How To Create Amazing Somethings From Virtually Nothing

photography by dan james
photography by dan james

A common belief amongst artists is that we don’t create enough.

Combine this with another often closely held belief that, unless we can dedicate hours or days at a time to creating, we’ll not be able to make any worthwhile art, and we have a recipe for a miserable and frustrated artist.

Fortunately, both of these beliefs are often exaggerated far from the reality. We just need someone else to help us see this.

We can create amazing somethings, and from virtually nothing. Here is why, and how.

First a brief example. And, er, yeh, it’s going to be a photography related one, predictably… What can I say?

Since I discovered film photography in mid 2012, I’ve steadily purchased and experimented with a substantial number of different cameras and films.

A new (to me) camera might cost £5-20 from an online auction. Which as a single purchase, seems like a fairly insignificant amount of money.

If you buy one camera a year at £10, it’s a very cheap pursuit. If you buy one a month, still affordable, but the £120 total spend for the year becomes less insignificant.

Ramp this up to one new £10 purchase a week, and we’re looking at £520 a year, which suddenly seems a sizeable chunk of money.

This example is purely about the cumulative numbers, the camera part is irrelevant.

But for me, ironically, it was this kind of pattern of buying cameras, lenses and film, that reminded me of the immense power of “little and often”.

Let’s see how this can help your creativity, by first translating the money into time.

You might feel that you don’t create enough, but at the same time you don’t feel able to commit six hours a day to creating. Suddenly you find you’ve wearing polarising sunglasses and the choice becomes all or nothing.

“If I can’t create for at least half of my waking hours today, then why bother creating anything at all?”

Which pretty soon you find is what you’re saying to yourself not just today, but each and every day.

So you get stuck in this unhappy and uncomfortable place (let’s call it the creative vacuum, or Planet Cracuum, for short) where you want to be creating more, but you’re stopping yourself from making any opportunities lasting less than six hours.

Planet Cracuum is not a pretty place to be. And becoming a resident certainly won’t help you become more creative any time soon. In fact, tragically, it’s a place artists like us can spend months, even years lost in, and creating nothing.

By nothing, I mean absolutely nothing.

Virtually nothing, though, is a little bit more than that. Which makes all the difference.

Like with the photography passion, spending nothing is different to spending £10 a year or £10 a month. Spend nothing, and you have no camera, and can’t make any photographs. So you need to buy some kit.

Each isolated purchase is just £10, which these days is virtually nothing.

But not only does that £10 a month, say, on a new camera give you a very healthy and varied collection of tools to play with after a year, it also keeps the engagement with those tools (and indeed with the art form in general) at an enthusiastic level along the way.

Again, switching back to time, let’s instead of investing £10 a month on a camera, invest just 10 minutes a day on a creative project we’re currently interested in.

Ten minutes a day is virtually nothing.

(It’s an almost invisible 0.69% of your day, to be exact.)

The old you – the one stuck on that ghastly Planet Cracuum – might say – “10 minutes? What’s the point, I can’t ever get anything done in that time.”

But the new, open minded and optimistic you sat here now, instead might say – “OK, I could try this. In 10 minutes I could write a small poem, or prepare a canvas, or take a few photographs.”

In a week, a small poem becomes seven small poems, or maybe a couple of larger ones.

Preparing a canvas become half a dozen canvases. And taking a few photographs becomes maybe 20 or 30 photographs.

In a month, 30 small poems, 30 canvases (or maybe seven prepared and already gathering layers of paint on top) and 100 photographs.

“Virtually nothing” – in just 30 days – is starting to look a lot like it could evolve into amazing somethings.

Before you freak out at the apparent strictness of this approach (“I’m an artist, I must be spontaneous and free!”), it’s important to say this – Starting a creative habit like this doesn’t mean you’re tied to creating for exactly 10 minutes a day for the rest of your life.

It simply gives you a framework for being able to create regularly and explore the artistic passions that otherwise might be completely neglected.

One day you might spend ten minutes organising some supplies, or ordering new ones. Another day you might clear up and prepare your work space or equipment in readiness for the next day.

And some days you will inevitably find you have more than 10 minutes, and might create for 20, 30, 60 minutes or more. It all adds further richness to your creative life.

In its effectiveness this system is incredibly robust and powerful. And yet it’s as flexible and customisable as you want it to be.

And, being the creative type you are, you’ll want to make it your own, a plan that works best for you.

Remember, you don’t need six hours at a time to be able to create something.

And those little somethings – which at first seem virtually nothing – will in time grow into amazing creative projects and artworks.

Remember also that you create far more – and in far more varied ways – than you give yourself credit for anyway. But that’s a topic for another conversation. Or two.

Put these together and very soon Planet Cracuum becomes a rapidly disappearing speck in the rear view mirror of your creative rocket ship…

Have you felt this dilemma – desperate to create more, but not making the opportunities because you feel you don’t have large enough blocks of time?

Come over and join the conversation to tell us more, and how you’d like to change.


Thank you for reading. Please share these words with those who might need to hear them. 

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