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.

photo1Making 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

photo4There 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?

bettiebiowashi

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.

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4 Comments on “Getting Inspired, Staying Inspired: A Guide to Year-long Creative Projects

  1.  by  Shasha Ravacio

    Hi Bettie,
    Thanks so much for this wonderful post…very timely for me as I feel I have been going through the same route. My project blog, 53weekstobliss.blogspot.com, is my journey to becoming my own illustrator in the next 53 weeks. But, just like you have said, life got in the way, and then you noticed you were losing grip of that once very enthusiastic endeavor.
    However, just this morning, a very dear friend told me that I was doing good at my venture, and I realized that I should give it a chance. Then after reading your post now, I am so ready again to get that pen and paper and so something to forward to my dreams.
    Thanks again, and among the precious tips you shared, I’ll focus more on “connecting with a community” of similar goals. Thanks, too, for the list of year-long projects taken out by you and your friends that I believe can further inspire me.
    Have a great day!
    Shasha

  2.  by  sue

    Loved the post. I made a commitment 3 years ago to work on something creative every day. My projects are rarely finished in 1 day…….some take months! So, the act of really sticking to the daily work was my goal. Discovered that was a great plan for me & have continued ever since.

    Needed to spice up my work so last year, I decided to post 30 scarves in 30 days for the month of Sept. I did have to start before Sept, to get everything done, but it was a good exercise for me. This year I’m just starting a series of hats for Sept. Stretches me to use other techniques, get out of my color rut, and always be on the search for hat patterns & ideas to choose.

    The added plus for me, was getting a ready made blog post! Blogging is hard for me to come up with the ideas and the regular creating turned into regular blog posts!

  3.  by  bettie

    Shasha, thanks for the sweet comments and for sharing your story. Isn’t it amazing how much the kind words of one person can help remind us why we do what we do? Best of luck as you refocus your energy on your art!
    Sue, love to hear how you are pushing yourself to keep inspired! It’s great to get blog posts out of it. I think alot of visual and textile artists struggle with words. Thanks for stopping by!

    xo, bettie

  4.  by  virginie lykins

    Inspiring post.. and confirms a little idea I’ve been thinking about and actually have on my ‘ to-do’ list on the fridge… I’ve just been missing the push forward…..

    Thank you !