Sarah Anne Hayes

on creativity and doing things the "right" way

CreativitySarah Anne Hayes2 Comments

I redesigned my website twice last week. Yes, twice. In two days actually. Maybe it was even three times, but it's all a little fuzzy at this point because sooner or later those frequent redesigns start to blend together.

In case it's not obvious, I've been trying to figure out my own creativity lately.

I knew going into this year that I wanted to come back to this space — to writing and creating and doing those things that make me come alive and are simultaneously stupid hard because they force me to break down that wall between my head and my heart more than I'd sometimes like. But despite the fact that storytelling and writing is the form of creation I remember having in my life the longest, it's not the only form of creativity in my life and, at many points, it hasn't even been the primary one.

If you're a specialist, one of those people who has their thing, there is a part of me that envies you and it might be a little hard for you to comprehend what it's like in my brain as I try to juggle what seems to be hundreds of conflicting parts that somehow make up the person I am. It's a little bit exhausting and exciting but also frightening and refreshing. All at the same time.

For a long time, most of my creation has just been a hobby and I've reached that crossroads in my life where I know that I want to keep some of it a hobby, but not all of it, because after nearly six years of working full-time, I can no longer deny the fact that I'm a creative and to try and pretend like a traditional 9-to-5 job could ever somehow fit into a life I'm head over heels with is just ridiculous. But there remains that question all creatives probably go through at some point — what do I keep a hobby and what do I turn into something more? And how on earth do I make that 'something more' a legitimately profitable thing? How do I find clients and make money and somehow make this dream of being paid to do the things I love the most a reality?

The obvious answer in our digital age is, of course, a website. And that's where I got stuck and have been stuck for...a long time.

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Regardless of your chosen profession, there will always be advice on how to do it "right." Even if we're not talking about a job, but just something you enjoy as a hobby, you can open up a browser, type some words into Google, and you will be inundated with thousands, possibly millions, of results telling you what you should do, what you're supposed to do, what the magic formula is to make this thing you're dreaming or thinking about a reality.

There is a lot of good advice in a lot of those articles. There is also a lot of bad advice in a lot of those articles. And I can definitely appreciate a great "how to" article, particularly when I'm pining over a gorgeous upholstered bed frame but cannot bring myself to spent thousands of dollars on it.

However, the problem with "how to" articles on anything other than a math problem is there isn't one "right" way to do a thing (and there isn't even one "right" way to do a math problem, to be honest). Even for something like making your own upholstered bed or cleaning a stain off the carpet, you will find countless different sets of instructions, all claiming to be the "right" way to do the thing.

When it comes to creating, I have a love/hate relationship with these "how to" articles. One the one hand, they can be incredibly useful and can provide that moment of clarity you've been searching for. On the other hand, rather than being seen for what they are — one person's story of what they did that worked (or didn't work) for them — they are far more often viewed as a hard and fast rule book for the things that you should do, must do, are supposed to do in order to be successful.

Read any of those posts and they'll give you a barrage of advice regarding the things to do to make your creative endeavors successful. They'll say the one thing you must do for your business is blog. Or have a great social media strategy. Or optimize your site for SEO. Or monetize this thing. Or start an email list. Or find your niche audience and write only to them (even if you might like to put out content about something else sometimes). Or...or...or...the list goes on and on.

This is what's had me stuck for far longer than I'd like to admit.

If you've been around this space or my life for the last several years, you know that I've had several stops and starts creatively. I've blogged on and off for eight years. I've opened and closed two different design businesses. I started a new blog and less than two months later combined it with this one. I stopped and started and pivoted and for most of it I've felt like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off with absolutely no idea how to do these things I wanted to do or build this life I wanted to live.

Why was that the case? Why, when I had thousands of articles about how to successfully run a business and build my dream life, did I seem to be floundering at every turn? Why couldn't I make the things happen that I wanted to make happen?

The answer's quite simple really — I was spending so much time trying to do what I was "supposed" to do that I never stopped to think about what actually works for me.

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Every single person on this planet is a unique individual with their own particular set of goals, dreams, visions, and ways of doing things. Creatives, in particular, tend to seem a little more unique than most. Frankly, we can be a little weird and that's perfectly okay. And the thing about being a creative means that you have your own process for creating things that might resemble the process of some other creatives, but it will be wholly and totally yours. That is, if you let it be.

