A Rule of Life for Creativity

A rule of life is a practice for committing our lives to a particular way of being in the world. You could say intentional living at its best. What if we took this practice and applied it to our creativity?

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When I say creativity, I’m suggesting broad strokes. Anyone that makes, creates, or starts things and shares it with the world. If you make fine art, write books, start businesses or nonprofits, this can apply.

What if a creative rule of life was the key to unlocking our greatest creative output?

I found for most of my adult life not having some intentional rule of life promoted a haphazard way of creating and living. Not only in creation, but in all my work, relationships, and service to our community.

I’d get creative when the Muse sheepishly poked her head into my writing space, or when the schedule allowed for it. But when I crafted a rule of life for creativity, it changed everything. I wrote multiple books, started a couple of nonprofits and businesses, and my relationships deepened.

I’m going to share my ten rules for the creative life. These don’t have to be your rules and please tweak as needed. The goal here is inspiration to craft your own rule of life. But I think some principles are nonnegotiable. You can decide which ones they are.

1. I will talk and act like a creator.

This is the identity question. Writers, write. Painters, paint. Entrepreneurs start businesses. We can’t say we’re something unless our actions complement these desires.

Something clicked inside me when I said I was a writer and actually wrote words. Nobody had read any of my stuff, but saying and acting like a writer made all the difference.

The difference between a real and wannabe writer is one writes, and one doesn’t. One talks about the craft, and one does the work.

Our baseline rule of life must include an identity statement that drives our craft.

2. I will schedule my creations.

It’s funny how creative people get bent out of shape with calendars and scheduling. Somehow we think if we plan something, it kills creativity. Organic and spontaneity are the name of the game.

How’s that working for you?

How does your book get made? You plan a time to write. How does your business get off the ground? You make space to write a business proposal, set up meetings with interested investors, and follow up with interested partners. All of this requires scheduling and planning.

We schedule everything else in our lives. Why not put a sacred place on your calendar to create what needs creating? I’m not saying we need to be slaves to the calendar or spreadsheets. But when we schedule things, we actually find more space to be creative and spontaneous.

3. I will find a tribe.

The best place to find inspiration and encouragement is a community of like-minded people. If you want to learn the ins and outs of starting a nonprofit, get a coffee with a successful social entrepreneur.

If you want to grow in your creative output, surround yourself with people who are doing the work and making the things you are. Ask questions. Read the stuff they are reading, and go to the conferences they go to. You can’t go it alone.

If you’re struggling to find the right tribe, start your own community, Meet Up, Facebook Group, or wherever you can gather like-minded folks.

And one of the greatest gifts of being part of a tribe is you have a support system for the ups and downs and obstacles you’ll face when creating whatever you’re creating.

4. I will fight perfection and resistance.

Perfection is like chasing unicorns. It doesn’t exist. Take the approach of software companies and use the MVP model: most, viable, product.

Your business, book, painting, or new ministry will never be perfect. You will fight resistance and perfectionist tendencies because of fear. Learn to dance with perfection and learn to slay the resistance.

When I piddled around with my first book, I found underneath my hesitancy to share it a deep-seated problem with perfectionism. I had to take one more pass in editing, one more round with the cover artist, one more read through, just to ensure it was the greatest novel in history.

So I will tell myself perfectionism is like unicorns and let my creations out into the wild (see #5 and #7).

5. I will finish what I start.

Something broke open in me when I finished my first book. Not because it was great or sold millions of copies. Rather, I learned how to start and finish something. There is magic in the finishing.

This doesn’t mean all projects will get the green light. But when you get in the habit of finishing stuff, something opens inside where it becomes easier the next time. This also doesn’t mean each project gets easier, but finishing does.

Perfection is the enemy of done (see #4).

6. I will keep learning.

A creative person must keep learning. I’m amazed at how many people stop reading and staying curious once they’ve had some success. Or once they leave college. Don’t get stale.

Keep the curiosity and wonder of life sizzling with books, conversations, podcasts, conferences, seminars, and meeting with interesting people. A leader is a reader, and also a learner.

When you get stuck, often learning from others dead or alive can be the kick in the pants, you need. I find reading people of the past a great encouragement because of the same struggles you have; they had.

7. I will ship and share my work.

Creating without sharing is like eating without tasting. When you make something, don’t be afraid to share it. Who cares if anyone likes it, or it doesn’t get high praise. It wasn’t for them.

But we must get comfortable sharing the things we make. Even if they aren’t perfect because they never will be (see #4).

Remember the chat about scheduling (see #2). A good way to learn how to ship is by putting a “shipping” date on the calendar. Try it and see what happens.

8. I will keep track.

Sometimes we trick ourselves into assuming we are creating lots of stuff. Our word counts are high, but upon further investigation we’ve spent more time on Netflix, or reading about writing, and not actually writing.

We keep track because data and math aren’t liars. They tell us the actual story of our creativity.

I do simple things like deadlines, word counts, and production schedules. Of course, I don’t always hit my goals, but it keeps me on track. Tracking stuff forces me to be honest with the work I’m doing.

This rule of life is helpful for #4, 5, and 7.

9. I will take breaks.

It feels counterintuitive to rest when we’re creating stuff. When we’re meeting deadlines, building stuff, long hours at the office, or the writing shed. I get it.

But the rhythm of work and rest is a gift from the Divine. Nobody can function without breaks. You are no good to yourself, others, and your organization and craft if you never shut things down.

I think this rule of life should include weekly and seasonal breaks. Every week, take a day off to rest and recharge. And, as time allows, plan other longer breaks that last weeks, or possibly months every few years.

Breaks will keep you charged up for the long haul. Rest will allow for our best creativity yet.

10. I will live.

Creating and making stuff is important. But so is living. Healthy living fuels good art. Fill your life with people that lift you up and are supportive. Get involved in causes and experiences that make a difference in the world.

Often, the narrative in culture is the best art comes from dark and suicidal places. We have to drink and drug and then we can be a genuine artist. I think the best artists today are some of the most joyful and humble and healthy.

These aren’t perfect rules of life. But something that can get you headed in the right direction. Take some, leave some, but have some order and intentionality in your creative life so you don’t just live with good intentions.

Your story and work matters.

Sign up below and I’ll send you these rules in a PDF. You can print off and put it somewhere to remind yourself that your art and life matters.

*Originally published on Medium.com.


Ryan J. Pelton is a writer, teacher, and author-preneur of twenty books. He reflects on life and art to see what sticks. Get 10 Rules for the Creative Life. A reminder your life and art matter.

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