How To Create A Stellar Creative Workspace

When we were on the hunt for a new apartment in Brooklyn, my husband and I never thought for even a moment that we would be able to find one with an office. I mean, are you kidding me? Even though I work from home and a home office would clearly be a helpful addition, I was savvy enough to know that finding a reasonable two-bedroom apartment in New York was akin to finding a perfectly in-tact, unscathed bagel in a dumpster. Like, I guess it's possible, but you've got to get reeeaaaally lucky. (Also, why you are looking for bagels in a dumpster? Examine your choices!)

So when we stumbled upon an apartment that was within our price range (or at least it was after we increased our budget), in a neighborhood we loved (okay, just on the outskirts, but still), and had not one but TWO official bedrooms (fine, sure, one of them was about 80 square feet), we wasted no time putting in our offer. We did everything short of crying out, "PLEASE TAKE OUR MONEY, APARTMENT DIETIES!" and within two months, we signed the agreement. The rarest of dumpster bagels was ours.

We've been living in this apartment for nearly two years, and yet I still walk into my office every morning with a sense of awe. If I'm being honest, I'm so in love with this room that I often think of it with a romance that I would usually reserve for my husband. How are you mine? I don't deserve you. You are a treasure. 

That said, I still remember what life was like pre-office, and you know what, honestly, it was just fine. That's because, as someone who works from home, I have always made it my mission to carve out a dedicated creative space for myself. Whether you have an abundance of extra room to build a visionary wonderland or you've only got a tiny, dank corner of your living room to work with (that was my situation before we moved), there are plenty of things you can do to make your space more creatively accessible. 

Ready to amp up your creative space? (ALSO, DO YOU WANT TO SEE PICTURES OF MY OFFICE?) Here's what imma suggest for you:

Designate a territory

Stop balancing your laptop on top of piles of dirty laundry. Stop creating in the same place where you eat chili. Stop prioritizing everything else over your creative work, and actually decide on a space in your home (or in some fancy studio, I guess, if you're excessively rich) to get your artsy fartsy on. For my apartment, that decision was simple. I mean, I guess I could have put a baby in this room or something like that, buuuuuuuuut nope.

Anyway, my point is this: when you actually designate a space for your creative work, you in effect treat your creative work with a higher degree of seriousness. And seriousness often invokes follow-through. And don't you want to follow through on your creative endeavors? ME TOO. So whether it's a second bedroom, a closet, a garage, an attic, a shed, or a pillow-filled corner of your bathroom, make some space for your creative genius. 

Mark your territory

Guys, let your inner alpha dog out and mark that creative territory (could I have chosen a less crass way of saying this? Sure. But then I wouldn't be me.)! By this, I mean do whatever you can to stake your claim over your space. Jazz it up with the things that make you feel like oh-yes-this-is-mine. For me, that meant creating a gallery wall of some colorful prints over my desk (and by the way, don't judge me for not getting frames. Washi tape is whimsical and framing stuff is hard). 

Also, it should be noted that I painted that picture of the pomeranian. It is potentially my life's greatest achievement.

Fall in love with your desk

Really, I just want to take a moment to brag about my desk. Is that a thing people brag about? I got it years ago at IKEA as a space-saving measure in my former Brooklyn apartment. Its name is NORDEN and it collapses to become a shelf whenever it's not busting its ass as a desk (did you know tables have asses? The more you know!).

In our old apartment, I shoved this thing right under a book shelf in our living room and felt so proud working in a foldable space that was all mine. In our new place, it also works well considering my already small office doubles as a guest room (and yeah, I know I'm kind of breaking my first rule by making this a multi-use space, but we don't entertain sleepover guests that often, so shove it). 

Whatever the case, find a sturdy surface that makes you proud to get down to some creative bidness. While you're at it, get a standing desk so you can live longer maybe!

Get some natural light (if you can)

Can I get a hallelujah for some Vitamin D?!

In my former apartment, natural light was a luxury we simply couldn't afford. When you looked out the window, this is what you saw:

 
 

And that, by the way, was on a slow day. On a more typical day, there would also be stray garbage, feral cats, and, inexplicably, burnt toast adorning this already dismal alley. It was a real treat for the senses.