In this day and age of platforms and analytics and strategy and monetization, it's so easy to get lost in all of the things that will supposedly make you a successful business owner that you forget you're a creative first and a business owner second. If you're so wrapped up in the business side of things that you forget your love of the craft, you've lost the point.

Yes, we all want to be successful. Yes, for most of us the dream is to make a livable wage doing the thing we absolutely love. But if the process of making a livable wage means that you've forgotten why you loved the thing in the first place, something's gone wrong.

This is what happened to me. I got so caught up in how I was supposed to do the thing that it completely prevented me from just doing the thing because I became so paralyzed by fear and indecision of doing it "wrong." I would choose one thing and feel boxed in. I would try this strategy and feel completely stressed out. I would try to build a niche brand and feel like I couldn't be my full self. I would design my business or my brand or whatever this way or that way and never feel like anything worked because I never stopped to ask myself what worked for me.

How do I think? How do I process? How do I create? What feels natural to me? How did I do all of those things before strategy and monetization and analytics ever came into the picture?

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I don't know what kind of creative you are. Maybe you're someone who loves statistics and strategy and monetization techniques and could wax poetical about the best ways to build a platform. You might be an amazing designer who also happens to be really, really good at the business side of business and so it was easy to find a "how to" strategy that didn't feel like a "supposed to." If so, my heart is so happy for you and also a little bit envious because that is something I've never really managed to find.

But maybe you're not. Maybe you're like me and you know you love to create and you know you'd love to impact the world with your creations and hopefully make a livable wage doing that, too, but the idea of optimizing your site for SEO and strategizing social media content and analyzing bounce rates and lead flow makes you want to go hide in a corner. If so, please know that you're not alone because I'm right in that corner with you.

It took me a long time to figure things out for myself. Longer than I'd like to admit. How could I possibly be a writer and a designer and YouTuber and a minimalist without leaving anyone who might want to follow me completely confused?

I'm still letting the pieces all settle into place, but this is what I now know — I am not a person who will ever have a niche because that's not how I roll. When you get me professionally or creatively, you get me personally, and the personal me is always going to be a little bit all over the place. I am not a person who will ever truly care about analytics or SEO because if I care about them at all I will care about them too much. I am a person who will always care about good design and presentation, but not at the detriment of getting out there and just doing the thing. I am a person who will always prioritize the act of creating over the strategy or the platform or the monetization, because I would absolutely love to one day spend my days getting paid to do all of those things that I love, but not at the expense of loving those things that I get to do.

So my wonderful creative friend, if you're like me — if you've been trying to figure out how things work for you in the midst of thousands of "how to" pieces that never seem to strike the right chord, ignore them. Do what works best for you. Find the people who are creating the way you want to create and talk to them. Don't listen to the people who are successful just because they're successful. Listen to your kindred spirits, the people whose hearts beat to the same rhythm yours does.

It's when you find those people and you learn to listen to them instead of the thousands of other voices telling you what to do and how to do it that you will finally begin to give the world the only thing you were ever supposed to give it — yourself.


Speaking of creating in a way that feels natural to you, I've now combined this blog with my professional website and opened up freelancing services again. If you'd like to collaborate in some way on a writing, design, or other project, I'd be honored to work with you. You can check out more details on all that here.

P.S. One of my kindred spirits for creating is Erin Loechner and she recently wrote a great list of "blogging tips" that are my favorite I've ever read. I highly recommend checking it out.

lenten thoughts and speaking life into dead places

FaithSarah Anne HayesComment

Lent began this week. If you're surrounded by people in any denomination of the Christian faith, that probably comes as no surprise to you.

As a believer myself, it wasn't out of the ordinary that this week my social feeds were filled with people discussing Lent — the things they're giving up, the things they're taking up, the other ways they're using this season to prepare for Resurrection, and even discussions about why you should give up Lent for Lent.

This year I've been reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle. She's been one of my favorite authors for years for the simple reason that she penned my favorite book of all time. It wasn't until 2015 that I picked up any of her writings outside the Time Quintet, but so far in 2017, she's penned four of the seven books I've completed or have in progress.

At the moment, I'm working my way through The Irrational Season, the third book in the Crosswicks Journals, which is a collection of four memoirs L'Engle wrote. In this third volume, L'Engle works through the liturgical calendar, from Advent to Advent, and uses the various seasons to discuss not only the rhythms in the life of the Church but the rhythms in her own life and the life of the believer.

