Follow your interests.
I was *supposed to be* writing the fourth post in this series and working on my 100 day project. Instead, I got really interested in a crochet project (I know, right!?!?) and decided to dig into it a little.
Inspiration comes from the strangest places. When it strikes, you have to grab onto it and see where it goes. It may be a fleeting interest, or it may turn into your main body of work. You just never know unless you stay open to new ways to create.
So down the rabbit hole I went.
Following your interests is fantastic for your creative practice! Learning new things not only helps you get out of creative ruts, it can also support the work you’re already doing while growing your brain in the process.
The other day, while in the shower, a brilliant idea popped into my head: what if there were an Etsy that was juried and ran on cryptocurrency?
Y’all. I know nothing about cryptocurrency. Not. A. Thing.
After that flash of inspiration in the shower, I decided to spend a few minutes researching and trying to figure out how it worked — which turned into a few hours…and then days….which turned into learning about NFT art (for our purposes, this is digital art with verified ownership that is bought and sold in virtual spaces using cryptocurrency) and how that process worked and all of the different things that were possible.
It was all so fascinating I decided to try to figure out how to sell a piece of art there. It took a couple of days and I managed to do it, but I still have no idea how it works. It just all seems so magical!
I could have just brushed this idea off as nonsense and plowed forward with the work I’m *supposed to be* doing – this blog series and the 100 day project. But I try to stay open to new ideas because I’ve learned over the years if I don’t chase them down they haunt me forever haha!
While researching what has turned into a new project, I’ve connected with a very different (and awesome!) creative community; been inspired to create new and different artwork; and ended up with a notebook full of articles I could write and crochet patterns to design. Not bad for letting myself explore something I’d not heard of before early February.
So here’s the thing.
A lot of creative peeps are dug into their creative identities to the exclusion of all others. You may call yourself an artist, or a writer, or a performer. If you follow the most common advice for “best” practices (a/k/a how to market yourself and your work), you’re told to cultivate a brand identity and keep all of your work within that silo. If you take a quick scroll through Instagram, you’ll see that most artists stick within their niche. It’s pretty rare to see a photographer also posting their watercolor artworks. There aren’t many romance writers who dabble in, say, post-apocalyptic fiction, and talk about that out in the open.
Sticking within a niche body of work is great for creatives who can be single-minded in their work. It may be that they have lots of hobbies and side-projects they don’t share publicly, or that they share under different pen names because they listen to their marketing team. Some people are able to do the same thing all of the time and never get antsy to try new things. Nothing wrong with that!
I’m just not one of those people. 😊 I’ve wasted a lot of time fighting against the type of creative I am — all over the place. Trying to stay in a box doesn’t work for me. That means my “brand” is messy and chaotic and I don’t really fit in anywhere. I’ve learned to live with not fitting in but it really sucked for a while…until I decided to just be more of who I am in the hopes that I would meet others like me (and I have!).
Even if you never do a thing publicly with your creative side project, giving yourself permission to explore new ideas can open up new ways of looking at your primary creative work. If you get stuck on a project, you have other creative pursuits to rely on which can help you keep moving. That gives your brain something else to focus on other than “I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck oh shit what do I do now?” You can focus on what you’re working on rather than what you’re not.
Your brain LOVES learning new things. Have you ever heard that saying “neurons that fire together wire together”? When you take the time to follow your interests and learn something new, your brain creates new connections. So the more you dig into doing new creative work, the more connections form within your brain. This is an oversimplification, but what this means in a nutshell is that those new connections make it easier for you to do all creative work — your brain creates new pathways for information to travel. Studies have shown that this process is especially good for midlife brains (like mine) and it can help stave off memory issues as we age.
The other cool thing about following your interests is that creativity is an iterative process. When you do more than one type of creative work, you have more ideas to draw from when you get stuck. Maybe if you’re writing something and can’t figure out where to go next, you bust out your art journal and make some messy art. While you’re zoned out mixing paints, maybe an idea pops into your head that solves your writing problem. Or maybe you’re writing, and you get an idea for an illustration that might support your work.
Most people aren’t good at anything when they first start out, so it’s easy to get put off your side projects when you don’t meet with “success” the first time. But if you stick with them and stay open to exploring new ideas and skills, it will pay off in the end (one way or another). Bonus: when you chase down your interests to the end, they can’t come back later and haunt you with “if only I’d tried this thing back then.”
Embarking on side quests is how we grow as creators. Learning new things reinvigorates our creative process. What we learn and the communities we connect with adds so much value to our lives and our work. Plus, learning is good for your brain and keeps it fit and nimble!
Tell me in the comments, do you have a lot of different creative skills or do you lean pretty heavily on one or two?
*Stay tuned for a blog post on NFT art if this is something that’s piqued your interest.