Of course, I still made it work, but it certainly wasn't ideal. I could feel myself getting sluggish and easily distracted as I frequently wondered to myself -- is it still daytime?

Natural light is scientifically proven to boost creative productivity by regulating your body's production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you all sleepy-sleepy-Netflix-and-chill-y. Now that I have oodles and oodles of natural light streaming through the window of my office, I can attest to the fact that it really has an effect on my energy level. Not only that, but being by a window with a view is a solid reminder that the world is out there -- a world with people, homes, dogs, and possibilities -- and that kind of inspiration is invaluable. 

So if you can, strategically place your workspace by a window. Even if all you can see outside is a bunch of burnt toast, it's better than nothing. 

Have your favorites on-hand

What are the tools in your life that make you feel like an artist? What is the pen, notebook, pair of scissors, organic molding clay (I think I made that one up) that makes you feel as though you are a master of your craft? Whatever it is, make sure it's readily available to you. 

Looking for some ideas? Here are some of my personal favorite tools that I keep at my desk*:

  • Le Pens by Marvy - These are the best pens in the galaxy. They are essentially thin markers and they will change your writing game forever. 
  • Post-it notes - I'm a sticky note fiend, and in a minute, I'll show you why. 
  • This mega pretty weekly desk calendar from Rifle Paper Co. - I don't use a physical planner, but this weekly list helps me scratch that handwritten itch I have when it comes to planning my week.
  • My favorite sketchbook by 3M - I use it as a notebook because lined paper is the enemy of my creativity.
  • All of the washi tape - I never run out of uses for this stuff.
  • A kitchen timer for when I need to work on a deadline - Mine is in the shape of a bellpepper, but I just put in an order for this adorable cheeseburger timer
  • Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon - A super inspiring, short, fun book I like to keep by my desk when I need a jolt of creative encouragement.
  • A S'well water bottle for hydration and cuteness purposes

Visually depict your ideas/projects/tasks/calendar/etc (if it helps you)

Guys, this is my idea wall! Isn't she something? This is where I plan out every single creative project I intend to tackle (and some that I likely will never tackle, but that's okay). Here's how I do it:

I've divided the wall into two sections (with washi tape! I told you I never run out of uses for that stuff): "Current Projects" on the right and "Future Dreamy Stuff" on the left. Anytime I have an idea of any sort -- sane or otherwise -- I write it down on a sticky note. If it's relevant to a current project, I slap it on the right. If it's not, I slap it on the left. Then, every day, I spend time organizing my sticky notes into obvious patterns and categories. It's like doing a puzzle of my own creative brain, and it is hands down my favorite way to brainstorm. 1 out of 1 would recommend.

Whether you want to steal my idea wall or not, if you're a visual processor, consider creating a space like this where you can see your ideas. That way they are always staring at you, practically forcing you to bring them to life. 

Commit to your space

Honestly, it's crazy easy to make a creative workspace. It's easy to decorate a room. It's easy to buy a brand new desk and inspirational posters and a heapin' helpin' of your favorite pens. 

What's hard is showing up. A dedicated space makes things more fun and focused, sure, but it doesn't write the essay for you, or draw the sketch for you, or develop the romance story between your protagonist and her zombie lover. That's all your doing.

So develop your space, fill it with all kinds of inspirational and practical stuff. Or, you know, don't. That's totally fine, too. My feelings won't be hurt. 

But whatever you do, just keep showing up.  

What are your must-haves for a creative workspace?

*All of the products listed are affiliate links, which means I make, like, a ha'penny if you end up purchasing something, but I really do stand by all of this stuff and use it daily, so get off my case!

Why Being Scrappy Is Better Than Nothing (And Might Actually Be Better Than Professionalism. I Haven't Decided Yet.)

You know how some people pick a word for the year? Well, see, I was planning on doing that this year, but then there were new episodes of Bob's Burgers that I had to watch and now it's late March, so I think I missed the boat. Oopsy doopsy. At this point, the best I can do is pick a word in hindsight to describe my first three months. I think I'll go with "clammy." Not sure why, but clammy seems like the way to go. 

Feeling like perfectionism is getting you down in your business or creative pursuits? Well, stop aiming for perfect and start aiming for scrappy! In this post, you'll learn about the creative benefits that comes with choosing scrappiness over perfection. Click through to learn more!

