, improved performance on creative tasks such as coming up with uses for a brick and brainstorming. Why? Zhu argues that red unconsciously motivates us to think more deliberately and analytically because it’s associated with things such as stop signs, emergency vehicles and danger. In contrast, blue is associated with the sky, ocean and peace and tranquility — things that influence a more free-flowing and exploratory mindset.

So if your environment can have that much of an impact on your creativity, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to keep yourself surrounded by things that don’t inspire creative action? Fuck no.

In our apartment, my fiance and I live with so many things around us that we find creative and inspiring. Our vinyl records. Our stacks (upon stacks upon stacks) of books and comic books and novels. Our whiteboards covered with ideas and scribbles. The vibrant, hand painted murals that somebody was trying to throw in the trash in our building and I rescued because I fell in love with them. It all adds up to an environment that makes me feel creative. Every day.

3. Run challenges against yourself

Something that motivates a lot of people to lose weight and get in shape and become healthy is to run a set challenge. They’ll do an 8 week program where they’ve got to work out 45 minutes a day and follow a meal plan. It’s motivating. It gets folks motivated. There’s an end in sight, there’s a clear goal, there are actions that must be taken.

Doing this creatively helps a lot. One of my mates writes a new song every day for 6 weeks in a row in a creative sprint. Then he takes a month off writing anything before the next sprint. It just helps him to get his creativity pumping in a controlled way.

I’m working on a version of a creative sprint program at Creatomic, just because I don’t want our publication to fall down or lose its creativity. I might make that public if it works, but we’ll see. What it currently looks like is running a monthly sprint to get a creative project out the door at Creatomic every 30 days. The effect that’s had on my own creative thinking is yuge.

4. Read. Read constantly. Read voraciously.

I’m addicted to books. Seriously, it’s almost a problem. When I’m not working or playing my Xbox, all I do is bury myself in books. I don’t read fast, I’m not a speed reader and I don’t try to get through a new book every week, because if I did I would never retain anything and it would all go in one ear and out the other. I like to savor my books and enjoy every single word.

Right now, I’ve got so many books on the go…because I try to only read one chapter a day at most of any one book. That ensures I don’t burn out or get bored of it or forget what I’ve just read. I’m reading books by Bill Walsh, by Hillary Clinton, by Mark Cuban, Malcolm Gladwell…my next book is most definitely going to be I’m Judging You by Awesomely Luvvie because honestly everything I hear about it makes it sound incredible and I can’t wait to pick it up.

The reading has a few important effects. It makes me believe in things. It stops me from believing in other things. It makes me question myself and others and find answers to questions I never knew I was asking. In short, it pushes me to be creative in a way that only a good book can.

5. Push yourself to find new outcomes

If I’m stuck on a problem with Creatomic, or I feel like we’re not being creative with the content and programs and the products that we build, I’ll try to find a new outcome. That means stopping and saying okay, if making X amount of dollars wasn’t the outcome for this marketing campaign…what would the outcome be?

If educating people about bootstrapping their business wasn’t the outcome of a certain post, what would the outcome be?

This requires me to think about the end game in a different way, and that in turn makes me think about every play and every move. This drags creativity kicking and screaming out of me, because it’s the only way to answer some of these questions.


IMPORTANT. Remember to take a break sometimes.

I like to think of my creativity not as an endless well, more like a special move or spell in a video game. Every time I use it, I’ve got to give it time to recharge. So I try to take creative breaks from time to time, to make sure that it can get back up to full strength.

Here’s an example. Next year, in April, Creatomic will be shutting down for an entire month. No blog posts. No content. No videos. No nothing. I’ll be hiking in the Himalayas that month, and while I’m gone it’s going to go quiet. It’ll be a creative recharge, and when I’m back it’s going to be with an all new energy.

That break is vitally important. I take mini breaks all the time. Sundays for example, are not Creatomic days. They’re hang out with the cat and eat banana bread with ricotta days. Sundays are when I recharge every damn week.


6 quotes about creativity that fucking drive me

Creativity takes courage.
Henri Matisse

It takes courage. It takes more courage than quitting. Every now and then, it almost feels like it takes more courage than I have. But chasing that courage is a powerful action on its own.

Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.
Gail Sheehy

Because there’s nothing certain in creativity. You can’t even be certain that you’ll recognize your own work when you pick it up later and look over it. But that uncertainty is part of what makes it so addictive.

Creativity is an import-export business.
Ethan Zuckerman

I love this one so much I’m going to write an entire book around it. But for now, let me just say this. As creatives, we put out only as much as we take in. We use inspiration and our experiences as raw material. The more raw material we have, the more we can create.

I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.
Ken Robinson

I used to volunteer to teach art to kids. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the other teachers tell them stuff like, “That’s not how you draw a tree.” What do you think happens to creativity when kids are told their creativity is wrong?

Everybody born comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. We come from the Creator with creativity. I think that each one of us is born with creativity.
Maya Angelou

I think about this quote all the time. Because people will often say to me, “I wish I was creative.” And I think we all are. It just needs to be drawn out of us. At the end of the day, everyone can paint. It doesn’t have to be a good painting to make you a creative person. It just has to have been created.

For most people, creativity is a serious business. They forget the telling phrase ‘the play of ideas’ and think that they need to knuckle down and work more. Often, the reverse is true. They need to play.
Julia Cameron

Spot on. I try to play every day. Sometimes I’ll just flip open my laptop and write rap songs or make crummy animations using clay figures or sketch Elves fighting secret agents on the back of an envelope. It helps…


REMEMBER. Living creatively isn’t impossible.

You can work in an office job and be creative.

You can be a lawyer and be creative.

You can be a fry cook at McDonalds’ and be creative (believe me, I was)

You can work you ass off all day in a job you hate and still be creative.

You can live however you want and wherever you want and still be creative.

You can be an entrepreneur and still be creative. In fact, I would suggest you can’t be an entrepreneur and not be creative…

You can measure your creativity on your own terms.

What I know for sure is that you don’t have to follow what other people dictate is the real version of creativity. People used to tell me that I wasn’t ~really creative because I wrote punk rock songs instead of artsy songs. People used to tell me that I wasn’t ~really creative because I drew comic art instead of learning to paint portraits. Now people tell me I’m not ~really creative because I blog instead of writing novels. People always want to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. No matter what it is.

But that’s not to say that you’ve got to conform to their idea of creativity. Why should you? It’s not your idea of creativity.


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I’m the founder of Creatomic.

I’m Jon Westenberg. I’m a serial failure, a law school drop out, and a passionate creative. I started my first company at 18, walking off the grill of a McDonald’s to create a music management company. Since then, I’ve worked with startups, spoken at events across the globe, won and lost a record deal and kept moving forward with one idea: life isn’t about staying up. It’s about getting up when you fall down. I founded Creatomic, a top blog and coaching company.