on creativity and doing things the "right" way
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.
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.
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?
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.