Why, for many, practice makes perfect.
Credit: Brittany Wood

You know the one who's always inspiring? She brings interesting points to light in team meetings, aces every task at hand, and energizes the company with her innovative strategies and ideas. Or maybe the creative person you look up to is an old friend with a serious penchant for interior decoration. It could be your culinary-talented father, a local artist, or your favorite author or motivational speaker. Whoever they are, you're always left marveling at not only the vision, but the orchestration and end result, too.

So, does creativity come naturally, or is it a thing anyone can master with patience and persistent practice? Four creative people—creative experts, in fact—argue for the latter. Whether you're in the midst of a creative project, tossing around stimulating thoughts, or simply interested in tapping into your inner resourcefulness for the future, they've got sound advice.

Understand the meaning of creativity.

Attempting to define creativity can leave you more than a little stumped. It's kind of mysterious—you know what it is, mostly, but are likely unable to describe it if someone asked you to. It's important, however, to understand the essence of creativity in order to hone it. The interpretations vary, but Danny Gregory, author of Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are, defines it as creating your own order. "Creativity is the act of shaping the mush of the world around us into something," he says. "I'm not talking about getting compulsive with a label-maker and color coded files. I'm talking about having a vision of what you want things to be like and moving toward it." We live in a natural state of chaos, Gregory says, which is why your desk may be messy or your calendar filled with scribbles. Creativity is sorting through the calamity.

According to Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice, creativity boils down to a simple game of solutions. "Creativity is problem-solving," he says. "A designer sees a problem and solves it visually, a poet does so with words, and an entrepreneur does it by creating a business that meets a need. All of these are creative acts." It's a common mistake to confuse creativity with art, Henry explains. And this may paint a damaging picture of your creative self. "It's a shame because people think they're not creative simply because they can't paint or play music," he says. "In reality, anyone who has to solve problems regularly is exhibiting creativity."

Break past the barrier of fear.

Nobody claimed that it's easy to be creative, but the biggest hindrance seems to be the ever-basic fear of failing. "It was my concern about what teachers thought about my art during high school and college that kept me from tapping into my creative potential even earlier," says Marisa Cummings, author of Creative Thursday: Everyday Inspiration to Grow Your Creative Practice. "When I decided to own and commit to developing my creative gifts, the fear started to ease. But what I didn't realize is that moving through fear is just a normal part of the expanding creative process for all of us." In short: it never ends.

The in-between stage of mediocrity often manifests fear, says Jessa Crispin, author of The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life. "I think there's the expectation of, 'I can't fail—if it's not great immediately, then it's a sign that I am not meant to do this work,'" she says. "It's okay to mess up; it's okay to be bad at something. Just learn from that experience so that next time, it'll be a tiny bit better, and then a tiny bit better after that." Furthermore, when you're just starting out, the focus of creativity should be on the expression rather than the outcome. "[Creativity] is about living an active life rather than a life of being a passive consumer," Crispin says. "The results of that don't have to do anything for you. It's the action, not the result, that is often important."

Maintain a daily routine.

Think of harnessing your creativity like playing the piano or training for a marathon. The more frequently you complete the routine, the better you become. "[Creative people] make it a regular practice, and if possible, a daily practice," Cummings says. "It's just like any other habit—you have to stay consistent. My theory is creativity always inspires more creativity. Once the creative juices are flowing, and you practice in any medium regularly, the momentum stays."

Henry echoes Cummings' sentiment. It's not a talent; instead, it's a skill to learn. "If you want to be brilliant when it counts most, you need to begin far upstream from the moment you need a brilliant idea," he says. "We like to think that creativity is a spontaneous gift only a few people wield, but in truth most of the brilliantly creative people I know are regular, ordered, and disciplined about how they approach their life so that they are able to be creative when it matters."

Keep a notebook handy, always.

Where do you begin? The key to habit-building is to remove as many obstacles as you can, says Gregory. It's a journey to be taken one step at a time, and all you need to start is a blank notebook and a pen. "Use its margins for shopping lists, driving directions, phone numbers, ideas. Make it your constant companion, your wing man," he says. "[And] start small. The key to success in the habit business is to move ahead in small and manageable increments. One day a a time. A one-pound loss on the scale is heading in the right direction. Make small things. Write a sentence, a paragraph, a page. Write down one idea. Then another. Then a third."

Put your idea book by the television remote, and write down a creative thought during every commercial break. Write down the first idea that pops into your head in the morning, and your final imaginings before bed. Jot down the view out the kitchen window while the coffee heats up. The secret, Gregory says, is to link an everyday event into a creative act. This is the ultimate creative habit.

Work at it constantly.

And don't forget that you must put in the time and effort to both form and sustain your habit. "Every day, a person makes the decision to either work, create, make beauty, or they make the decision to turn on Netflix and eat a burrito. Or they decide to do both, obviously," Crispin says. "There are psychological reasons for making one decision or the other, but at the end of the day, it's either you make this a priority and make emotional, energetic and physical space for it or you don't."

Simply put, that's what creativity amounts to.

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
October 17, 2019
I liked the way I felt about myself when I finished reading. I am creative but not always in an arty way! Very well done, thanks.
Martha Stewart Member
October 17, 2019
Excellent and realistic!