It doesn’t matter whether we make music, paint, write, sing, dance, act or take part in any other creative pursuit…we get stuck more often (and in more ways) than we like to admit! There are 4 popular creative myths that - once dispelled - can be overcome with a few mental hacks...
Personally, one of my biggest issues in the past has been trying to find the time to make music. I mean, some of the songs I’ve worked on have ended up taking over 40 hours…that’s a whole working week! It causes a horrible nauseous feeling in my belly, where I think I don’t have enough time in my life to make music - especially when I factor in everything else (day job, girlfriend, friends, family, exercise, sleep, etc.) - so I try not making music, then end up feeling like I’m not expressing myself creatively - and get depressed!
My book, “Become a Music Making Machine”, tackles these issues head-on. You can grab a copy here.
So why is this, and what’s the solution? Well, it turns out it’s just one of a number of myths us “Creatives” like to tell ourselves (that being another of them…that we’re “Creatives”), and until we uncover the truths behind the myths, finding lasting solutions is going to be tricky.
So, what are these myths? Well, here are a few of the most common that crop-up, the truth behind them and how we can overcome them:
Myth Number 1 - “I don’t have time”
This’ll probably annoy some of you - and I understand why, as I’ll vehemently deny it when someone says it to me - but the truth behind this myth is pretty much that we simply haven’t decided on our priorities. “Oh, this other thing is more important”, we’ll say, or “How can I NOT prioritise earning money?”, “But I have to see my nephew / daughter / gibbon”.
The truth is, everyone has the same amount of time, and - of course - we all have obligations that we need to fulfil. But when all the obligations are dealt with (e.g. day job / school, looking after pets / kids, etc.) most of us will spend time watching TV, reading books, going to the pub (for my non-British friends…the bar), and a whole host of other activities. Now, none of those activities is bad (I love a pint - or two), but it just means that at the point we choose another activity over our music/art/writing, there’s no point lying to ourselves. We then have the ability to calmly look at the future outcome of our actions, and choose how to spend our time accordingly.
The second - more valid - part of this myth has a little more truth to it: When we DO finally sit down to make our art, it’s then a matter of how much time the work itself takes, but really it’s just another version of a lack of priorities. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve written tracks that ended up taking 40 hours from start to finish! There are a couple of reasons for this, but the primary one is a lack of clear intended outcome. If I don’t know what the desired outcome is, how can I effectively prioritise my work towards achieving it?
1. Next time you’re about to say “I don’t have time”, stop for a moment and give yourself an honest answer. Do you really not have time, or would you rather just do something else instead? To work on your art means to not do something else, and vice versa. Get comfortable with that - it’s unavoidable - and plan accordingly.
2. Get clear about what you want to achieve before starting. Do you want to sell your song/painting/novel? If so, to whom do you want to sell it? What are they looking for? Then focus your creative direction, concentrating on the most important elements. When I’ve been commissioned to do music production, you can be sure I finish far more quickly as I have a deadline and someone relying on me. If it’s for myself, it can be harder to make creative decisions and work quickly. This can be overcome by choosing a strong reason for doing the work, setting deadlines often, and scheduling that time into your calendar.
Myth Number 2 - “I’m just not a creative person”
The truth is, creativity is a natural state for all of us. Whether you are a school pupil, salesperson, manager, accountant or artist, you already behave creatively on a daily basis - whether it be in your studying, problem-solving, or communication with people. Being creative in an artistic or musical way is simply a matter of applying your already-innate abilities to these different areas - which means prioritising (see Myth no. 1). Although we are all born creative, practise and exercise - as with any human skill - strengthens our creative ability.
A variation of this (and one I’ve suffered from) is that if we were good at something as a child, we convince ourselves that we must somehow be NOT good at something else (as in, we’re not “naturally gifted” at it). However, being “naturally gifted” is usually code for “spent a lot of time doing it”. If you were good at drawing as a child (as I was), look back and you’ll see that you would have actually spent many hours studying and practising (although we don’t see it that way at the time as it was just for fun). For instance, I’ve always been told I’m good at drawing cartoons, but upon reflection, I actually spent a LOT of time reading comics as a child (Dennis the Menace, anyone?), and a lot of my free time doodling. So, I GOT good….I wasn’t born that way.
I then decided I wanted to get good at DJing and music production - even though I wasn’t a musician at school - so spent a lot of time at that. Since then I’ve ranked 3rd in a national UK DJ competition, produced charting music with high-profile singers, and have DJed all over the world (including at the Ministry of Sound). I’m not writing those things to brag - just to illustrate that it’s simply a matter of learning and practise. Not easy, but simple. When I first played with a pair of turntables, I loved it but I was horrible at mixing. I mean…cats fighting in an alley H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. Similarly, I’m now interested in writing and business, so I’m focussing on those skills and will continue to improve with practise.
