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How to move your creative potential into practice

We’re all innately creative.

Creativity, like love, is a force field that surrounds us and comes through as it’s needed.

As writer and photographer Jan Phillips in her book Creativity Unzipped writes:

“Creativity is … released automatically when we are on the right paths, in our right minds. It is a force waiting to be released, inherent in each and every one of us.”

Don’t prejudge whether you are creative

We may limit ourselves by thinking that to be creative requires being artistic, and that to be artistic means being a visual artist.

Or, maybe you have an image of a creative person as being free-flowing and slightly eccentric, like me, when my hair looks styled by wind blowing across an airfield, or I forgot to match my socks in the morning, or my sweater buttoning failure demonstrates why you should always button your sweaters from the bottom up.

The best image of creativity? YOU doing what you love, whether you look polished or messy, put-together or haphazard. Creativity doesn’t care.

Moving from potential to practice

Another way to say this is that we all have the potential to be creative. Don’t confuse expressing creativity to being Beethoven, designing change-the-world products, or being the best in your field. The world needs what we are each uniquely called to do.

Knowing we have potential can be uplifting, but moving from potential to possibility requires practice–we need to be working.

By working, I don’t mean the “ugh I’ve got to work” kind–but the passionate, playful kind where you devote yourself to something you love and let it lead you forward.

Paraphrasing Picasso’s famous quote from the lead picture, creative inspiration needs to find you working.

The three foundations of creative practice: Devotion. dedication, and discipline


The first step in developing a robust creative practice is to ask, “What do I most care about?” The effort of creating becomes easier when you feel called or in love with what you do.

When you’re devoted to someone, you want to be around them. When you’re devoted to your practice, you’re willing to show up again and again, in service to that which is begging for your attention.

For example, some years ago I was devoted to gardening (read, obsessed). I didn’t need to ask why, if, or how to garden. I just went out each day and asked, “What’s next?” My devotion led me from being a rabid, untrained beginner to beginning to know about the art and craft of gardening.


Once you’ve found what you love–which can change with time–you must dedicate yourself to it, make space for it, and nourish it in your life. Perhaps inspire yourself with how your work may someday benefit another.

Devotion and dedication don’t require proof of talent.

Years ago, I did a fantastic six-day workshop with The Circle Way creator and writing coach, Christina Baldwin. After many lessons, the most powerful learning for me was realizing that I had the right to call myself a writer. This didn’t mean that I:

  1. Had talent (although I hoped that I did).
  2. Was a good writer.
  3. Would ever be published, recognized or read by others.

Calling myself a writer only meant that I was willing to dedicate a piece of my life to writing. And this I have done ever since.

Being dedicated means that you’re willing to endure the pain of not meeting your standards, at least for a while.

Ira Glass, the founder of the story-based radio show This American Life, speaks of the gap one must tolerate, at the beginning of developing a craft, between knowing what is good and observing what you can do. (Listen to his wisdom here.) You may have to tolerate not being very good for a long time.

That challenge is staring me in the face these days as I work on my book. I have to produce what many writers call “a shitty first draft.” I hate pulling together work that doesn’t yet meet my standards, but it’s what the project requires. Ouch!

Dedication requires keeping going despite your self-critique.


Assuming that you love what you are doing and are willing to dedicate a portion of your life to it, you’ll still need a structure to support your efforts. No sense calling yourself a baker or candlestick maker if you only allow yourself to do your creative work after paying all your bills, organizing your closets, and chasing away all the spiders (unless cleaning is your creative craft).

Your practice wants a starring role in your calendar. Design your life so you can’t avoid your calling. If you want to play guitar, leave yours standing up in the living room. If you want to cook, keep cookbooks out and your cupboards stocked. If you’re a writer, inventor, or are birthing a project, carry a notebook with you just in case the muse does an unexpected fly-by.

Then, keep your project center stage by inventing routines and rituals that focus your attention.

You can live the creative life

With the three D’s of devotion, dedication, and discipline, you can design your life to take creativity from the world of potential to the world of doing and discovery.

Position your creative project on a gorgeous plate in front of you–then feast on it every day.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Sally,

    This is so true. Like you, my passion started with gardening. While this work has not achieved your level of beauty (I am not as disciplined), it has brought a lot of joy and satisfaction.

    Two years ago I decided to try out a watercolor class on island. I had no experience, but I have an excellent eye for color and was intrigued by the happy accidents that happen within this discipline (thank you Bob Ross). Little did I know that I was embarking on one of the harder mediums to master, but thankfully with a good teacher, I found this creative outlet to be quite satisfying, almost meditative. After 18 months of dabbling I decided to take the plunge and tore apart my office to reconfigure part of it as a dedicated painting space. I no longer have to clear the dining room table and now my work stares at me, asking to be continued. I may never sell anything, the business side of art has never intrigued me, but it feels great to uncork the creative genie inside.


    1. I love this, Will. You have an artist’s eye and I look forward to seeing your watercolors. Love your phrase, “uncork the creative genie” inside.

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