How Battered Old Paint Pots And Writing Haikus Taught Me To Be More Creative

paint pots
image: malias

When you’re consistently creative and show up and create something every single day, everything flows so much more easily.

Yes of course it’s not always going to be all sweet cherries and mascarpone. There will still be turbulence and a few struggles along the way.

But with the confidence, momentum and experience you gain from creating every day, the turbulene will be far less, the struggles fewer, and you’ll be able to navigate through them far more easily.

Unfortunately, the opposite of this unwritten law of creativity is also true.

Just as the more regularly you create, the easier it becomes, the less often you create, the harder it is.

Days without creating slip by into weeks, then months, and before you realise, you haven’t created much of anything for a significant chunk of the year.

If it continues like this, you might be looking back forlornly not on wasted days and weeks, but on wasted years and decades. Ouch.

Often the biggest block is starting. It feels so much more difficult to get going than it does to keep going once you have begun.

This is a simple law of physics, and whilst I’m no scientist, I remember enough from college, and have experienced enough since, to know that, for example, it takes far more energy to get a car rolling than it does to keep it rolling.

Especially when it’s pouring with rain at 3am in the depths of December.

In fact, getting back to creating after a long period away can feel harder than pushing a broken down car in the pouring rain at 3am in December!

An analogy that I find useful is battered old pots of paint.

If you’ve ever painted a wall in your home, you’ll know that when you find those cobweb covered old pots of paint in the back of  your shed, they look in a sorry state.

Beneath the cobwebs, the tins are battered, part rusting and splattered with paint.

Taking a screwdriver to the lid, it feels at first as if it will never come off. But with a few gentle wiggles of encouragement, the top starts to loosen, and then comes off.

Oh. What you see next though is not exactly encouraging.

The paint appears to be dried up, cracked and completely unusable. Was it even worth the effort of finding the tin and then removing the lid?

But then, you gently scrape back that top layer.

Just a couple of centimetres below is fresh, lush, liquid paint, just waiting and enticing you to plunge in your paintbrush, your hand, your entire body!

If you painted one wall today, then came back tomorrow to do the next one, then the lid would come off far more easily, and you’d be into the paint again in a matter of moments. There wouldn’t be much of a layer to scrape through at all.

And so it is with our creating.

Leave it for days, weeks and months, and the surface paint dries and the lid gets almost completely stuck.

We need to remove the lid more often.

We need to show up at our desks, our workshops and our studios, tools at the ready, to show we’re committed to this creative life of ours.

If we just sat there looking at the battered paint pot and thinking there’s no way the lid will come off, then of course it won’t.

We need to make that next, small, step.

We need to show up with purpose.

Then, we need to scrape off the old paint.

We need to write that first word, take that first photograph, sketch that first line.

Again, if we just sat there looking at the crusted layer of old paint, thinking there’s no way there’s anything usable here, then of course, there won’t be.

We need to make that next, small, step.

We need to take that first little action that reminds us we’re an artist with an infinite pot of fresh, lush, colourful creativity inside us, waiting to be dived into.

In my own creativity, I’ve experienced this many times first hand, most recently in writing haikus for my Ten Thousand Haiku project.

If I just think: “I’m not in the mood to write anything today, let alone haikus, there’s no point even trying”, then guess what?

Yep, nothing gets written.

But if I break the seal and crack the lid off the paint – if I show up to the page with the intention of writing – it sends a signal to my creativity to wake up and get busy.

Then, if I just sat looking at a blank page for five minutes, waiting for the words to write themselves, then gave up and said: “Nope nothing here, it’s all dried up”, then guess what?

Right again, nothing gets written. Nine thousand, eight hundred and sixty something haikus cry out from beyond, never to be discovered.

But if I scrape off the sticky old paint – if I write that first word, then the first line – it starts the creativity flowing.

It doesn’t matter if the first line doesn’t even get used in the finished haiku, or in any haiku. It’s just about getting something started, and when you begin, you can’t help but have other offshoot ideas too.

Often, the first haiku is the hardest to write.

But just by trusting, being patient, and keeping going, more often than not another three or five or 10 tumble out. Half an hour, or an hour passes in the blink of an eye, and I’m a little closer to my seeing my ten thousandth haiku.

Whatever your favoured creative medium, the message is the same.

Show up every day, make that first mark that reminds us all you’re artist, and see what happens.

Everything else will flow from this habit.


tired, rusted paint pot

reveals wondrous lush wet depths.

my brush rejoices.”

from tenthousandhaiku.


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4 thoughts on “How Battered Old Paint Pots And Writing Haikus Taught Me To Be More Creative”

  1. This is very true! Thank you so much. I’m currently levering the top off my paint tin. This is a fantastic reminder that everyone has moments like this, and with a little bit of determination we can find the fresh paint again!


    1. The paint never dries, not deep down. It just needs the gooey bit scraped off now and again, given a little stir, so we see what’s beneath.

      Thanks for stopping by Jessica.


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