Successful Artists Do It--Can You?

Feeling creative? No need to stay stuck in your dreams.

Posted Oct 24, 2014

odd idea bulbs

Here, then, are reviews of three new books, PLUS 5 TIPS, about being creative and making it as a creative person:

1. Every Idea is a Good Idea: How Songwriters and Other Working Artists Get it Done by Tom Sturges, former head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group, has a sub-subtitle (I’ve been noticing more of these lately on nonfiction books): Be creative, anytime, anywhere.

Sturges shares a lot of pithy quotes about creativity and explores the work habits of famous creatives, such as that Einstein’s best ideas came while shaving. He describes in detail several creative exercises, such as “If you were someone else, how would you think?” in which you combine a particular challenge (such as giving a speech at the U.N. on global warming) with a particular (famous) person and then see how differently you think about an idea.

His final two chapters are on collaborative creativity. (If collaboration is your thing, don’t miss this post with insights about collaborating.)

2 Thought-Provoking Tips (from the chapter “Creativity and You: Twelve Ideas to Maximize Your Creative Potential”):

1. Take full advantage of the golden hour. When a new idea first occurs to you, those next few minutes determine its fate, writes Sturges. Don’t judge it, and capture it entirely. “Sketch, outline, draft, dictate into a phone, tell somebody, sing it in the shower over and over, film yourself.” (Sometimes, though, telling somebody too soon allows you to procrastinate doing anything more with the idea. And then there’s another of Sturges’s ideas, that you should never share your creative process with others, but keep it a secret.)

2. A table of contents can be a creative tool. When you first begin working on a project, write out a draft of a table of contents at the same time. It will help keep you on track and focused. It also serves as a motivating finish line. Be flexible, of course, as the table of contents will grow and change as the project advances.

2. Make It Mighty Ugly: Exercises & Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty (sub-subtitle: A Handbook for Vanquishing Creative Demons) is by Kim Piper Werker, who lives in Vancouver and teaches Mighty Ugly workshops. It’s aimed at crafters (Werker has previously written books on crocheting), as well as writers, artists, and those without, as yet, a chosen medium for their artistic expression.

Anecdotes from her life and other creative types round out the advice and tips in this friendly book, laid out in chunks, boxed text, and short paragraphs, with amusing illustrations by Kate Bingaman-Burt.

I like Werker’s attitude. She eschews cheerleading, admits you won’t learn a series of steps that she used that will ensure your own success, and acknowledges that knowing you aren’t alone is half the battle. She also lets us know that failure is good in the longer run, and fears and blocks and perfectionism and self-doubt are the normal dark sides of creativity, our creative demons if you will, and that once you understand them, you’ll be free.

I highly recommend this book for its honest and fresh take on creativity. If you only take advantage of a few of Werker’s suggestions, you’ll be glad you did.

3 Exercises:

1. Make a thing with a kid. Ask a kid you know to tell you what to make, then make it with him or her. Kids aren’t naturally perfectionist, so this will be fun. (I’ve done it. It is.)

2. Flip it. Say you’ve done something you consider successful. What could you have done to make it fail?

3. Read a book. When you’re in the doldrums about your current work, choose a book that isn’t like the ones you usually read. (I do that all the time for my blogs and find it keeps my mind oiled and ready.)

3. Art Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist by Lisa Congdon is laid out in bite-sized sections within seven chapters, all focused on helping amateur artists (any kind) become artists who make a living doing what they love. (Although the interspersed orange-colored pages with interviews are less comfortable on the eyes to read.)

There are many ways to make money from your art that you may not have considered, and a combination of income sources is ideal. It’s hard for many creative types to shift into a business mindset but it’s worth the effort to be able to fulfill a dream.

Congdon suggests building a “vision map” of where you’d like to be in 3-5 years. She offers specific ways of finding your own voice (“take a break from the Internet”). And then she tackles everything from the obvious—a strong website, appropriate use of social media—all the way up to negotiating for your illustration work and how to say no when you’re too busy.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel