On Monday morning I had coffee with my close creative gal pal, Lindsey. Lindsey co-owns a grab-and-go food bar in OKC offering up clean eats like soup and salad, she does one-on-one nutrition and food coaching, and is always pursuing new training, certification, and degrees in her field of study. She is a dedicated student of her craft who just wants to help people feel better after they eat a meal. Lindsey loves reading The New Yorker, she regularly listens to foodie podcasts, and enjoys a good slow dinner with friends. Lindsey is also a really talented writer – the problem is she doesn’t know what to write about. She’s feeling stuck, but she’s not alone. The downside of being a creative for a living is having to create even when you’re feeling uninspired, blocked, or downright afraid.
Together we brainstormed a few ideas of how she could structure her content and create systems for always having something to write about. We also talked about the fear of not being good enough and feeling inadequate when it comes to our own high standards. So today I thought I would share some of the ideas we came up with on our Monday morning coffee date in case you’re feeling stuck too.
When you’re feeling stuck just mind the gap.
First off, I know I’ve shared this Ira Glass quote before but it’s worth repeating:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
If you’re feeling like Lindsey, and every other creative entrepreneur who is a student of life, then you will constantly feel as if you’re coming across new gaps just as you close the old ones. That’s a good thing. It means you’re growing. But like Ira Glass advises – you just have to keep writing! Here are some ideas to get you going:
When you don’t know what to write about – write about what you’ve been talking about.
Don’t underestimate or take for granted your gifts of knowledge. What kinds of questions or conversations have you answered lately? Write about that! For example, as of yesterday I had no idea what I was going to post this week so I started mentally combing through my conversations with friends and clients. My Monday morning coffee with Lindsey was top of mind so now I’m writing about it and hopefully sharing something valuable with you along the way.
When you don’t know what to write about – read something.
Nothing gets my gears turning like reading a good memoir or self-development book. If it doesn’t spark entirely new topics or ideas to write about I’ll simply share a review. Not everyone has the time to read the book for themselves so write about what you learned from it or how it inspired you. My review of Daring Greatly caught Brené Brown’s attention and from there she became a Braid Method client! (Now if only Amy Poehler would become my BFF.)
When you don’t know what to write about – share what you’ve been working on.
What have you been working on lately? Write about it. It doesn’t have to just be the polished finished product. You can share the behind-the-scenes of your creative process. Tell the story of what it was like to truly help your client – paint a picture of what they looked like before and after working with you. So for Lindsey it might not be just writing about the benefits of vitamin C but sharing how her client shifted and transformed when she started eating foods that nourished her body and mind.
When you don’t know what to write about – establish creative boundaries.
The cool part about working for yourself is it means you get to do whatever you want. But being creative can be overwhelming when the sky is the limit. So create constraints for yourself. Define the parameters for what you want to create – that might be limiting yourself to a topic, word count, or deadline. It might be working from writing prompts (Alexandra Franzen has some great ones here). And remember, once you create some rules for yourself you can always break them.
When you don’t know what to write about – dig into the details.
Lindsey went to a writing workshop hosted by the very talented food and memoir writer Molly Wizenberg. I asked Lindsey for one great writing tip she learned from the workshop and she said that Molly keeps a little 1” frame on her desk – it reminds her that she doesn’t have to write about All The Things. That she can take one small detail or fragment from her life and create a really deep story about what she sees through a 1” frame. What a great reminder.
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If you’re dealing with creative fear, need help with time management, or simply need a boost of inner-confidence when it comes to showing up and being seen you might like my DIY Coaching for Creatives email sessions. You can sign up anytime! It’s just $40 for 4 weeks of content delivered straight to your inbox – plus, it’s a great way to invest in yourself at the beginning of a new year.
Or if you’re looking for more guidance around sharing your content check out our Braid ECourse Shape Up Your Content: Tame Your Ideas and Tell People How to Buy You. It will be in-session this Friday, January 16 – which means registration closes tomorrow! Learn more and sign-up here.
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There’s this idea that when you work for yourself, especially as a creative entrepreneur, you are living the dream. The fantasy goes like this: you’re making things with your hands, brainstorming over coffee with creative colleagues, and doing so much yoga that you can finally get into complicated arm balances. But you know, and I know, that being your own boss isn’t so easy. Balancing work and life, paying the bills, wearing all the hats … it’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t always feel so dreamy.
Kathleen here. I write a lot about being your own boss here on the Braid blog, I give a peek behind the curtains of how we work in our exclusive Letters for Creatives, and I share snippets of my life in between it all, over on my personal blog, And Kathleen. So it’s been a long time coming, but now I’m finally launching a podcast called Being Boss. I’m teaming up with my good friend and creative confidant Emily Thompson of Indie Shopography, and every week we’ll be candidly talking to you, fellow bosses and aspiring-to-be’s, about the good and bad, the ups and downs – of being boss.
BEING THE BOSS
“Being The Boss” means being able to manage, plan, organize, invest, delegate, and make tough decisions. It’s not easy and doesn’t always come naturally to a lot of us creatives who just want to make a living doing what we love. But learning how to be the boss is how you make living the dream profitable.
“Being Boss” is an attitude. It’s confidence, being all in, stepping into uncertainty without losing your cool, and most of all being unapologetically who you are 100% of the time. “Boss” is an adjective that came on the scenes in the 1950s – it means cool or awesome. “That motorcycle jacket is boss!” But I love the Urban Dictionary definition written by Tiffany aka Ya Girl Miss Tiff: "Boss. noun - a person who is a leader, someone who runs shit in his/her hood or city. Example: If you got more than $100 G's in the bank and stackin paper every day, more than likely you are a Boss."
So yeah, we’re going to talk about stackin paper, setting goals for ourselves, and getting sh*t done – all the things that make us feel “Boss.” But there’s going to be a lot of talk about love, too, love for what we do, love for what we’ve created, and love for you guys out there trying to do the same.
Sign up at LoveBeingBoss.com or subscribe to our Being Boss newsletter below to be the first to know when our newest episode is released in early January.
BEING BOSS PODCAST
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I first fell in love with Amy Poehler when I fell in love with Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) on Parks & Rec. Leslie Knope is a city official for the Pawnee Parks & Rec department and she is enthusiastic, honest, optimistic, proud, and kind. A true role model. Then I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants where she dedicated an entire chapter to her best friend Amy Poehler where she described her as a hilarious and talented badass who stood up to the boys in the writing room. I went from loving Leslie Knope to admiring Amy Poehler.
Kathleen here, and lately I’ve been into reading memoirs of funny ladies, who seem too young to be writing memoirs. I’ve read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me, Kelly Oxford’s Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar, as mentioned Tina Fey’s Bossypants. But Amy Poehler’s Yes Please kind of changed my life. I practically highlighted her entire intro describing the creative process of writing a book as pretty much torture. In fact, I hadn’t even finished the introduction of the book when I texted all of my girlfriends and told them they had to read Yes Please immediately.
So today I want to share with you few big nuggets from the introduction alone of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. (The rest of the book is really great too.)
WRITING DOESN’T HAPPEN IN A LOG CABIN
So recently, and it could have something to do with all the memoirs I’ve been reading, I’ve decided I want to be a writer. A REAL writer. But with that I decided I also needed a masters degree in creative writing and a log cabin to write in – essentially, I came up with a couple of big roadblocks for myself to procrastinate becoming what I imagine a real writer looks like.
In just the first page, Amy Poehler is in-your-face-honest about how hard writing a book is. “Everyone lies about writing. The lie about how easy it is or how hard it is. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea. … The truth is writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.”
And Amy Poehler definitely didn’t write her book in a log cabin in Big Sur. “I wrote this book after my kids went to sleep. I wrote this book on subways and on airplanes and in between setups while I shot a television show. I wrote this book from scribbled thoughts I kept in the Notes app on my iPhone and conversations I had with myself in my own head before I went to sleep. I wrote it ugly and in pieces.”
TAKEAWAY: Being creative is not dependent on your surrounding circumstance. It’s up to you to be creative in spite of all the other work you have to do, or the family you have to feed. Being creative doesn’t always look like a perfect vignette you can share on Instagram and that’s okay. It's easy to forget that while the outcome usually looks effortless and beautiful the journey itself is sometimes a total unphotogenic mess.
THE DOING IS THE THING
Amy Poehler is creative because she actually likes making things and making people laugh. She didn’t start her career with the intention of becoming the next big thing or launching a six-figure business – she was just trying to get a laugh from her friends. She’s also not overly concerned with approval or perfection, and tries really hard to create without self-consciousness. But sometimes being creative is hard – anyone who makes a living doing what they allegedly love knows this. So I love when Amy Poehler says this in response to the inner-critics, the gremlins, and the creative resistance we all butt up against from time-to-all-the-time:
“How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? … Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. … And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more. You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.”
TAKEAWAY: We’ve all read enough self-improvement books to know that life is the journey and not the destination, but Amy Poehler summed it up for me in a way that shifted my entire perspective around being present and tackling perfectionism, procrastination, fear, and uncertainty in my own business. My new mantra is “The doing is the thing.”
BE WHO YOU WANT TO ATTRACT
When Amy Poehler goes on to describe the kind of person she wants to be – the person who wrote really honest and vulnerable piece on the life of a creative – because it’s also the kind of person she wants to hang out with. She says this:
“I have realized that mystery is what keeps people away, and I’ve grown tired of smoke and mirrors. I yearn for the clean, well-lighted place. So let’s peek behind the curtain and hail the others like us. The open-faced sandwiches who take risks and live big and smile with all of their teeth. These are the people I want to be around.”
TAKEAWAY: I want to be friends with Amy Poehler. I want to be a big open-faced sandwich who takes risks and lives big.
Amy Poehler’s book surprised me in the best way. She shed and shared the complex layers of who she is with humor and sincerity. She made me laugh but she also made me think. She inspired me to create, and write, and be who I am (a mom, a creative, a boss) – which are many of the things she is too.
Need more guidance on being a creative expert? Check out my DIY Coaching for Creatives Email Sessions – it’s $40 for four weeks of content that will help you dig deep so you can uncover the good stuff and make decisions about what’s next.
Our ECourse Dream Customer Catching: Embrace Your Expertise and Attract What You Track is now open for registration. We share more secrets for attracting dream customers by getting narrow with what you offer. This ECourse will be in-session from December 12 - 21. Learn more and see if it’s a fit here.
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