Stuff I’m Learning

Secrets of Creative Collaboration

I’m continuing my month-long series on creativity! Last week, we talked about boosting your creativity by having a private space to practice (writing with the door closed). This week, we’re talking about creating in a shared space (revising with the door open).

What do you do when it’s time to get feedback on your ideas? Let’s talk about creative collaboration!

I thought it would be fun to share visual aids of the creative process. I dug through my archives and found some old sketches I made while working with my sister on Handmade Hostess.

Our process for writing our craft book looked like this:

  • We wrote an outline.
  • We made a list of projects for each chapter.
  • I made a TERRIBLE sketch of what the chapter would look like. I mean TERRIBLE.
  • I took a picture of the sketch and sent it to her along with any fabric swatches. (We lived a few hours apart, so we each worked on our projects separately.)
  • Finally, we stuffed our cars full of props, projects, and children and met somewhere in the middle. (Okay, truthfully, I didn’t put any children in my car. That was all her.) We drove a couple of hours and took pictures of everything. Photo shoot day was the first time we saw everything set up together.

Let’s talk about those terrible sketches for a moment. Somehow, when I sent her a drawing that looked like this:

She understood that what I actually meant was this:

As you can see, that takes a special kind of vision.

Here’s another example:

I’m not even sure what I was drawing in that picture! If I saw this sketch, I would not think, “You know what? That looks great! Let’s do it.”

When you’re working on a project, so many things can go wrong! However, as I look back at these pictures, I remember some of the things that went right. I had a fantastic brainstorming partner.

I’ve been fortunate to have several people in my life like that. I made a list of some of the qualities I most appreciate in a creative partner. (In full disclosure, I don’t have all of these qualities! However, this is the kind of friend and collaborator that I aspire to be.)

Hallmarks of a Good Creative Partnership

  • A creative partner can look at something that’s very rough and imagine the possibilities. They ask questions that help the idea grow rather than shrink. They take time to understand the phases of a project. (They might help you edit your idea later, but in the beginning, they’re willing to dream big.)
  • A creative partner has confidence in YOU and your creative ability. They might not like the specifics of your idea or have suggestions about how it might work better, but they believe you can work through those issues and pull off something amazing.
  • A creative partner doesn’t get distracted by the potential pitfalls or things that could go wrong. They will brainstorm risks with you, but they don’t feel the need to warn you about every imaginable danger. They don’t throw water when you’re trying to kindle a fire.
  • A creative partner is encouraging! After you talk with them about your idea, you are MORE excited than before. They spot ways they could help—often by contributing their own creativity, resources, or organization.

Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way

Sometimes, you end up with what I call the right person / wrong timing. I have a few friends who are really good at spotting problems. (I’m sure you have friends like that, too. We love these friends. We need them!)

However, we also want to invite their feedback at the right time. In the beginning stages of a project, too many opinions can be overwhelming. One thing I’m learning is to clearly express which phase of the project I’m in and clarify what kind of feedback would be helpful. I’ve also learned to be more honest with myself about how much input I’m ready to process.

When you find the right person at the right time, everyone benefits.

Alright, now it’s your turn! Do you have someone you love working with? What do you appreciate about this person?

P.S. If you feel discouraged or run down from too much criticism or a difficult working relationship, you might need time to recover. Even after a successful collaboration, it can be helpful to create solo for a while. (You might even want to revisit Part 2 of this series—creating in a private space.) Next time, I’ll be sharing some ideas for when you feel stuck.

Boost Your Creativity with This Simple Tool

Last week, I kicked off a month-long series on creativity. If you missed Part 1: Developing Your Curiosity, you can find it here: The Rainbow’s End: 3 Ideas to Help You Find Your Creativity.)

Today, I’m sharing my favorite tool for boosting your creativity. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and you probably already have one. I’m talking about a notebook!

Now, before you run away—if writing things down isn’t your thing, I promise to give you a bunch of alternatives. You don’t have to use a literal notebook! What you need is a safe place to gather ideas and experiment.

…Everyone who is human has something to express. Try not expressing yourself for twenty-four hours and see what happens. You will nearly burst. You will want to write a long letter, or draw a picture, or sing, or make a dress or a garden.” —Brenda Ueland

Here are 3 reasons to keep a notebook:

1. Give yourself the opportunity to practice, not perform.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you…” —Stephen King in On Writing

We have more opportunities than ever before to share our work with others. However, sharing your work too soon (or too often) can drain your creative energy.

