I’ve met far too many people who say things like, “If only I had x, then I could do y.” The idea is that pursuing a creative dream is contingent on having exactly the right resources in place. But if that’s the case, then few of us would ever create.
In this series, I’ve focused on how to know your creative process, put it to work, understand your emotions while creating, and befriend your inner critic. In this final installment, I’ll address the some of the limitations or barriers we have to success. If we embrace our limitations, they can become an integral part of our creative process. We can even trust our limitations to help us achieve our goals.
Allow me to share a few limitations that I’ve faced over the years.
I’ve never had an incredible amount of money, but that has forced me to be creative with what I do have. One of the reasons I research any creative project before I begin is because I need to be fiscally responsible.
For one of my works in progress (WIP), I needed an illustrator to create an image for almost every page. However, I could not afford to pay for all those original illustrations. Instead, I found a fantastic and affordable cartoonist on Fiverr.com who created a series of individual figures according to my specifications. I learned Photoshop and figured out how to combine the figures into an infinite number of illustrations—all within my budget. This increased flexibility and allowed me to create additional characters and cartoons I hadn’t anticipated.
My budget for the cover of my novella The Carpenter & the Queen was $50. I found a less-expensive-but-still-good designer on Fiverr.com. To save money, I was forced to research covers and pictures I liked in order to achieve the desired result. That experience taught me a lot about how to communicate with cover designers in the future and still resulted in a cover I love.
My financial constraints have also taught me to take advantage of the free resources available to me. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in research by borrowing books instead of buying them. I’ve also learned an incredible amount about writing and self-publishing on the Internet by researching the big names in the field and following their blogs and watching their free webinars. Remember, I love to research, so having an infinite number of free resources has provided me with hours of enjoyment.
If you have financial limitations, what can you do with the resources you have? What inexpensive resources are available to you? How can your lack of money combine with your creative process to make you even more creative?
While I’m more likely to have an excess of time than I am of money, time is still precious. Since I work full time, I’m unable to spend more than one or two hours each day writing. Some days, ten to fifteen minutes of writing is as good as it gets. But I wrote the first draft of Quivers and Quills by working only fifteen minutes a day. Sure, it took a while, but it still got done. Actually, working slowly enhanced my process because I need time to think and plan in between writing sessions.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a person can have too much time on his or her hands to the point of depression. If this is an obstacle you’re facing, use it to your advantage. While out of work for six months, I needed a meaningful way to fill my days. I decided to use that time to my advantage by writing six to eight hours a day. That’s how Portals and Poison came to be. I met a lot of other unemployed people—several of whom expressed interest in more creative pursuits—who instead spent their time feeling down or giving in to their fears.
If you find yourself with an excessive amount of time because of another limitation in your life, is there a way you can embrace the time and put your creative process to work?
If you have time limitations, can you find at least ten minutes each day to do pursue your creative dream?
Being the parent of small children is tough. I’ve heard stories of parents who wrote books while rocking babies, but I couldn’t do that. When my son was under the age of two, I was lucky to have time to go to the bathroom, and even then I couldn’t do that alone.
But a friend gave me a surprising gift that kept my creative process at work—magnetic poetry. I set up the word tiles on my refrigerator, well out of my son’s reach. I could find a few minutes throughout the day to play with the magnets, and some of what I created was good enough that I wrote it down.
I was a single mom for over 14 years. Even as my son got older, writing alone was impossible. So I included him. When he was younger, I wrote stories for him and about him. I also took advantage of every moment I had alone. I remember one instance when we were driving somewhere and he fell asleep in the car. I pulled into a parking lot and wrote in my notebook for twenty minutes before he woke up.
As he got older, I asked for his advice on stories I was working on. I even asked him to make me accountable to write every day. Since I nagged him about his homework, he delighted in nagging me about writing. One of the most powerful motivators I experienced was having my ten year old say, “Mom, why are you watching television when you should be writing your book?” I still keep my son in the loop of all my writing endeavors, and I value his advice. He has made a major plot contribution to all my novels so far.
If you have kids, are there ways you can incorporate them into your creative endeavors? Are there new creative projects you can take up that are easier to complete with little ones around? Can your children provide creative inspiration that you can use in your process?
Virginia Woolf famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I don’t disagree, but let’s be realistic: Many of us don’t have a room where we can enjoy any privacy to create. Because of the size of our homes, the amount of time we spend commuting, or the needs of our family, most of us aren’t lucky enough to close the door to a private room and say, “Don’t bother me for the next six hours.”