Having grown up in a non-denominational home, the liturgical calendar is not one I'm intimately familiar with beyond the season of Advent, but the older I get, the more I find myself drawn to follow it more closely. There's inherent rhythm built into it — seasons of fasting, seasons of reflection, and seasons of celebration — that fit with the rhythms and seasons of life.

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On Wednesday, it was nearly 80 degrees here in Virginia. Today our high barely reaches 40, but peak bloom for the famous Washington D.C. cherry blossoms is still predicted for March 14-17 — one of the earliest ever recorded. Though I'm sure there are greater implications for the unseasonable warmth that we won't discuss now, it seems to me that even nature is yearning for change and the promises that always seem to arrive with spring.

As a season, Lent is something I've participated in sporadically over the years. In my younger days I arbitrarily gave up things like sugar or chocolate without any true understanding of the purpose behind it. Regardless of the actual history behind the season, I have now come to view Lent in regard to Easter very much like I view Advent in regard to Christmas. It is a time to quiet my heart and reflect on the sacrifice Christ made on the Cross, intentionally preparing myself for the celebration of His resurrection — something that is easy to miss or forget in the busyness of modern life.

The official start to spring is still a few weeks away and even then, it's unlikely that Virginia will be able to stick with one general temperature range for some time after that. I spent last week in Florida, where it was sunny and warm and I wore flip flops and tees almost every day. That kind of weather is normal for the south, but it did nothing to curb my yearning for the light and warmth and growth and newness of spring.

I've never particularly been a fan of cold weather or much of anything about winter, so every year I eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring. But this year, much like Advent, the season of Lent is reminding me that the Lord created the rhythms of nature the way He did for a purpose, and by rushing too soon from one season to the next, we miss what is often essential preparation. 

As human beings, we're fickle creatures, apt to become so enamored by the possibility of what will or could be that we lose sight of what is. But in the same way that ground cannot produce a bountiful crop without time to lay fallow, the human heart cannot produce bountiful fruit without seasons of quiet and stillness to let the Lord work.

Beyond my desire for warmth and sunlight again, the mid-to-late months of 2017 are shaping up to be filled with unexpected but exciting opportunities and my weary heart is all too ready for the newness and possibilities. I have to intentionally remind myself that a season of bountiful harvest cannot come unless a season of preparation precedes it. I have to stop my mind and my heart from leaping forward from what is to what could be and remind myself that the Lord is working now, in this seemingly dark, cold, and fallow time as much, if not more, than He will be in the seasons to come.

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Amidst the many discussions spread throughout my feed this week surrounding the season of Lent, words from Lore Ferguson Wilbert, one of my favorite bloggers, caught my eye:

"I wonder how different I and the people around me would be if I didn't fast from talking, writing, speaking, social media, or whatever during Lent, but I spent 40 days taking every opportunity to encourage, spur on to love and good deeds, spoke life-giving words to specific individuals, and prayed *with* all the people in my life?"

I have long held the belief that words are an incredibly powerful thing. In and of themselves they do not have the ability to change a heart — that is something only the Lord can do — but I believe there is a reason God spoke the world into existence rather than physically labored to make it so.

Perhaps one of the best ways I have found to keep myself grounded, to remain present in my current season even when my heart desperately wishes to fly into the future, is by more intentionally loving the people around me. By choosing to see them and hear them and pray for them and be with them right where they're at and use my words to bring about the new season — to breathe life into dead spaces, to bring hope into hearts that lost it long ago, to spur on to love and good deeds, to share encouragement and belief, to speak truth against the lies that can grow in a fallow season. 

I'm not giving up anything for Lent this year. I haven't in a long time and I don't know that I ever will again. Instead, I will choose to use this season to prepare my heart for the beauty of Easter Sunday and use my words to hopefully help others do the same. With each day that passes, Easter comes closer and the reminder of hope draws nearer. As our Lord did, let us use our words, this season and every day, to give life.

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Speaking of powerful words, this is just a small collection of a few pieces I've read and loved lately that I feel should be shared:

For All the Namers —  This post by Carolyn Givens for The Rabbit Room stopped me in my tracks. It is beautiful and lovely and something I think every person should read because if you know an artist or you are an artist, the truth in it affects you.

Why the British Tell Better Children's Stories —  This post from The Atlantic is such an interesting exploration in the difference between the British and American cultures and how they affect our approach to stories and, as a result, determine the kinds of stories we produce.

On Passion —  I discovered Erin Loechner at the beginning of this year and she's quickly become one of my favorite people to read. There is a simplicity and beauty to her words, yet they are drenched with such truth. This essay about passion as an emotion and its connection to a passionate life is no exception.