Anyway, in lieu of having a word for the year, though, I thought it would be fitting to do a word for this new phase of my business. Did you know I'm in a new phase of my business? Did you know I have a business? I'm not sure I make these things clear.

I mean, I guess I do, though. You know that I'm writing a book. You know that I consult folks on creative matters. You know that I recently taught a course (and shhh, I've got more stuff like this on the way). You know that I have this fancy pantsy website with buttons you can click like this one:

Well, anyway, believe it or not, all of that stuff added up together equals a business (especially once I apply for that whole LLC thing I've been putting off for a year). I know, this is news to me too. 

And being a business owner comes with a unique set of challenges, the biggest being that you feel the need to be all...business-y. After all, who wants to do business with a woman sitting in her underwear at 3:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday? (Actually, probably lots of people, but that's a very different kind of business we're talking about)

It's this desire to be business-y that leads business-type people to wear blazers, limit smiley faces in emails, and go out of their way to make sure that everything they do is a professional AF production. 

But it's this last part that I've noticed can get me into some trouble. For the record, I don't really consider myself to be a perfectionist (would a perfectionist have this page listed on their website for any reason whatsoever?), but I have found that my desire to be professional can often lead me down a perfectionistic path. Let's instead call what I have "professionalism," okay?

In particular, my professionalism is directly linked to an overwhelming fear of strangers passing down judgments from on high on whether or not I'm doing this whole Internet business thing properly. In my mind, these strangers are also wearing monocles and mink stoles because that's what my brain conjures up whenever I think of judgmental people.

When this fear creeps up, I'll be honest: I find it hard to work. Maybe you know what that's like. When you're singularly focused on how you are being perceived, it can be a limiting thing. Sometimes it can be so limiting that it stops you from creating entirely. 

So as I embark on some new stuff, I want to make sure professionalism doesn't stand in my way. That's why my word for my business is....get ready....

SCRAPPY

Oh, you already knew that because it was in the title. Okay cool whatever.

But let me tell you something: I did not select this word arbitrarily. It was with great intention with which I chose "scrappy" as the official word for my business. 

Before I get into my reasoning, though, I first need for you to get this mental image out of your mind:

Please do not associate me or my creative pursuits with Scrappy Doo or anyone else from the Scooby Doo franchise (although, I will say, I admire this little guy's moxie).

Instead, think of scuffed boots colored in with Sharpie or garage bands who can't quite figure out that key change or girl scouts who strategically place their cookie operations outside of a medical marijuana dispensary. When I think of "scrappy," I think of people doing what they have to do in order to get shit done, even when it's not the classiest way to go about it. I think of highly driven individuals who work really hard, who care about what they do, but who don't go around thinking so highly of themselves that they feel their work has to be 100% perfect. 

So what does this mean for me? Personally, being scrappy means handwriting my blog posts if I feel like it and not obsessing over whether my graphics are sharable or not. It means, yes, having a plan but also being willing to throw said plan out the window if something else happens to pique my interest more. It means recording a podcast with my husband about TV pilots even though that has nothing to do with my site's niche. It means ending sentences with prepositions OF.

Ultimately, being scrappy means having the confidence to know that what I'm doing for my business is right even if it looks crazy/unconventional/not-the-way-you're-supposed-to-do-it. And hopefully that means that all of the kooky rule-breakers are the ones that stick around.

By the way, this philosophy goes for anyone anywhere wanting to pursue something creative. So if you, like me, are prone to intense bouts of of professionalism, here are some reasons why I suggest you hop on the Scrappy train as soon as possible:

Being scrappy makes you prolific.

Plain and simply, when you are less obsessed with doing things "right," you are more likely to DO THINGS. And doing things is an essential strategy for getting better at things. It's what all the pros suggest -- Ray Bradbury ("You must write every single day of your life..."), Wayne Gretzky ("You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."), Chamillionaire ("On my grind, on my grind, I got to stay grindin' at all times...") -- everyone. 

Scrappiness is relatable. 

