Creativity Archives

Being a Beginner Again

Have you ever set aside an activity you love for a period of time and found that later it was difficult to start back up again? Over the years, I’ve drawn and painted. In 2007, I did lots of watercolors of everyday things in my life. Here’s a hotdog I had for lunch.

Then in 2008, we built a green home. That became my giant art project. We lived next door to the the work site. I was constantly there and put in an average of 60 hours a week. During that time, I decided to temporarily set aside my painting.

I didn’t get back to painting again until recently. I discovered that if I try to return to an activity where I left off, I end up feeling frustrated and resist doing it. Since I hadn’t practiced painting for a long period, I was rusty. I compared my new paintings to my old and felt discouraged. Also, I found that going back and doing something the same way as I did before isn’t as exciting as doing something new.

So, with my art, I took a weekend-long 2 dimensional design class. I’d never taken a design class before. I felt like a beginner. It was so freeing, fun, and adventurous. The work I created was different than what I had ever done. It felt good to let go and just do what I was drawn to do rather than trying to make myself continue with what I had been doing in 2007.

Steve Jobs, co-founder and current CEO of Apple, at one time was fired from Apple. Here’s what he said about that experience in his 2005 commencement address at Stamford. “…getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

If I feel resistance to returning to an activity, taking the approach of being a beginner and choosing what I want to do a fresh, without feeling obligated to what I did before, works really well.

Recently, we spent a month in France and Italy. When I did my travel paintings, I approached them differently. In the 2 dimensional design class, we did abstracts. This inspired me paint what I saw more abstractly. I loved it. It was a fun challenge to paint so simply. I’m excited to continue to experiment with this style.

If I hadn’t had let myself start again fresh as a beginner, I wouldn’t have come up with these paintings that make me so gung ho to do more. It’s given me new vitality.

Now, if I ever resist returning to another activity, I’ll remember to be a beginner again.

Building on Each Other’s Ideas

At some point in my life I came to the belief that to be successful, my ideas had to be totally original. Maybe it was from the concept of not breaking a copyright or from the fellow artist that would complain that other people copied her. I thought that no idea nor piece of art was worthwhile unless it was totally original—came out of thin air.

This stifled my creativity. I’d see other people’s work, which would trigger all kinds of my own ideas that I wouldn’t allow myself to express because I didn’t consider them “original,” because they had been influenced by other people’s work.

Recently, I took a trip to Italy and got to see their amazing ancient Roman ruins.

As I learned about the Romans, I realized that their ideas were built on the Greeks’ and other peoples’ who had come before them. Many of our present day ideas are built on Roman ones. It really helped me embrace the idea of how we’re actually building on each others’ work. And that this was something to celebrate. If we all had to be totally “original,” we’d all still be trying to invent the wheel on our own. How silly would that be?

Over the years I’ve wasted a lot of my creative energy trying to attain the elusive “originality.” Now, I see it differently. I don’t plan to copy anyone’s work, and I have deep respect for copyrights. But I do intend to give myself the freedom to embrace, appreciate, and build on other people’s ideas to create my own.

A Quick Way to Get Past Writer’s Block

Sometimes I do things better when I do them quickly and without thinking. Parallel parking is an example. I rarely parallel park. If I’m in a situation where I have all the time in the world to do it (no one’s behind me waiting), I take my time, try really hard, and usually do a laborious job of going back and forth and back and forth until I get my car decently close to the curb.

When I need to parallel park in a rush, I zoom into the spot flawlessly. So from now on, I’m going to pretend I’m in a rush whenever I need to parallel park.

Now, how does this apply to writing? I’m reading Globejotting as inspiration for keeping a travel journal on my upcoming month-long trip to Europe.


The author, Dave Fox, has a great exercise on speed journaling. You set the timer for 10 minutes and write quickly about a topic without stopping to think about it. It’s freeing and gets the creative juices rolling.

When I started this blog, I was slow and careful about it. It’s a public showing of my writing. I have to be careful to do my best. I thought through how often I wanted to post—about every 1-1/2 to 2 weeks since the blogs I tend to read the most come out that often. Well, what would happen during that 1-1/2 to 2 weeks is I’d lose momentum. I’d think of a blog topic and talk to friends about it. They’d be all excited, but I’d find I’d never sit down to write. I’d over think the topic and became afraid I wouldn’t be able to write it good enough. Whatever “good enough” means.

So here I am writing my blog post quickly and without over thinking. What a sense of freedom!

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