How to Be Creative – First Be Terrible

IMG_5494We are all creative

Have you ever been scanning through social media posts,  seen someone’s latest photo of home décor or a practical solution to an everyday problem, and thought, “Wow, she’s so creative! I wish I could do that!” ?

I think most of us have.  The good news is, for the most part, you really can do that.  Maybe not in the exact same way, or with the same artistic flair, but in style that is uniquely your own.  We all have the capacity to be creative. The challenging part is tapping into that capacity and letting it flow.  Where  do we even start?

As kids, we are all creative.  As I heard a teacher explain, if you ask a fairly young child to draw a bear or a house or an alien, they will just do it.  At some point, possibly as an older child, a teen, or not until adulthood, many of those same people when asked to do the same thing will not even try, and instead say that they can’t.  The marvelous “what if?” questions that could captivate children into writing imaginative stories or creating beautiful art often fall on the pragmatic ears of adults who simply shut down the questions with “that couldn’t happen,” or “I don’t know.”  Somehow, as we grow up, many of us lose our natural ability to be creative.  Maybe it is not even so much lose, as it is fades into the background of correct answers and practical solutions.  Often in classroom situations, it is not creative answers teachers are looking for, but correct answers.  We learn not to take chances and instead feed back the proper answers.  Art, music, dancing and other creative endeavors are experienced less and less as children move up in their education, and by high school are simply electives that are rarely given much respect. They are “easy A”, or possibly even just pass/fail, classes.

This trend of not valuing creativity generally continues in the workplaces, especially in entry level jobs.  There is little room for creativity  as a cashier or food service worker or any number of jobs where there is a “correct” way of doing things and behavior outside of a narrow path is not tolerated.  Those who perform best within the set expectations are most often the ones who get raises and promotions.  It is no wonder that by the time we are well-established adults, the creativity that flourished as children is tucked far underneath years of practicality, so deeply buried it has difficulty finding its way out.

Permission to be terrible

The thing is though, it is still there.  Most of us, at least occasionally, hear that little voice of creativity calling to us, wanting to come out, to stretch, to play, to create!  One of the biggest factors that keeps adults from trying creative endeavors is fear – fear of not measuring up, of not being good enough, of making something that looks like a 3-year-old made it.  To that, I say, so what!?  So should you.

If you have never painted, no one,  including you I hope, expects your paintings to look like Michelangelo’s, or even an experienced art student’s.  Everything in life takes practice to become proficient.  If you haven’t painted since the fourth-grade, where would you have possibly gained the skills to be a master?  The point is, you can start from exactly where you are, give yourself permission to totally suck at it, and allow yourself to improve with practice, if you are enjoying the activity.  In fact,  one way to alleviate some of the pressure you put on yourself can be to intentionally create a bad painting.  Tell yourself you will make it look like you did it blindfolded and with your non-dominant hand.  Play with the idea of just creating something for the fun of it, not for the  artistic value of it once it has been completed.

Maybe you loved writing stories as a child, but haven’t written fiction in 30 years.  Open up a document on your laptop, and try simply writing out a story – something that happened, didn’t happen, or almost happened.  Spend as much or as little time on it as you would like.  Tell yourself that not only do you not have to show anyone else, but if you hate it, you can simply delete it.  You could also keep it to compare with after you have written 10 more pieces.  If you are enjoying the process, you are stimulating your brain and your creativity, and you will improve.

I can hear some of you now. “What if I don’t improve, what if I never get any good?”  To that, there are many answers, but I suggest you start by thinking about who gets to judge you and who decides the value of what you do?  Very few of us would tell a child that just because she didn’t win an art or music competition, she should give up drawing or playing if it is something she enjoys, but then many of us set a different personal standard for ourselves.  What you need to acknowledge is the truth of what you would tell a child – there is value simply in the act of doing. The act of creation is good for your soul – it conveys passion, emotion, and is exercise for your brain.  Also, if making a piece of art look a certain way,  consistent practice is sure to improve your skill level.

Getting  started

Once you are ready to be brave enough to try something creative, even if under the cover of darkness, where no one will ever see what you have done and you are free to destroy it if you must, where should you even start?  Maybe you want to try that painting that will look terrible on purpose, but you don’t even own a paintbrush.  This is where the internet becomes your best friend.  You can  find free advice, articles, and tutorials on pretty much anything.  Simply type what you want to do into your favorite search engine, or go directly to  You can get suggestions on what type of materials to buy, exercises for beginners, and as you browse around and get to know some of the main thought leaders in the area, you will find blogs, as well as free and paid courses.  Don’t want to walk into an art store for fear of being looked at as a fraud?  Purchase your art supplies online – there’s very little that can’t be found on  Plus that, extensive reviews will give you advice on the products themselves – often explaining what people do and do not like about them.  These are often things that as a beginner, you never would have known to consider, but as a conscientious consumer, you are now educating yourself before even attempting your first non-masterpiece!  Going into the project armed with some knowledge may even give you a bit of courage to move forward.

It is OK to be afraid and to feel foolish when first attempting something you don’t know how to do.  What isn’t OK is allowing fear to keep you from trying.  Allow yourself to be child-like and pursue something creative just for the fun of it.  Be terrible at first. Make a mess.  Sound horrible learning to pluck out the notes on the guitar.  If you have fun, then it has been a worthwhile experiment.  If you find out you enjoy it and are learning and stretching your creative brain, then that is a true win!