1. Do the Work.
There is no better way to convince yourself you are a real artist/writer/entrepreneur/etc. than to put time and effort into your craft, your business, your work. Whatever it is.
The thing that separates the amateur writer from the professional, often enough, is simply the amount of time spent working the craft. -Richard Bausch
Act as if you take yourself seriously enough and you’ll start believing you are serious. The more doing of work that goes on, the more serious you are. Every completed, shipped item increases the distance between your amateur self and your professional self. Create, deliver. Create, deliver.
Do the work, over and over again, even when the finished product is no good and you have to throw it out and start over. You’re still doing instead of just dreaming, and each accomplishment moves you further and further into craft as profession, work as success, goals as reality, growth as a way of life.
2. Read the timeless works of your particular niche.
You’re learning the language. Immerse yourself. Educate yourself. Even if you have a degree in your field, you need to read and reread these keystone works as more than a student. You need to go back and take them in as an adult, as a business owner, as a growing artist, as a professional, as an experienced creator.
See how your perspective changes.
See how you find new concepts, new ideas, new wisdom with each review. Take notes. Memorize passages. Pick a few favorites, the ones that really speak to you and set a standard of how you want to work, and know them like lovers.
3. Stay current with the trends of your niche.
I say this with a dose of “however” thrown in. Stay somewhat current, not obsessively current. Spend a few minutes each day catching up on the news, reading the blogs, interacting with the community; don’t spend hours each day. Don’t take the time that should be spent on doing the work.
Pick a few thought leaders, trend-setters, innovators and keep up with them. A few. Good ones.
4. Define your own best effort and put it forth.
Perfection is not necessary.
Best is. Your personal best. You know what that is, and it will vary with each stage of your life. It might vary from one project to another. I don’t spend as much time on writing a blog post as I do, say, on producing an article for a magazine, or an ebook.
Different projects demand different levels of engagement. (Perfection, by the way, is hardly ever a real need in any project.)
5. Learn to control your own inspiration.
The sooner the better. It’s great to reach out into the void, ask for the muse to strike you, but sometimes it’s better to pick up the baseball bat, give yourself a good thump on the head (see? no Muse needed now) and just get to work.
I should rephrase. Not “sometimes it’s better” but “ALWAYS it’s better.”
Take control of your own work and increase your confidence by taking responsibility. Don’t blame your lack of work on a temperamental muse, a lack of inspiration, writer’s block, a bad mood, ADD, too many distractions.
So, two aspects of controlling your inspiration: first, don’t depend on it – whatever it is – to get you doing the work. Just do the work, even if the quality is poor. You can go back and fix the work, once it’s done. (Chances are the quality isn’t as poor as you think it is.)
Second, find out how to inspire yourself. Note the sources of your inspiration, and build them systematically into your life. This is possible, it just requires some thought and conscious effort. Inspiration is not so mysterious.
6. Study the past great innovators/artists/entrepreneurs/personal heroes.
Step outside your niche a bit here.
Read some biographies, or watch documentaries (take a break from reality shows and you’ll have plenty of time for both). Find people who have accomplished great things, who have lived a life you want to emulate, and
learn all you can about them.
Don’t limit yourself to a particular type of person; for example, if you’re a visual artist, find a great writer who inspires you, or an engineer, an architect, a musician. The cross-over from one field to another will help you see the big principles of creativity and greatness, will help you to find common ground, and will keep you from becoming entrenched in the details and nuances of your own genre.
7. Be wary of amateur groups, networking events, workshops, and the like.
Most of these groups exist to provide their members an easy excuse for not applying butt to chair and doing the real work. Of course, some of them are fine, wonderful, great, profitable, productive, helpful. Etc. Some. A few. Maybe.
But most are – or become – simply a way for you to waste time and commiserate with your peers over how difficult it is to get things done, to be creative, to be confident, to be productive, when you could be at home or in your office or at your favorite coffee shop or at the library or wherever you go to actually do the work.
Do the work of being creative first; once you’ve actually made yourself be productive, you’ll automatically be more confident. Then you can network all you want, and you’ll actually have something of value to offer. And you’ll also probably wonder why you’re wasting time “networking” when you could be immersed in the powerful, productive, creative, confidence-building work you love. Good question.
8. Develop habits that produce work.
As with inspiration, what we consider to be mysterious is not, after all, so difficult to understand. Your life is a series of small choices that you make. Each choice you make repetitively is a habit. Each habit you have either helps you produce or helps you procrastinate.
Monitor your habits.
Identify the ones that lead you away from creativity, away from working. Switch them out with habits that help you produce. Expect some trial and error. Keep trying until you work out the errors (at least the major ones) and build those habits strong and steady.
9. Accept that experimentation, failure, and delay are part of the creative process.
Because they are. Failure isn’t bad, unless it’s continual failure to complete. That’s bad. Watch out for that one. But don’t be afraid of any other kind of failure: the failure to produce something perfect, the failure to recognize a bad idea, the failure to make your creation live up to your vision. Those failures are fine. They’re simply signs that you are creating, producing.
Throw them in your “things I’ve learned” box and
keep on trying.
10. Set and accomplish small goals.
Success does breed success. Doing the work will help you want to do more work, but if you don’t acknowledge what you’re doing, one small step at a time, along the way, you’ll get discouraged.
So set a goal that’s measurable: one chapter a day. Two blog posts a week. A painting a month. A new client each week. Line your small goals up with your big goals and focus on hitting those small goals consistently.
11. Build a portfolio of your finished work.
Don’t forget what you’ve done. For freelancers, writers, artists, consultants, and other creatives, building a portfolio is good business practice and will help you get more clients. For anyone, putting together a portfolio of completed projects – even if it is as simple as a list on a piece of paper, taped to the wall – will remind you of what you are able to do.
You can’t look at a new project and say, “Not possible, I can’t do it,” when you can glance at your portfolio and see that you’ve accomplished projects similar in scope or difficulty.
12. Take responsibility for your own motivation and work at it.
No one (except maybe your spouse) is going to shake you awake in the morning. No one is going to enforce your own standards. No one is or can be responsible for motivating you except for you.
Claim it. Take it. Work at it.
Define your motivation, write it down, put it where you can see it.
Remind yourself of it every single day.
Hold yourself to it. Don’t let up. Don’t look around to see what other people are motivated by. Don’t wait for someone else to remind you of why you should be motivated. Take control of your own life and you will grow in creativity. You will produce. You will be more confident, and you will reach more people.
Then you can come back here and tell us all about it.