You know that kid in your class who always brought in the perfect styrofoam model of the solar system for their science fair project? Didn't you hate that kid? Wouldn't you rather have been friends with the one who put a rotting orange on a sharpened pencil and tried to pass it off as the sun? (Incidentally, I did this as a child, and it did not win me any friends)

Anyway, you get the idea. Perfection is boring. We've known this forever, but we forget it always. By allowing your creative work to be of the scrappy variety, you show the flaws that remind us all of how special the human experience is. We're all screwed up, and it's wonderful.  

A scrappy job requires a lot more creativity.

When you've got to MacGyver your way out of a situation (i.e. use whatever tools you have at your disposal) it often leads to more interesting results than if you were to use conventional methods. You get to make discoveries along the way rather than sticking to a structured plan. That's the scrappy philosophy in a nutshell.

So sure, you could read every article and piece of advice under the sun about how to write a book. Orrr you could just write a book and figure it the hell out. And sure yeah fine, you could spend thousands of dollars on Photoshop classes. OOOORRRR you can just start fiddling with it one day and figure out your own creative solutions as you go (that's how I learned, by the way, and look at me now, ma! I can make a confetti paint brush! WEEEEE!)

Bottom line: being scrappy requires you to use creative problem-solving methods that you might otherwise neglect if you were just handed the answers. And you're better than that, man. 

It's just more fun. 

Putting too much pressure on a situation is a surefire way to suck the fun right out of it. Have you ever played laser tag with that one guy who takes the game so seriously that it's as though he's fighting in an actual intergalactic war? While it sounds cool at first, it's actually ZERO FUN. Usually ends in tears.

However, unlike laser tag guy, when you approach things with unabashed scrappiness, you are never in a position to take yourself too seriously. Instead, every aspect of what you do becomes fun. It becomes fun to invent new ways to approach a problem. It becomes fun when disasters happen. It becomes fun when you pick yourself back up and keep trying again and again. It's. ALL. FREAKING. FUN. 

AND THINGS SHOULD BE FUN! THIS IS SOMETHING I BELIEVE! WHY ARE WE YELLING?! 

It keeps you honest.

Most importantly, embracing scrappiness is an important quality for people (such as myself) who are prone to doing scrappy jobs anyway. There, I said it. My tendency is to scrap it up even if I have all of the right answers, so I may as well be cool with that.

Certainly, there are people who are capable of perfection (several such individuals toured with Riverdance in the mid-1990s, and they are all legless killjoys today, I imagine). And of course, it's important not to settle for so-so. Hard work, trying your very best, educating yourself -- these are all good things.

But if the pursuit of absolute perfection is stopping you from actually doing the damn thing, then I say forget it. At the end of the day, wouldn't you rather be a scrappy weirdo who actually does shit than a blazer-wearing rule-follower who does jack-nothing? Me too. 

What is your favorite way to be scrappy?

What I Learned From Teaching My First E-Course

Remember back in December when I was shouting from the rooftops about something called Do The Damn Thing? Well, for the last eight weeks, I have been doing the damn thing -- the damn thing being teaching my very first e-course, Do The Damn Thing

In teaching your an e-course, you may end up learning just as much as your students. In this post, I've included some of the lessons I learned from the amazing individuals who joined me for my first ever course on creative confidence, Do The Damn Thing. Click through to get the full scoop!

This weekend, I sent out my final module to my students just after shedding a solitary tear and just before popping a big ol' bottle of champagne (I'm a big fan of treating myself). Really and truly, I could not have asked for a better group of people to be a part of my first course. For the last two months, I've not only delivered them my thoughts and discoveries on the creative process, but I've also had the privilege of hearing their stories and walking alongside them as they embarked on the truly terrifying work of starting a creative endeavor. It's been a blast and a half. 

Do The Damn Thing is easily one of the biggest projects I've ever tackled, potentially the biggest, and now that it's over and done with, I figured it might be beneficial to reflect on some of the things I learned throughout teaching this course.

Now, just to set expectations, here's a disclaimer: this is not going to be a particularly business-heavy post. I'm not going to be digging deep into how I got people to sign up, what programs I used to deliver my course, or anything like that. While those things are definitely important, there are people on the Internet who are way more excited and far more skilled to talk about them than I am.

Instead, I'd rather talk about the actual emotional experience of coordinating a course of this nature as well as the powerful creative lessons I've learned from interacting with my amazing students.

Again, I really dig those folks and I've also got a lot of feelings, so yeah, let's do this. 

