This tutorial is meant for all creative types who are trying to get better at their craft and minimize their internal critic.
Several years ago I participated in National Poetry Writing Month where you write a poem a day in the month of April. After completing the challenge, I decided to continue writing and go for hundred poems in a hundred days.
It was an odd goal to set, I wasn't a poet, but rather a screenwriter seriously questioning my abilities, in the midst of a hairy rewrite that was getting the better of me. But at that particular moment, pursuing a daily habit tangentially related to my craft felt like the perfect vitamin. It not only boosted my confidence, but allowed me to get better at evoking images and stories through tiny story-poems.
Completing a daily ritual for so many days taught me some things about creativity that I'd like to share. Again, I think the lessons are applicable to painters, photographers, writers, musicians - basically anyone who is trying to get better at their craft:
YOUR IMAGINATION IS ENDLESS:
Our capacity for work and potential output is significantly greater than we believe. Right when you think the well of your imagination is dry you come up with something else. I had no idea of the number of verses and poems I had lying in wait in my brain prior to starting my challenge.
If you produce this quickly, with little time for reflection, your work will be of mixed quality. But it’s far easier to strengthen those raw ideas when you have them on paper as ‘prototypes’ of their future selves instead of waiting for something to be close to perfect in your brain. Only when things are physical can you refine and curate the best of your ideas.
YOU ARE ALREADY ‘READY’:
Prior to the challenge, I had wanted to take poetry seriously for some time – and the word ‘seriously’ for me usually translates to reading a book or taking a class on the subject before actually doing something. In the past it’s been easy for me to create prerequisites to physical action, a clever way of justifying procrastination.
But by bypassing any kind of ‘curriculum’, I accomplished significantly more on my own than I could have under someone else’s guidance. I was inspired by other poets, visitors to my blog and my own mistakes – these were my teachers.
ANCHOR THE DAY:
Not only does working this way mean you increase your output, put you also become more fluid in your medium. After a while the daily work become a part of your daily rhythm and you start to feel wrong without it. It becomes a kind of meditation, a morning jog, a holistic force that sets the tone for the day, that reminds you that today matters, so use it.
CONSUME THE WORLD:
Seeing and experiencing the world through the filter of the medium you’re working in is very exciting. At the time of the challenge I was living in Amsterdam and my morning walks became scavenger hunts, where I’d search for an image, a detail that could inspire that day’s work. The city and my thoughts became a precious thing that I was constantly trying to put into words.
I am now more convinced that as creators we must consume the world around us and respond to it, in the voice and medium of our choosing, on a daily basis.
But it doesn’t have to be all serious work. Play with your process when your stuff gets stale and you get tired. You can change up things by experimenting with different tools. For example, I tried writing poems on paper cups, with tape recorders and apps.
During the challenge, I obsessed on quantity – not quality. And ironically a side-effect of shutting off my internal editor is that I did produce some things I was proud of. The challenge combined with blogging created a kind of sandbox where I could mess around with no real intent or ‘master plan’ – yet I was extremely productive and surprised myself with the results. Odd.
I wonder if our insistence on making ‘one of a kind’ work right out the gate prevents us from eventually making one of a kind work one day? Final outcomes we can be proud of are the result of constant experimentation and wrong turns as we find our way down a foreign road. And sometimes you have to lock your ego and editor in the trunk just to make some real progress down that new path.
Depending on your medium of choice, I encourage you to journal these daily artifacts you create – via twitter, tumblr, instagram, wordpress, etc. – opening yourself to the feedback and inspiration of others; allowing some transparency to your bungles and successes. I promise you that kind of transparency is not as embarrassing as it seems. It’ll give you some accountability to finish your challenge and be a great reminder not to take yourself too seriously.
If this idea resonates with you but 100 days straight sounds insane, then I would warm up with a 30-day challenge to create something everyday. You could work in a medium directly related to your career and craft, or in a new medium tangentially related as a form of cross-training. Remember, the definition of success in such a challenge is quantity, not quality. You'll have time afterwards to curate and invest more time in the results that you think deserve it.
For more ideas on how to design a creative challenge of your own I recommend these two resources:
PS You can view some of my favorite poems from my challenge here.