10 min read

5 ways to take your creative side seriously right now

5 ways to take your creative side seriously right now

I believe that everyone is creative. Somewhere deep down inside of us, we all have unique, fascinating things to share with the world.

The most bizarre, imaginative, inspiring creations come from people who have dug deep into their minds, found some cool things, and manifested them into reality.

For most of us, we just aren't really encouraged or incentivized enough to be creative and build things. But if you believe in your creativity and want to start getting serious about creating things, here are some ways to do that.

Carve Out Spacetime

Your creativity needs at least two things to thrive: time and space.

Being creative and making things takes time.

Many of us love to spend time on our creative pursuits like art, writing, or game development. But it can also be hard to find the time. (This talk No Time, No Budget, No Problem: Finishing the First Tree has great tips on how to find time even with a packed schedule.)

If you're struggling with time management, try implementing the chain which is a system where you track some daily progress, no matter how small. First pick whatever creative accomplishment you want to do daily: draw a picture, add a new feature to your game, add a monster, write a paragraph of text, or whatever unit of creativity that satisfies you.

Then use a calendar or a journal or whatever motivates you and give yourself a checkmark or gold star every day you do the thing. Add a new link to the chain every day! Tracking yourself  in this way motivates you and keeps your momentum going.

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Tip: the chain is useful and I recommend at least trying it, but if you find that it makes you feel defeated when you (inevitably) break the chain, then maybe it's not for you. It's great for some but not others.

In addition to time we need space to be creative.

If you have access to your own dedicated creative space, great! Make it your own and treat it like a place where you're doing Serious Business™️, except that the "business" you're doing is exercising your creativity.

If you can't find your own dedicated space, try to be as portable and mobile as you can. If you're working on a game and you need to be nomadic with your creativity, get a laptop instead of a desktop so you can work from almost anywhere. If you're into painting, try to collect some tools that'll allow you to do that anyplace.

A little drawing space I carved out for myself.

Invest Time & Money

The primary resources we have in modern life are time and money. Time is the thing that we all have at least in small amounts. Time feels "free" and again we creative folks are happy to donate our time to our craft.

Money is different because not everyone has it and it can be difficult to obtain it. You're likely already spending money on other parts of your life that are mandatory: water, food, shelter, medical expenses, travel, etc. If you're able to, spending a small amount of this primary resource on your creativity as well as your life expenditures elevates your creativity. It makes it a first-class citizen in your mind. It's now an equal to the other important parts of your life, and something that you can take more seriously.

Money sucks, I know! When I was growing up, I used to mow neighbors' lawns so I could afford expensive game development textbooks. While I worked retail jobs through college, I'd buy cheap music gear through craigslist and once scored a $200 laptop that I used to write software.

Back then I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, but investing a little hard cash in my creativity kept me sane and happy during tough times.

You may already know what things you've been itching to buy. If it makes sense with your budget, I highly recommend spoiling your creative side occasionally. Sometimes I'll go months without buying anything except the bare necessities for life. Eventually I'll notice that I'm not drawing as much or being excited about creating. Often an inexpensive new pen or sketchbook is just what I needed to relight those flames.

Much of game development is free these days. Here's a quick list of free & open source game development tools off the top of my head:

So you might not need to buy anything, but spending on your creativity can make you feel more invested in it. I focus on happiness and inspiration when I'm browsing for creative trinkets. It doesn't matter if I have specific plans for it or not; sometimes I just want a new art tool around because it makes my creative side happy. It gets the wheels turning.

If you've got a few bucks, splurge on some creative tools that just look fun. Maybe you'll use them immediately, or maybe never, who knows!

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Note: below I'm experimenting with Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and end up buying something, it supports Valadria financially.

Buy yourself a few things that "spark joy" when you see or touch them. I've purchased some weird, inexpensive art supplies and I regret nothing. A collection of markers I love but don't use much. Colored pencils to fill a gap in my palette. Tiny glass bottles. Many erasers. So much computer paper (super useful). Big, fun, satisfying card stock. My new favorite inking pen and the pens I use for everything. These things were all fun to shop for and they fired me up creatively.

A black drawing glove that covers only the ring and pinky fingers. The outside displays white bones.
I love this ridiculous skeleton drawing glove. Wearing it makes me want to draw BONES.

When I was writing my paperback book, I bought a bunch of 6x6" card stock paper. I don't know why. I guess I wanted them because the book is 6x6" and I felt that having some nice paper that matched the book's size might make something happen. There might be some dots I could connect to the book.

Doodle of a first person dungeon crawler on 6x6" card stock for some reason.
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I never ended up using that cardstock paper for my book, but they did inspire me to draw much more than normal for a couple months (see timelapse of artwork below).