We need places to practice without feeling pressured to get everything right the first time. This gives us a chance to develop our instincts for what we consider good work rather than relying solely on other people’s reactions.

2. Give yourself a safe space to be honest. 

One of the reasons creativity is so hard, is that we’re not safe even from ourselves. We’re afraid to make a mistake or be found out. However, learning to communicate authentically is a first step in creating better work.

In The Life-Giving Path online workshop, I encourage people to try spiritual journaling as a tool to uncover their honest thoughts. A notebook can be a place to listen without judgment and practice telling the truth.

This can be difficult at first. We’re terrified someone will come along and read what we wrote. However, over time, my journal has become a freer place. It’s filled with typos. Grammatical errors. Sometimes, when I can’t choose between two words—I’ll just write them both down smack dab next to each other in a completely nonsensical way.

Occasionally, I’ll admit to being really annoyed with people I care about! For me, this is a creative and spiritual practice. In my notebook, I lay it all out there so I no longer have to use so much energy covering it all up. Then, I’m free to listen and gather inspiration. When I’m stuck, I ask for help.

3. Give your ideas a place to gather.

Once you begin gathering ideas, more will start to find you. They’re like cats. Word starts to get around that you take good care of strays. Pretty soon, you’ll wake up in the morning and find a whole herd of them waiting for you just outside the door.

“Ideas are like rainbows, we need to record them with a pencil or they soon fade right out sight.” —Kathy Liden

If there’s something you daydream about—opening an art studio, writing a book, starting a podcast—give yourself a place to start making it real, if only on the page.

Some of you may be saying, “Notebooks aren’t really my thing. Now what?”

Here’s a list of notebook alternatives:

  • A sketchbook.
  • A camera (or the camera roll on your phone).
  • A closet where you stuff your latest paintings.
  • The notes app on your phone.
  • A scrapbook.
  • An Excel spreadsheet. (Beautifully-arranged data can be a work of art!)
  • A secret Pinterest board.
  • A portable moodboard (or an envelope) where you stick fabric samples, pieces of trim, or design inspiration.

What creativity tools would you add to this list? I’d love to hear them!

Next up: creative collaboration! What to do (and not do!) when it’s time to share your creative ideas + a few things I’ve learned the hard way…

Celebrating Small Beginnings (+ Taking Better Breaks)

Sometimes I forget how close we live to the water.

This week has been challenging (in both good and bad ways), and I realized how much I needed a change of scenery. In my earlier post about my 2021 goals, I talked about wanting to take better breaks. On Wednesday, we had a rare moment of sunshine, so I grabbed my big camera and headed to the lake.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you already met my new best friend. (This duck.) It’s hard to tell in the photo, but he has a blue streak on his head—as if he was kissed by a peacock.

It’s amazing how quickly nature works. There are plenty of heartbreaks that all the sunsets in the world can’t cure. However, sometimes watching the light reflecting on the water is prayer enough.

Small Beginnings

I sent out a newsletter today with a personal update. (If you’d like to receive these emails, you can sign up here.) This one was all about celebrating small beginnings. So often we feel ashamed or discouraged because we’re not making progress as quickly as we’d like.

One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves (and one way we set ourselves up for future success) is to learn how to celebrate first steps.

What small step can you celebrate this week?

2021: Goal Setting When You Don’t Know What Comes Next

This year, I find myself both more hopeful and more uncertain than I have been in a long time. I’ve always loved setting goals, and I’m not ready to give that up—even in the face of uncertainty.

For the past five years, I’ve been using the PowerSheets Goal Planner from Cultivate What Matters. I love the questions at the beginning and the monthly planning pages. Over the years, my goal-setting process has evolved, but at its heart, I want it to look like this:

  • Less of me trying to force my vision on the future.
  • More soulful listening.
  • Less wanting a fresh slate so I can do everything perfectly this time.
  • More being open to change.
  • Less copying ideas that seem to work for other people.
  • More taking ownership of my life and making choices that resonate with me.

Giving Myself Some Extra Time

One thing I’ve learned (through trial and error) is that I set terrible goals when I’m tired. It’s hard to dream big when you’re worried about how much gas you have left in the tank. After the craziness of 2020, I knew I wanted to give myself some extra time.

