Getting Inspired, Staying Inspired: A Guide to Year-long Creative Projects
One year ago I was feeling very stuck. I had been wanting to turn my photography hobby into a revenue-generating business, but I lacked the motivation and inspiration to get things off the ground. To get out of my rut, I decided to give myself some space from the business side and just focus for a while on what I really loved – taking photos. I embarked on a photo a day project (my second in three years), taking my camera everywhere I went. I planned to shoot at least one photo every day, post them on Flickr, and then do a weekly round up on my blog. My hope was that it would get my creative juices flowing again and get me moving in the direction I wanted to go.
Making a year-long promise to your art can be very daunting. Much like New Year’s resolutions, it is way too easy to be enthusiastic at the outset, but then allow daily life and old habits to grind away at your resolve until you realize that a few days or weeks have gone by and you’ve let your commitment slip. If you are setting out on your own year-long project, here are some tips to help keep you inspired.
Make Your Own Rules
Your creative project doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. The scope should be realistic but also challenging. If you have a very busy schedule with work and family, you don’t want to put yourself under more stress by adding in something that might take you a few hours every day. The point is to inspire you and for you to feel like you are succeeding, not to overwhelm you and make you feel like a failure. If an “a day” project is too much, scale it back to an “a week” kind of project (e.g. 52 paintings in 52 weeks). If you work better with shorter time commitments, set your sights on something more palatable like a 30 day gratitude project, with a photo, short blog post or status update every day for a month.
And you don’t have to wait until January 1 to begin a year long journey. If you are inspired today, start today! I kicked off my current 365 on November 1st (just a couple of days after I had decided I was needing to do it). Sometime in early January, I was out for an evening walk and totally blown away by the starkness of the winter trees against the darkening sky. Right then and there I determined that for the next 30 days, my goal would be to photograph trees in a new way each time. I didn’t hold off until the next calendar month rolled along, I followed my inspiration where it led. And it ended up being one of my favorite parts of this last year.
Allow Yourself to Revise the Rules
A lot can change over the course of a year and what works for you as you embark on your project may not be what you need or want six months later. When I set out in November, I was creatively stuck. Challenging myself to shoot every day was what I needed. But by the time late Spring rolled around, I was shooting lots of sessions to fill out my portfolio, working through branding exercises, and keeping busy with my clients at the firm. I started to feel resentful when it would be dinner time and I realized I hadn’t yet shot my photo for the day. One afternoon in June, we were introducing our chicks to the outside world (and letting the dogs see them for the first time) and we were giddy with all the cuteness happening. I started to take a few pictures with my phone but then realized I should grab my camera. Once I had returned to the coop, the moment had passed and I just couldn’t get the same angles that I wanted. When I went through all of my images later, my favorite was an iPhone shot of Lulu meeting Selena, so I decided to use that as #227. It hit me that I didn’t need to use my camera every day anymore. I could challenge myself in a new way by using my phone and some of my new favorite editing apps. I decided right then and there that I was going to switch the project to a mobile version, at least temporarily. It’s been great! I have rediscovered my enthusiasm for my project and am spending less time planning and worrying and more time just getting a snapshot from each day.
Connect with your Community
Many people find that they need a community to support them through their project, an audience that expects and anticipates the daily or weekly posts. Sharing your progress on your blog or social media is a great way to stay inspired as you hit lulls. There are countless Flickr groups, Instagram hashtags, and websites dedicated to helping you share your journey. But you don’t need to share your project with the entire internet. Find other people who are also engaged in year-long endeavors or recruit friends and family members to be a part of what you are working on. No matter how enthusiastic you are at the outset, you’ll probably hit a day where you seem to lack the time or motivation to do your thing. Use your community for ideas and prompts to keep you moving forward. Don’t be afraid to shoot or draw or write about the same thing several days in a row. Sometimes getting a new perspective on an old topic can be very inspirational. Whether you keep it global or small, having feedback and support can remind you why you are doing the project on the days where it might be burdensome.
Don’t Be Afraid to Admit When it isn’t Working
If you start to fall behind or really aren’t getting out of it what you had hoped or needed, if you’ve done what you can to stay inspired, but all you feel is annoyance, it might be time to step back and reevaluate whether this is the right time for your project. It’s one thing to push a little to fulfill a commitment that you made to yourself. It’s another thing altogether to have to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do every day for an entire year. Life is too short and your energy is too precious to hold onto something just because you said you would. If it’s not working, give yourself permission to walk away. If there’s no enthusiasm, listen to your instincts. Maybe you just need to take a week or a month off and come back when the time is right. Or maybe you need to let go completely with the lessons you’ve learned. Do what is right for you.
There are any number of year-long projects that people take on to get their creative juices flowing. Some of my favorite current (and past) projects include a pattern a day, my friend Kirsten’s bird a day, Bev LeFevre’s Sky Project, Lisa Congdon’s 365 Days of Hand Lettering, 100 Strangers, and Make Something 365.
At the time I am sitting down to write this post, I’m on day 247 (you can see the whole project here or just follow along with me for the next 100 or so days on Instagram). Oh, and I’ve started my business and launched a new website. So I’d say the whole thing has been successful. I’m unstuck, I’ve moved forward, and I’m pretty inspired, every single day.
What about you? What project could you do (or have you done) to get and stay inspired?
Bettie Newell — Bettie Newell Photography
Bettie is a business lawyer and lifestyle photographer living in Portland, Oregon. An avid thrift shopper since she was 15 years old, Bettie loves all things vintage, red and polka dotted. She has two beautiful, sassy daughters, two tiny, ridiculous dogs, a small flock of urban chickens and one incredibly patient and supportive husband. With one half of her professional life, Bettie counsels businesses ranging from solo creative ventures to large corporations on all issues from start-up to dissolution. She spends the balance of her work time shooting portrait sessions (and the occasional wedding) with an emphasis on real moments and unique stories. You can visit her at bettienewellphoto.com.Share on Facebook