That's a creative win! I think they were $20 but it's hard to put a price on creativity. I'd have happily paid way more if I knew they were going to enable me to create drawings that I was so happy with.

You deserve nice things. Buy yourself a little somethin'. Nice sketchbooks, nice paper, cool brushes, a drawing glove, an art book, a game development book, a classic video game – a classic Sega Genesis! A used guitar peddle, an audio interface, a VST, a Humble package. A camera lens, some sweet drawing software.

It doesn't matter if it's directly related to your craft. Pick one thing that gets you fired up and get in there! Bring it into your creative space and let the sparks fly.

Photo by Jenna Day / Unsplash

Naturally many of us will resist spending any money on even things that we secretly sorta want, or that excites us and we do think could ignite our creativity. We humans are naturally frugal creatures, and indie developers are an even deeper ramen-eating breed of frugal.

Quote from Jesse Schell from his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses.
Quote by Jesse Schell from his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses.

Here's something I do to reward myself for game dev accomplishments: I'll buy myself a branded object donning something I made that I'm proud of.

Working on your game? Pleased with it? Met a big milestone lately? Nice, you deserve a treat. Slap some of your game art on a mug and get that bad boy shipped to you. You'll love it (trust me). I mostly use Shutterfly (no affiliation here!) but your options these days are myriad.

I love this gigantic mug plastered with pixel art album covers I made for Joshua Morse.

Surround Yourself

Sometimes the work you're doing is invisible to you. Especially to those of us who primarily work digitally, the pretty things we are hidden from the physical world.

The solution? Print things into the real world and place them in places where you'll see them.

First, surround yourself with the work that you admire. Pick your favorite 2 or 3 games or artists, gather some of your favorite screenshots or character models, environment models, whatever you love that inspires you. Print those out either at home or at a print shop and then decorate some of your space with them. You'll see them every day and they'll inspire you and your creativity.

Once my favorite visuals have inspired me, what I like to do is create a sort of inspiration board that contains images that inspire my next project. I start to replace visuals from my favorite games that already exist with unrelated artwork that inspires the new game I'm making.

I printed a bunch of my favorite drawings and stuck them on my closet door. It was fun and motivated me to draw more.

After you've done that and some time has passed, you can start to integrate your own work into this display. If you're working on a game, once you have some screenshots you're happy with, print them out and stick 'em up someplace. Celebrate your achievements and enjoy seeing your progress in the real world.

Surround yourself with your creations.

Declare Your Bar

Write down what your minimum "bar" would be, your smallest goal you could hit that would allow you (in your mind) to personally acknowledge your creative side and take it seriously.

What bar(s) would you have to hit in order to be creatively proud and confident?

  • Launching a product?
  • Self-publishing a book?
  • Selling a piece of artwork?
  • Entering a short into a film festival?
  • Making your first $1 by selling your own games?

Just a few short years ago, I used to not think of myself as an artist. I would create art but actively deny my participation in it (if that makes sense). Sometimes I would be making art but would have the mentality of, "Oh, I'm just doing this for a friend, it's just a joke, I don't know."

But at this point I've met so many bars that I just can't argue with it anymore: I've made pixel art album covers, the art for entire video games, I've been paid real money as a professional freelance artist, and I've illustrated a book.

I'm not trying to brag, I'm trying to convince myself that I'm "legit" so it's easier for me to do my work. Over the years I've had to refer to these accomplishments to repeatedly convince myself that I'm a "real" artist (whatever that means) to get some creative work done.

What's your bar? What goal could you reach, to the point where you'd stop doubting yourself, and take your creative side seriously? Declare that bar, and write it down. Hang it on your wall. Put it up somewhere so that you'll see it regularly. It'll give you something to work towards, and someday, you get the satisfaction of hitting that bar.

Stop Caring What Anybody Thinks

Being creative can be kind of embarrassing. Society generally wants people to get "normal" jobs and do "normal" things, but some of us creative folks sometimes want to make (and do) really weird things.

The truth is: the only opinion of your creative work that matters is your own.

Make things that you care about for yourself, and let what anybody else thinks blow past you like the wind. Sometimes people will recognize your work, agree with your taste, and stick around. Let the others drift by (and ignore any jeering you might hear).

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Related book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life which isn't for everyone but offers useful life advice.

While on your creative journey, remember to be kind to yourself. If you find that you're impatient or frustrated about your work or your progress, take a step back and pretend that you're talking to a close friend or beloved relative about their creativity instead. Try to treat yourself and your creativity as well as you would treat your favorite person in the world.

History of a document being commented and updated.
My supportive wife encouraging me to delete self-deprecating text from my book.

Now get out there and express yourself creatively! Make stuff and surround yourself with it. Thank you for reading and good luck.

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