Smelling Flowers in the Dark — Anne Shirley, the beloved heroine immortalized by L.M. Montgomery, is my favorite character in all of literature. I have yet to explore Lucy Maud's other heroines, but this exquisite piece by Jennifer Trafton beautifully captures why I have always loved Anne so much and will continue to turn to her the pages of her stories for the rest of my life.

when you don't fit into a box

LifeSarah Anne Hayes2 Comments

If you know me personally, and possibly even just through the internet, you know that I can be a little bit all over the place.

I'm known for starting goodness knows how many projects, sticking with some of them, dropping others, and constantly evaluating if the latest "oooh, shiny!" idea is something I should actually pursue or just leave be.

In an age of specialists and "finding your niche" and being told to pick one thing, focus on it, and become an expert at it, I've never quite felt like I fit in because the idea of specializing, picking just one thing, and choosing a niche sounds terribly boring to me.

Whenever I heard someone talk about a "niche," it felt like a fancy word for a box. As in one that you put something in because it's easier to deal with topics and people and projects and platforms when they're nice and simple and easy to categorize. Now I know that no human being truly fits into a box, but since I live inside my own brain and that's the only one I know intimately, I know that I especially do not fit into a box.

Two and a half years ago, I became a minimalist, and last month I launched a new blog specifically aimed at recording my simple living journey and encouraging and inspiring others along the way. It was a project that, in theory, fit nice and neatly into a little box. Many of you are reading this now because you subscribed to that blog.

Well, things are going to change a little bit from here on out and I want to explain why.

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When I was still mulling over the idea of launching said minimalism blog, I was trying to decide on a few things — specifically a name and a platform. I didn't want it to be under my own name (ie. I wanted it to be its own brand) and I kept going back and forth between a blog or a YouTube channel, seeing pros and cons to both.

One day, I was discussing it all with my friend Emily and she asked why I couldn't just start writing about minimalism and simple living on my current blog — this one.

I said something to the effect of simple living didn't fit in with what I currently wrote about and no one would want to read my blog if I went from talking about decluttering your closet to how singleness is really hard sometimes. She asked me why not. After all, it's all my life.

I spouted back something about how it would feel too all over the place and that's not conducive to building an audience. Basically, I argued that I needed to fit into a "niche" even though I've always rebelled against the idea and honestly think they're kind of ridiculous. That's not to say they don't have their place, but for me, a niche simple does not work because it's not who I am.

Some people are really great at compartmentalizing their lives. I am not one of those people. So I'm not really sure why I ever thought it would be a good idea to compartmentalize my writing.

This blog has always been the place where I write about my life, but along the way, I think I started subconsciously buying into the idea that I could only write about certain topics in the same space because that's what you're "supposed" to do. And maybe that's true. Maybe this blog really will seem all over the place to people and no one will read it.

But if I'm honest, with the rare exception, the bloggers I follow the closest, whose posts I never miss, are the ones who are a little bit all over the place. They don't write about something specific. They write about their life — whether that's things they're learning about faith, new habits they're forming, advice based on a lesson they've learned, or the results of their hunt for the perfect planner. I follow them because of who they are, not because they fit into a niche.

The truth is, I love a lot of things. I'm a writer and a bibliophile who also designs and has a gajillion Pinterest boards dedicated to home decor. I'm a follower of Christ and a minimalist who also sings and acts and plays piano and the harp. My life has always been a little bit all over the place and it always will be, because that's how God made me. And since this is a blog about my life, that's how things are gonna be around here.

The truth is, when paired with some of my other creative projects, starting a new blog went completely against what that blog was about. Writing about simplifying my life had made things more complicated and stressful. So I'm going to practice what I preach and simplify.

For those of you who subscribed specifically to learn about minimalism and simple living, I will still be writing about that. It's a pretty integral part of who I am now. But I will also write about my faith and relationships and community and whatever else you guys want me to write about. (Seriously, if you want me to write about something, just ask!) I certainly hope you'll stick around, but I also won't be offended if you don't.

Life is a crazy adventure and a beautiful mess. It will never fit into a niche or a box and I don't think it was ever meant to. And I'm about life here — a life of faith, a life of simplicity, a life of beauty, a life of passion, a life of adventure — so we're throwing the boxes and niches out the window and following wherever the Lord leads.

However long you've been here and however long you stick around, thanks for joining me on this lovely journey called life.