Do The Morning Pages
Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way advises the practice of doing three pages of stream of consciousness writing in the morning, every day, and says you should never re-read them. The point is to let your creative brain stretch and find its influence over you and grow strong. She says you need to nurture your creative brain like this, and protect it from the judgement and scrutiny of your conscious, analytical brain, because your analytical brain shuts it down all the time and then it never grows strong enough to really activate you with inspiration and creative energy. I started doing them twelve years ago. I did them almost every day for years, not always in the morning, but probably all but a couple of days a month. I still do them a few days every week. I designed the core of My Life with Master in the morning pages. And I feel off if I don't do them for four or five days. If you do one thing for your creativity, do the morning pages.
Read The Artist's Way
Hard to believe I'd put this one second on the list? But I only actually read it all the way through last year—after inspiring a coworker to read it and then worrying I wouldn't be able to hold my own in future conversations with her. I had previously only read the intro and the first couple of weekly lessons. I needn't have worried. I'd done the important part. I'd committed to the morning pages, and then in the twelve years of doing them, and of consequently finding my creative talents and sense of purpose, I'd actually learned everything else Cameron had to say through the rest of the book. I'd learned to understand creative block, and the value of my emotions as fuel, and everything else. But do yourself a favor and read the book. What she has to say is stuff you need to know, and some of it was difficult for me to figure out, and not knowing it I wasted my time in stupid ways. So if you do one thing for your creativity, do the morning pages, and you'll figure out all the other important stuff. But if you do a second thing, read the book.
Don't Assume You Know Your Artistic Medium
In college I did all right in a couple of creative writing courses, and I enjoyed it. When I graduated I got myself a day job and figured I was going to turn my writing talents and some of my leisure time into an attempt at a career writing what I loved, SF and fantasy. I read up on how to do it—start with short fiction submissions to magazines, and then with a small track record of published stories move on to unsolicited novel submissions to publishers. I spent time plotting stories in my head, and outlining them, but for years I never actually did any writing. Eventually I figured I just wasn't motivated. I never talked with anyone about wanting to write, because I knew lots of people who talked all the time about wanting to write who weren't writing anything either and I didn't want to be like them. But then, early after finding The Artist's Way and starting to do the morning pages I stumbled into the fledgeling community of designers that would go on to become the initial core of The Forge. They were breaking the rules of RPG design, pushing its boundaries as an artistic medium, and my creative brain found itself then. It had something to say about the potential of the RPG medium, about the how and why and substance of storymaking in our lives, and it figured out how to say it. So I hadn't been an unmotivated artist at all. I just hadn't found my true artistic medium. In retrospect it seems obvious. The primary creative social activity of my life had been RPGs since I was a young teenager. But I'd told myself I wanted to be a writer. Why? Because society sanctions it. You can say you aspire to it without shame or the stigma of negative associations people might have for it, or without having to explain what it is, or why it's important. Now though, I not only know my creative powers, but I'm inspired to use them even beyond the RPG medium. That's what happens. Stop thinking you already know your artistic medium. Do the morning pages and you'll actually figure it out. You'll realize you have something to say in the medium of sidewalk chalk art and then a few years later you're doing animated music videos on YouTube, or tattoos.
Stop Telling Stories Everyone's Heard Before
This is the most difficult one on the list. But it's important because what makes your art hard to ignore is when it's an expression of something your creative brain knows is unique and important. You've figured out something that you know about the workings of the world, about human interaction, about how we make meaning from the events of our lives, about how people get through certain kinds of situations, knowledge that has been of personal benefit to you, and you're working to express it through art in a way that others can learn it and benefit. We all know important things like this. It's just hard to find them amid all our mental and emotional activity; it's hard to know what's really us and what's in us from other people. Stories are how people make sense of the world. They're how we create relationships around shared values. They're how we tell each other what's important in life. And so the world is full full full of stories, and society tells itself these same stories again and again and again until we all know exactly how they work. You can predict what's going to happen in the romantic comedy you're watching because you've seen the story so so many times before. And then also as a creator you're going to hear from critics and reviewers who adhere to various contentious ideologies. These things, the stories we all already know, and the themes we all know from society's contentious ideological conversation, if they're too much a part of what you create they rob it of power. You need to get the stories and established ideological positions out of your art. The world is full of people to do the work of reaffirming the known stories and articulating the established ideological positions. Your creative brain can only activate you with energy and real momentum that grows rather than tapers off if you give it license to use your artistic talents for what uniquely inspires it. And the way to it as a creator is the same—do the morning pages. Your creative brain won't let you get lost in known stories and established ideological positions if you let it find its true influence over you.
Form Artist Relationships
This is the one I can't say I've figured out to my own satisfaction. But I know I can't hone my art to be unignorable without it.
The mental image you have of artistic genius as flowing from an individual wellspring of inspiration is false, or at least incomplete. Something I knew about vaguely but hadn't thought much about until recently when I saw Midnight In Paris was how artists in different creative mediums—writers, painters, sculptors, photographers—mixed socially and activated each other creatively in the art scene in Paris in the 20's and 30's. And then I went way down the rabbit hole reading about it. Paul Eluard, Man Ray, Picasso, Hemingway, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and on and on. Eluard writes poems to his second wife Nusch, and Man Ray photographs her and they publish a book that's the result of the three of them activating the artistry in each other. It didn't matter if you were a writer, painter, photographer, or whatever, the art scene had room for you and it activated you and fueled you. And the great Renaissance and Dutch artists? They all had studios of apprentices and allied artists with their own projects.
If you could peek back in time at conversations among artists in Paris in the 20's and 30's they might at first sound like conversations among intellectuals. But the goals are actually different. They're trying to figure out what they know about the workings of the world, about human interaction, about how we make meaning from the events of our lives, about how people get through certain kinds of situations—they're putting the product of unvarnished introspection and personal honesty through conversation to find the wheat among the chaff. It's not intellectualism. It's fragile and earnest conversation, poorly rationalized and instinctual. It's this kind of conversation that fixes an artist in his convictions for a project.
Though in the social media age it's actually painfully hard to find. It shouldn't be. You can find it across creative mediums, not just with artists in your chosen creative medium. And artists are starving for it. But public conversations online always go south when they're grasping, uncertain searches for personal insight. There are too many preconceived opinions and ideologies and fears out in the public sphere that crash into them.
So pay attention to the efforts of artists outside your medium and local to you in realspace. You need to find soul-searching artist relationships apart from the contrary forces active online. These relationships will activate you and impel you.