Why I did it

This last year has been a growing one for me in more ways than one. You may have recently read my uber honest post about how 2015 was the year I finally, after struggling for several years, found help for my depression. Around the time that I started seeing improvements in my mental health, I also noticed that I suddenly had a lot of creative desire that wasn't there before. I mean, I've always prided myself on being a creative person, and hello, I'm a writer by trade, but in the throws of depression, creativity seemed to be this thing that escaped me. Just like all of my emotions, I consistently lacked the "feeling" of creativity. 

But suddenly and without warning, I found myself once again bursting at the seams with creative energy. It was wonderful, but it was also incredibly frustrating. Even though my creative mojo was back in full force, I had been out of the game for so long that I simply had no idea what to do with it. I couldn't figure out how to channel it effectively.

And thus came a major season of trial, error, and lots and lots of help. I started a local creative collective with a friend of mine, signed up to work with a creative business coach (best decision of my career thus far, by the way, and I'll definitely be sure to tell you more about that later, promise), and I started devouring any creative resource I could get my hands on. Like a weird, obsessive moth to a flame, I became fixated on the idea of creativity. Where does it come from? How does one channel it? How do the pros develop solid creative habits? Why do I know so many brilliant, imaginative people who aren't pursuing their creative passions?

In doing this, as is usually the case when putting considerable effort towards something, I started seeing some serious results. Unlike any other time in my life, I had a legitimate creative routine and I was feeling, well, prolific. In fact, people started remarking that they were noticing a marked shift in the stuff I was creating and releasing online. And I'm not going to lie, I was noticing it too.

As I was getting ready to launch this new website all about creativity and confidence, I knew I wanted to share these lessons in a way that was more in-depth than just a simple blog post. So one night, I sat down in front of my idea wall (yes, I have an idea wall. What of it?) with a ton of sticky notes and I started creating this mess:

That brainstorming process led to a course idea about getting creatively unstuck which led to a cheeky title called "Do The Damn Thing" which led to a sales page which led to incredible people signing on to get moving on projects that mattered. Blast off!

What I learned

You'd think that I, being the all-knowing authority on creativity that I purport to be, would have nothing to left to learn. But au contraire. As far as I'm concerned, Do The Damn Thing was not so much about what I knew, but rather it was my selfish attempt to gather a collection of creative experts around me. Sure, they were stuck creatives, as many of us often are, but they had plenty of wisdom to share. 

Throughout teaching this course, I also had the experience of learning those highly unsticky lessons -- the ones that are so valuable, so monumentally important, but for some reason, you have to relearn them over and over again throughout the course of your life. Here are just a few:

1. Creative blocks can happen to ANYONE

Let me give you a rundown of the kind of talent that was running rampant in this course. Here are just a few of the insanely amazing projects folks were working on throughout DTDT: a standup comedy set (from one of the funniest humans I've ever met), a creative services business (photography, writing -- this girl can do it all), a party supply company with the most fantastic premise that I'm dying to tell you what it's all about but I should probably keep it a secret (but ugh I want to tell you), multiple blogs, a gorgeous photography series, and a crime novel that I legitimately cannot wait to read. Among this group of creatives, we had a lawyer, two digital marketing specialists, a textile designer, an actor, a TV producer, a 7th grade teacher, a writer, a college administrator -- you know what I'm getting at: these Do The Damn Thing Folks = LEGIT.

AND YET even these brilliant, successful, good-head-on-their-shoulders kind of people all shared one common bummer: they were stuck. 

Just like bedbugs or having an anvil fall on your head or getting some kind of skin crawling bacteria from a hot tub, creative blocks can happen to literally any person in the world. No matter how successful you are, no matter how long you have been working at it, no matter how much of a genius your friends tell you that you are -- you can still get stuck.

It's one of those things I've always known intellectually, and of course, I've heard some of my favorite artists throughout history speak of their struggles with the creative process, but it's sometimes a hard thing to believe (SUURE, Stephen King, you had writer's block while writing Bag of Bones. SUUUuuUUUReee, Elizabeth Gilbert, you experienced creative anxiety after releasing one of the most popular books of the decade). Even in my own experiences with being creatively stuck, I have to admit that I felt unconvinced that others would struggle so similarly.