That’s why we have to embrace our locations. Countless stories have been told of people writing novels while on public transport. You don’t even need a laptop for this. If you do a web search for “How to write a book on your smartphone,” you’ll find pages of resources to help you do just that. Other creative people enjoy a little privacy at a coffee shop for the price of a beverage and a set of headphones.
For years I’ve carted spiral notebooks around with me so I can jot down ideas as they come. I love to write in cursive but I often don’t draft in cursive because it takes longer than typing. (I type fast.) When I don’t have access to a computer, I embrace my handwriting with an added benefit. My handwritten outlines are better thought out than my typed ones. Embracing my limitation actually benefits my creative work.
Up until a few months ago, I did not have a room in my home where I could close the door and write, so I wrote wherever I could—in bed, at the dining room table, on the couch, on the deck (in good weather), or in the car as I mentioned earlier. The benefit of this is that I’ve trained myself to write under many conditions, which allows me to be productive in a wide range of environments.
You may not have the perfect craft room, writing office, art studio, or music conservatory. But what do you have? How can you use your location limitations to help your creative process?
I know popular advice says you should write (or draw, paint, sing, or practice) every day. I agree this is optimal, but for many of us, it’s not realistic. Embracing your limitations may mean recognizing that you engage in different creative behaviors at different times of the day, week, or even year.
When I taught high school, I enjoyed two months off work each summer. Although I had little time for crafts during the school year, I would scrapbook for hours at a time during June and July. When August rolled around, I put away the scrapbook supplies and didn’t bring them out again until the next summer. The benefit, though, was that my scarce ability to scrapbook increased my anticipation, enjoyment, and productivity when I was able to do it.
Even now when I work year round, I have found some creative activities work better for me at different times of the year. My most productive writing and craft time is winter. Summer is when I read the most fiction. I especially enjoy cooking in the fall and spring. The good news is that each season brings something I enjoy and can get excited about, which makes creating easier.
Working within the limitations of these seasonal cycles had the benefit of causing me to finish most projects. I’m more likely to finish a painting project when I know I’ll put the paints away for several months. I’m more likely to finish writing a rough draft when I know my summer schedule will keep me from the computer for weeks at a time. The limitations create deadlines that give my creative process a sense of urgency.
What creative activity would best match where you are right now? Are there projects you can work on that fit in with your lifestyle at this moment? Are there other projects you can let go of, knowing you’ll pick them up later? How can the season or life cycle you’re currently in benefit your creative process?
We all have physical challenges that prevent us from creating. One of my physical limitations is lack of sleep. However, my fatigue can sometimes help me turn on my creative brain. When I take a short nap after I get home from work, my brain is better able to make the switch from spreadsheets to storytelling. I’ve also had quite a few nights when I had trouble sleeping. I’ve used those sleepless nights to write thousands of words over the years. I’ll probably never get enough sleep, but I can use sleep or sleeplessness strategically to stimulate my creative process.
Some physical limitations are much more serious than a lack of sleep, but they don’t have to stifle creativity. I have taught many students who were unable to type for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, a wealth of dictation software exists. There’s even a movement among many authors who have no trouble typing to dictate their books using Dragon or similar programs.
Recently I watched the TED talk by artist Phil Hansen in which he discusses how he used a tremor in his hands to create amazing art. (You can listen to his TED talk here.) A simple web search revealed many artists who paint with their mouths or feet because of physical challenges. (See an example here.) A number of talented musicians have also overcome physical limitations to accomplish amazing creative feats (You can read about a few here.)
We don’t get to choose our physical limitations, but we can choose to be creative and look for ways to use our limitations to our advantage.
I’ve only mentioned a few possible barriers to creative success. Take a moment to think about your own limitations:
- What limitations are keeping you from creating?
- What unique perspective can you gain from them?
- How do those limitations impact your creative process?
- How can you use your limitations to your creative advantage?
There are answers to these questions if you trust yourself enough to find them. But if you don’t trust yourself, trust the God who created you to show you the way. If you believe God parted the Red Sea, then believe He can help you through whatever limitations you’re facing right now.
“With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26, KJV
There is no other human being on the planet like you. You were created to make a unique contribution to the world—a contribution no one else can make. Yes, the road to creation is hard. We doubt ourselves and our ability to create. We sometimes dislike the projects we must complete. We struggle to manage our emotions. We fight with our inner critic who tells us we’re not good enough. We focus on our limitations instead of using them to our advantage.
But life doesn’t have to be that way. Believe in yourself. Believe you have a process.
Trust the process and use it to your advantage.
When you do, nothing can stand in your way.