So here it is, the end of January, and I’m just finishing up my list. I promised myself that I would share my goals publicly, and now, I’m almost embarrassed. These are the simplest, most bare-bone goals I’ve ever set!

However, I’m going to post them anyway, because I think it’s a good reminder that it’s okay to have goals that look unimpressive, simple, or even “obvious” to someone else. The only important thing is that they matter to you.

My No-Frills, No-Fuss Goals for 2021:

1. Set clear daily priorities and reachable goals for each day.

I’m a list-maker at heart, but this year, I want to make a fundamental shift in how I decide what to tackle next.

In the past, I’ve tried the advice of identifying 3 things you want to accomplish each day. But I’ll be honest: I was always sneaking extra items onto the list OR putting entire multi-step projects that were completely unrealistic to accomplish in one sitting.

I was trying to “shoot for the moon, but reach the stars.” Well, after missing the moon repeatedly, I’m completely exhausted! 😉 I don’t want to get to the end of the week and feel demoralized, because I didn’t cross everything off the list.

Over the break, I re-read the book Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk, Matthew Rudy, and Tom Bartow. (The title may sound basic, but I found it to be practical and insightful.) The authors suggest putting 3 ambitious but small, carefully-chosen next steps on your list.

My goal is to get better at identifying and flagging the next step in whatever project or task I’m working on. I’ve started doing this over the past few weeks, and it’s already making a big difference. I’m setting 3 clear priorities that are 100% possible for me to cross off each day.

2. Take regular breaks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Before 2020, I used to be much better about taking breaks. Even if it was just running a quick errand, I made it a point to step away from my desk and use a different part of my brain for a while.

With my husband and I both working at home, it’s easy to fall into orbit around his schedule. This year, I want to create some better habits and routines. I especially want to find a way to take a short, enjoyable break after lunch so that I can do better quality afternoon work.

3. Create content that I’m excited to share on a cadence that works for me.

I’m looking forward to this one! Last year was so busy with The Life-Giving Path Conference that I didn’t have much extra bandwidth. For 2021, I have some fun projects up my sleeve.

One thing I know is this: on the internet, it’s easy to find examples of other people who seem to be doing more, sharing more, or creating more. However, I want to find a steady rhythm that works for me. This looks like: keeping my eyes on my own paper and remembering to be my own pace car rather than trying to match someone else’s speed.

4. Writing Goal: Focus on process + preparation.

I always try to have one goal that’s just for writing. This year, I’ve decided to focus entirely on effort instead of word or page count.

For me, this looks like:

  • Marking up the next day’s work, so I know exactly where to begin when I sit down.
  • Taking a moment to visualize the scene I’m writing about before I start.
  • Nurturing my creativity by planning some adventures and personal retreat days that re-inspire me.

5. Create sensory-rich memories and moments with my husband.

Lately, we’ve been recreating meals we’ve eaten on trips and creating new dinner themes.

For example: We kicked off this year by celebrating “Jam-uary” and experimented by making—you guessed it—jam. I hope to share more about our adventures in a future post!

6. And finally—the last one: Get back to basics at home.

Like many people, we’re using our home differently now. While some of those changes have been great, others could use a few tweaks. This year, I’ve decided not to tackle any huge projects. I just want to focus on basic cleaning and maintenance.

I suppose this goal might sound anti-climactic, but when I wrote it down, I felt nothing but RELIEF. I think some of the best goals are like that.

Well, there you have it! If you haven’t set goals this year and still want to, I’ll tell you what I told myself: it’s not too late.

In addition to answering the questions in the PowerSheets, I always ask myself some version of the following:

  • What is something I loved doing last year that I can’t wait to do again?
  • Is there something that I didn’t finish that I still want to work on?
  • What do I absolutely NOT want to do ever again? (If I can’t get out of it, is there a way to make it more pleasant?)
  • Have I created any arbitrary rules for myself about the way something has to be done? Are those rules serving me or is it time to let them go?
  • Have I filled my calendar with the people and projects most important to me? If not, can I clear some space by saying “no”?

I hope this helps!

Like everyone else, I don’t know what to expect this year, but choosing goals puts me on the path of discovery. For me, goal setting is about prayerfully choosing a direction and then starting—even when I’m not sure how it will all work out.

If you have a goal you’re working on, I’d love to hear it!