Here’s something I’m awesome at: giving advice that is perfectly sound and reasonable but which I , myself, can never seem to hold myself to. It’s, like, kind of my thing.
But I’ve been better recently! I made it a point in January to try to see as many projects through to completion as possible, regardless of the setbacks, regardless of the roadblocks or obstacles that might come up, regardless of the lack of grace or imperfections I see in the finished product – basically regardless of my ADHD.
Of course, I’ve made some variation of those resolutions literally every year of my adult life, and yet have never managed to hold on to them for longer than a couple of weeks. And yet (knock on wood), it’s currently early April and I’ve actually found follow through on a number of projects I’ve been working on since October of last year – that, my friends, is a record for me. Like, by leaps and bounds. I completed OctPoWriMo, Inktober, and a number of a non-challenge related art projects – I’m on my ninth painting this year, and I’m not planning on stopping, plus I’m currently doing three writing challenges.
So, what changed? Well, I wish I could say it was about will-power, but no – it’s about scaffolding. It’s about setting yourself up for success.
- Find a way to hold yourself accountable. Start a blog, join a social group, get involved. I have found that I am more productive when I am engaged in creative endeavors along-side other people. For me, starting the blog has actually been a good catalyst for wanting to get stuff done. I don’t have a huge audience, but I feel like if I’m blogging about, at least in part, being creative, then I owe it to my readership to actually, you know – create.
- Impose external structure. If you want to write, sign up for a writing challenge; NaNoWriMo is great for fiction writers and novelists, and there are plenty of flash fiction, poetry, and art challenges out there. My current intense interest in creating visual media can be almost wholly attributed to a really great run during last year’s Inktober, and most of the people following me did so during A-to-Z Challenge, OctPoWriMo, or NaPoWriMo, because the structure (and the public accountability) had me creating something every day.
- Make the materials you need accessible. For a long time, lack of organization and space to create was a ready-made excuse for simply not making. The daunting task of cleaning up after something like a weekend of painting was also just a seemingly insurmountable mental obstacle. So, instead of swearing to myself I’d clean the basement and make myself a livable space down there, I co-opted space that was already livable – my living room. We have a coffee table with a hinged top that doubles as storage, and in there, I have all my acrylics, Sculpey, brushes, and canvases. At night, after Bear goes to bed, I can pull out my supplies, paint, and when I’m done, hole it all away again.
- Choose projects that hold your interest. Okay, so this is tricky, because even things I’m genuinely interested in can pose a problem when it comes to initiation and sustained focus. But essentially, it means create the art that you want to create, not the art you feel like you should be creating. I’ve stagnated too many times because I was waiting for the “right” idea, when in fact there were a ton of things I could have been making. When I finally let myself feel okay about painting “frivolous” things — character studies, and robots, and aliens, wildly-hued flowers and birds — I became kind of unstoppable. If you’re a painter, your art doesn’t have to be “meaningful,” it doesn’t have to be “high brow.” If you’re a writer and you want to write coffeshop AU fanfic instead of literary vignettes, do it. Don’t stifle yourself for the sake of “serious” art. Putting art out into the world is a net good — even if it’s only for your own enjoyment.
- Set timers. Tell yourself you are going to give ten minutes of your time to something — ten minutes of free writing, ten minutes devoted to a sketch, ten minutes to develop a design. It’s a short enough space of time that you can be assured that you’ll almost always be able to squeeze it in, it imposes structure, and it’s often just enough time to develop momentum. Plus, once that momentum and routine develops, you will be stunned with what you can actually do in ten minutes.
- Get physical. I’ve started very consciously thinking about the mental/planning stages of a project as an integral and important part of the creative process (in an effort to curb my overzealous, unprepared leaps into projects), but that doesn’t just mean idly thinking about what I might kind-of, sort-of, maybe like to do someday – it means thinking, very pointedly, about the project at hand. The thing is, I feel like a lot of people, writers in particular, feel that this process has to take place in front of a keyboard and screen (or notebook) and, ughh, forcing myself to do this literally makes me want to peel off my skin. If I’m stuck, trying to make myself sit still and puzzle it out is torturous. So I get up. I put on music. I move. I suppose you could do something productive and mindless (I myself have been known to fold laundry at this stage, since that’s fairly automatic movement), but often I just pace. Physical movement seems to greatly aid in keeping mental stagnation at bay. Just be sure you have a place to jot notes as they come to you.
- Create schedules for the rest of your life, and make it almost laughably concrete. I have a checklist for my day that includes “eat breakfast,” “shower,” and “drink a glass of water.” I need to see these things written down in order to do them, and you can think that’s ridiculous or pathetic, but that’s the fact of the matter. Create checklists for everything — chores, morning and evening routines, hobbies. Getting your life and environment in order alleviates stress, which increases creativity, and it also reduces the need for transitions (for those of us who have problems with that), because all of your lifestyle/household essentials are accounted for and you will actually have more uninterrupted stretches of time sans responsibilities that you can actually devote to creating. Into a lot of different creative pursuits? Create a rotating schedule where you work on certain hobbies on certain nights. Create routine checklists for your hobbies (Monday, I work on Poetry: ten minutes reading a favorite poetry zine, ten minutes free writing, ten minutes cleaning up and outlining, etc. Tuesday, I paint: five minutes brainstorming, ten minutes blocking, fifteen sketching, ten developing a palette, etc.) Say it with me again: structure, structure, structure.
But I want to stress — actually, I need to stress — none of these tips are going to make things run smoothly into perpetuity. I still struggle, basically every day; initiation is still my biggest issue, though planning/organization and sustaining attention have both imprved over the last six months. Depending on where your own deficiencies lie, you may find more of less success with these tips than I have, but these are the things that have been the most successful for me.
But, uh, hey. I’m still open to suggestions.