That said, if it can happen to the solid folks in this course, it can happen to anyone. On one hand, of course, that seems somewhat disappointing. But on the other hand, it's strangely liberating. It means that no matter how alone you feel in creative frustration, there is someone out there, likely someone closer than you think, going through the exact same thing. You're not alone. No one is. 

2. Providing clarity for someone else is an inexplicable joy

There is just nothing quite as gratifying as helping someone figure out a creative plan (maybe having a baby. Maybe. I mean, I don't know what that's like. People seem to really dig it. But I can't speak to it, so whateva).

Throughout this course, I really tried to keep my door open for anyone who needed a bit of extra help, and in doing so, I found that I became so invested in the stories these new friends were telling me. It's as though their struggles were my struggles and their victories were mine as well, which I realize may have been a little selfish, but whatever, I'm selfish.

Going into this course, I pretty much thought that Do The Damn Thing would be all about the content: the modules and the weekly group emails. And while those things were SO. FLIPPIN. FUN. to create, it was ultimately the interpersonal connections that provided me with the most joy. The emails, the messages, the phone calls I got to jump on with the students who opted in for consultations -- these were the highlights for me.

It was that unique experience of being able to afford someone else the grace and perspective that I often deny myself. It gave me the chance to look at individuals who impress me and say, "You have SO MUCH to offer!" with full certainty that what I was saying was true. In fact, I fell so hard for the idea of helping creatively stuck people find clarity that I've decided to continue offering consultations as a service (pssssttt...you can book yours right here). At this point, it's one of my favorite things to do, so I figured, why stop now?

3. Fear is not destroyed or avoided; it's challenged and followed.

Here's a short list of some of the fears that the people in this course expressed (myself included) that kept them from pursuing creative work:

1. Fear of not being good enough/talented enough/skilled enough to make something that matters
2. Fear of trying and failing
3. Fear of trying and succeeding and still being dissatisfied
4. Fear of pursuing something as frivolous as creative work
5. Fear of wasting time
6. Fear of being seen as vain
7. Fear of losing control
8. Fear of feeling like a fraud
9. Fear of messing up in front of people
10. Fear of not being as talented as ____
11. Fear of not being able to balance it all
12. Fear of not being able to do it perfectly
13. Fear of regret
14. Fear of discomfort

When we talk about fear, we often talk about "moving past it" or "conquering it," as though it were something we could just walk around or shoot with a laser beam. In fact, I've used these terms myself. Recently. But in watching the individuals in this course and in experiencing these things for myself, one thing has become abundantly clear: fear doesn't often go away.

Those fears that prevent you from living out your gifts and talents -- they are resilient. They are like cockroaches or Twinkies (I've heard Twinkies could withstand a nuclear apocalypse. Not feeling like fact-checking that, but do with that what you will). No matter how many creative courses you sign up for, no matter how far you advance in a creative career, your fears are likely here to stay.

So this calls for a different way of approaching fears -- a reframing of sorts. Instead of pushing fears aside or slicing them open with a machete, what if instead we decided to do something totally bizarre? What if we followed fear?

Even though we think of fear as this insidious creature, and that it may well be, at its core, fear is trying to tell us something. You may have heard Eleanor Roosevelt's advice to "do one thing every day that scares you." The reason for this is because fear makes its dwelling in the depths of our desires. 

Have you ever stood in a grocery store looking at boxes of cereal, thinking, "What do I want?" So often, we are clueless to our own desires, but there is one way to be sure: by noticing your fears. 

The people I've been working with over the last eight weeks have done a beautiful job of this. Truly. They've been doing things that scare the hell out of them, maybe not always in the time they hoped they would or in the way they imagined, but the important thing is, they're doing it. And that's really all there is to creativity. 


So that's what I've learned from my Do The Damn Thing crew. Without gushing too much and looking like a big ol' softy, I'd like to extend the biggest thank you to the people who not only helped me get this course off the ground (you know who you are) but those of you who participated in it, thus teaching me some of life's greatest lessons. You're all sparkling moon rocks that I want to put in my pocket.

If you didn't get a chance to take part in this round of DTDT, don't you fret! I am planning to rerelease it sometime later this year. If you want to be the first to know when that goes down, be sure to sign up here

Is there a creative lesson you've learned lately?