Creatives tend to be neurotic little creatures filled with self-doubt. They have a deep desire to share their creations, but their lack of confidence keeps them from getting their projects off the ground.
Confidence is the key to not just creative success but success of any kind. You can’t win the game of creativity unless you have the confidence to pull it off.
These techniques can help you grow into the confident creator you’ve always dreamed of becoming.
1. How to be more creative (aka the only way to become a real artist).
A lot of creators are afraid to share their work in public. Instead, they come up with an endless list of ideas they never use or create work that never sees the light of day.
They tell themselves they’re planning and making quality work, but they’re just hiding. There’s only one way to truly grow as a creator. You have to ship your work.
You’ll get support from people who love your work, which gives you the confidence to make more. If you face rejection or criticism but perservere anyway, you’ll develop the thick skin needed to put yourself in front of audiences over and over again.
You must learn how to “practice in public.” Here’s the good news. When you’re first starting out, few people are paying attention to you, so the cost of making a mistake or creating something that flops is low.
A lot of aspiring creators have this misguided sense that the world is waiting for them to share their creations so they can judge them harshly. The truth? No one cares at all.
By building in public, you’ll start to make more people care and you’ll be more motivated over time as your tribe grows larger.
2. Try my favorite creativity exercise.
This exercise changed the way I think about creativity forever. It also gave me a ton of confidence because it helped build the foundation for my creative work.
It helped me become better at coming up with good ideas.
I learned this strategy from the popular blogger and entrepreneurJames Altucher. Here’s how it works. Every day, you come up with ten ideas.
The ideas can be about anything—the type of content you want to create, business ideas, or ideas that either improve your life or the lives of others.
James would often create ideas to help other people and send them as a way of networking and building connections.
Personally, I use this strategy mainly to come up with ideas for what to write about, whether it be books or blog posts. I’ve been doing this for seven years now, which means I’ve come up with over 25,000 ideas.
Most of the ideas suck. A few of them are good. Some are great.
A tiny handful of these ideas have turned into mega-viral articles or ideas that shifted the course of my life and career forever. This exercise makes finding good ideas, and being more creative, your duty.
When you take a workman-like attitude to your creativity you tend to foster more of it instead of waiting for creative ideas to fall in your lap.
3. Creativity doesn’t happen overnight. You have to embrace the suck.
I’ve shared this strategy with several people over the years including students in my writing programs. Some creators struggle with this technique because they’re afraid to come up with bad ideas.
This speaks to a general problem most creators face. They’re afraid to suck at their craft. If you’re afraid to suck, you’ll never do the work necessary to get good and close the “taste gap.”
Ira Glass describes this phenomenon well. The quote is long, but every word needs to be read.
Nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. All of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, okay? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean? A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be—they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase—you gotta know it’s totally normal.
And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work—do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while—it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?
You’ll never quite close the taste gap, but you’ll become much more confident in your creations over time if you learn to embrace the suck.
A child doesn’t get upset when he or she falls while learning to walk. They understand that falling is just part of the process. Sucking at your craft is a necessary part of the process you can’t avoid if you want your creativity to skyrocket.
4. Creative community is essential—that’s why you should join a scene.
Creative communities, or scenes, have been vital to fostering creativity over the years. Ernest Hemingway famously moved to France to collaborate with other writers, experience a different culture, and boost his creativity.
These scenes were confined to the locales where people congregated, but in 2022 and beyond, you can become a part of a global scene.
I’m in several groups for creators, mostly groups for writers. We collaborate with each other and provide feedback on each other’s creations. We talk about ideas and share trade secrets. I’ve been on many a zoom call with a creator just to talk shop.
I’vemade friends across the globe from India to Germany to Spain to Nigeria and more. I get to collaborate with other artists strictly based on art and I also get to experience people from cultures that are different from mine, which makes me more well-rounded.
Find a scene. Connect with other creators online by sharing their work and providing comments and feedback. Don’t seek to take from others. Become a giver and share your ideas freely without the expectation of reward. This is the proper way to build a network.
5. Do both of these things to grow your creative confidence.
Most people consume much more than they create. The vast majority of content is created by a small percentage of the population. A lot of creative experts will tell you to create more than you consume and play an active role indeveloping your skills.
I say to create just as much as you consume and draw sources of inspiration from everywhere you can. I’m a voracious reader.
Whenever I stop reading as much as usual, my writing suffers. I also read widely and expand my pallete beyond typical genres like self-improvement.
Murakami said it well:
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
I also do things like visit art museums and enjoy acts of creation that aren’t written. I look at pretty much everything in life as an opportunity to draw inspiration.
You never know which of your interests will be useful to you. Steve Jobs famously drew inspiration from a calligraphy class he took in college, which guided his decision when it came to choosing fonts for different Apple products.
The more you consume from different sources, the more you expand the adjacent possible.
The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself…[the adjacent possible] captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.
— Steven Johnson
You take all these different sources of inspiration and put them into a super-collider of sorts like scientists do when they combine atoms.
Think of yourself like an alchemist—combing ideas together to create precious works of art instead of precious metals.
Make a point to always carry a notebook with you so you can capture ideas that come to you over time as you engage with the world.
6. To become a creative pro, consistency is everything.
Stephen Pressfield wrote a series of books to help people boost their creative confidence—“The War of Art,” “Turning Pro,” and “Doing the Work.”
All three books cover a basic premise. Youdefeat the resistance by doing the work. He uses resistance to make the feelings you experience more palpable than self-doubt.
Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
Remember what I said earlier about making it your job to come up with good ideas. Similarly, the best way to boost your creative confidence is to treat your creative pursuits just like you would any other job.
You don’t have a debate with yourself about whether or not to go to work, you just do it because you need the money. Well, until you need your creative confidence to grow, you won’t give it the time and effort it deserves.
This quote comes to mind:
I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.
I’ve been fortunate to have a full-time creative career, but I had to work my butt off for years at a time. I never negotiated with myself, I just did the work.
If you’re serious about your creativity, you’ll do the same thing.