1. Realise that you can literally excel at anything, and whilst you might not get to the top 5% - well, probably not without at least a) 10,000 hours practise (see Malcolm Gladwell), and b) a little bit of luck (overrated but does play a part) - you can certainly get good enough to be in the top 10% in anything if you are interested enough to put in the right kind of practise.
2. Realise that people are not naturally talented at anything when they are born (well, apart from gurgling, screaming, eating and crapping maybe). They LEARN new skills. It’s all too easy to convince ourselves we’re “just not naturally good at it”, but really we're just not good at it yet. If you struggle with confidence or self-belief (as we all do from time to time), I recommend reading books or blogs that will help shift your mind-set. A book I highly recommend is Rich Dad Poor Dad, and all of Earl Nightingale’s audiobooks are pretty great.
Myth Number 3 - “I have writer's block”, or “I’m just not inspired”
Inspiration - when it hits - is nice, but it certainly can’t be relied upon. In the same way I used to sometimes dread going to scouts or karate as a kid, it was only after arriving and getting involved in the sessions (because my parents would make me go) that I had an AWESOME time! If you look at the world greatest “creatives”, you will see that they all have a disciplined workflow. Do you think they create great work because they are always inspired, or because they turn up and work regardless, and the inspiration comes as a result?
1. If you timetable in a regular, focussed block of time and commit to giving it your all, I guarantee that Fun and Inspiration will magically bestow their luscious bosoms upon you - either during that session or later on as a result of that session. You will also systematically improve (if you learn to practise in the correct way, but more on that later…), which will give you a sense of progression - and NO-ONE likes to feel that they’re standing still.
2. Get out into the world and experience different things! If you are a musician, go to an art gallery. If you are a painter, go to a concert, if you are a writer, go out for a run or walk in nature. Or the city. Or all of the above! Switch ‘em up, break your routine and then sit down and work regardless of how you inspired you feel.
Myth Number 4 - “I’m too old / young / experienced / inexperienced to succeed”
This is a pernicious little myth, and rears its ugly head in many ways. In a nutshell, it’s very similar to Myth Number 2, and it’s basically fear: Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking bad.
Even when there is evidence contrary to these excuses (e.g. music producers like Madeon who smash into the scene at the age of 16, or Madonna who continues to release music as she approaches 60) we often still cling to them. The trouble is, a lot of us enjoy placing blame on external factors as it absolves us of responsibility. But there is a great cost to indulging these excuses: We convince ourselves we shouldn’t follow our dreams or fulfil our creative potential, which can lead to EXTREME regret. And, in the immortal words of Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”. It is an uncomfortable truth to grasp because it means having to either a) Work harder / better / smarter, or b) Just be OK with not achieving what you really want. *Note: what YOU really want…not what society tells you you SHOULD want. If you just want to be able to write music / paint a few hours a week in your spare time, that’s ace and just as valid as wanting to headline Coachella or getting a number one hit.
When you hear yourself indulging in negative self-talk like this, there are a few quick ways to shake yourself out of it and get back on track:
1. Search on Google, or think of someone you know who proves this not to be true. If they can do it, so can you.
2. Read an inspiring post or chapter from a good book. I use Momentum for Chrome, which gives me an inspiring quote every time I open a new tab. I also use News Feed Eradicator for Facebook, which gives me a cool quote AND stops me procrastinating!
2. Realise that all the people you might be comparing yourself unfavourably to have their own negative self-talk to deal with too - even those that appear the most “successful”. Not only do they all still struggle, they also all started from zero.
3. Think of a time in your past when you’ve achieved something that others have been impressed with. You have...I guarantee it. That wasn’t luck. You’ve done it before and you'll do it again.
Quick Wins and Takeaways:
1. Be honest with yourself. Make sure your reasons aren’t just excuses.
2. Get clear about what you’re trying to achieve, and prioritise.
3. Schedule work and deadlines into your calendar and stick to it - regardless of how you feel.
4. Realise that we’re all creative every day - it’s just a matter of where we focus our creativity.
5. Read books that help positively shift your mind-set.
6. Experience different places and activities to revitalise your inspiration.
7. Realise that we all have the potential to achieve what we want.
8. Realise that anyone you look up to started from zero and has pretty much the same problems as you.
Are there any other creative myths we tell ourselves? How do you get yourself out of being stuck and back to Creativesville? Let me know in the comments below 🙂