Part 3 of Cultivating Creativity Basics: the Creative Habit

This is part three of a four-part series on the basics of cultivating creativity.  In this post, I let you in on two secrets and talk about establishing a creative habit.  I write about cultivating creativity once a month.

In part two of this series, we explored the five key characteristics of a creative mindset: insatiable curiosity, constant observation of surroundings, no preconceived ideas or boundaries, tenacity and active doing.  This mindset allows us all to think creatively.  However, having this creative mindset does not equate to having the ability for artistic output.  “See, I knew it!  I could never draw like her because she is so talented and I am not.” I’ll let you in on a secret: we are ALL born with artistic ability.

I'll let you in on a secret: we are ALL born with artistic ability. Click To Tweet

Don’t believe me?  Read this little extract from one of my favourite poems by E.E. Cummings:

your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

As you were reading this, did you see a flower or rose slowly blossoming? Your imagination and associated ability to picture things in your head is the start of all your artistic ideas.  If you can see the flower, you can translate that image onto paper. You may just need a little help in the translation.

Artistic output does rely somewhat on personal interest and talent.  But mostly, it relies on having a creative habit. Most artists have been working on their ability since they could hold a drawing implement.  I would say all of them would have put in what Malcolm Gladwell calls the 10,000 hour rule. According to Gladwell, “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”  He draws this commonality between computer greats, successful athletes and musical prodigies: their dedication to the art of coding, movement or music.

Let’s do some simple maths.  Divide 10,000 by your age minus 3 (this accounts for starting at 3 years old because really between the ages of 0-3 you really don’t have fine finger dexterity).  Take that number and divide it by 365 days.  The resulting number would be the number of uninterrupted solid hours you need to be working on your craft to be good at it.  So, a 30 year old would have had to practice a little over 263 hours a year .  That means a little over an hour a day, everyday from 3 years old.  If you worked consistently everyday for so many hours of your life, being artstic would be second nature to you.  You would have developed a creative habit.

Most artists don't just miraculously come up with a fantastic idea. Click To Tweet

I’ll let you in on another secret: most artists don’t just miraculously come up with a fantastic idea. They work hard to get it.  They pretty much hit the 10,000 hours and go beyond.

In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp writes that she goes ‘scratching’ for ideas because the one BIG idea doesn’t come around too often.  So you have to go seeking ideas out.  This is the reason why those in artistic professions have sketchbooks in their bags.  Their visual journals are overflowing.  Most are avid readers and many can’t live without music.  They are actively searching for inspiration through the works of others.  The ‘scratching’ and gathering of ideas is second nature to them.  A creative habit.

Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, examines the basics of the habit loop:  cue; routine; and reward.  Your brain receives a cue that triggers a routine that results in a reward.  This is the principle my cultivate creativity weekly exercise  is based on.  Let’s review the steps here and include Duhigg’s terminology of cue, routine and reward:

Steps 1-2: Pick an activity for inspiration and choose a craft/art form to practice

The first two steps were to pick a daily or weekly activity to draw inspiration from and choose a craft or art form you wanted to practice. These two steps were time saver steps because they eliminated time wasted on deciding what mediums to work in or figuring out what to draw inspiration from each time you sit down to practice your craft.

Step 3: Draw inspiration from that activity

This is the cue stage.  At the start, you may have to be intentional about seeking that kernel of inspiration.  Once this habit is established, your brain should kick into auto-mode and go looking for visual inspiration.

Step 4: Capture some time to produce

Once you have that inspiration in your head, you will feel the need to express it physically.  This is the routine stage. Don’t delay.  Make it a priority to allow your hands to create.  For me, the act of creating is the reward.  Others need the finished product.  It doesn’t matter whether you find satisfaction in the process or the product as long as you have a sense of achievement.

Step 5: Show your work

The last step was to show your work to a supportive group.  Duhigg states that having cue, routine and reward are not enough if you want to instill a new habit.  You need to believe that change is possible and this belief often only emerges with the help of a group. This is why I urged you to show your work.  This will give you accountability and positive affirmation.

Week 23 drawing of my cultivate creativity weekly
Week 23 drawing of my cultivate creativity weekly

You have x amount of hours to catch up to your greatness.  Go do it!


Resource links:

Working towards my greatness,


Read: Part 1 of Cultivating Creativity Basics: My Garden of Eden; Part 2 of Cultivating Creativity Basics: the Creative Mindset. Next up: Part 4 of Cultivating Creativity Basics: Intentional Creativity.  See you next month!

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