How to Stay Motivated

Serena of @sirensfinds and I hosted a Q&A on Creative Challenges on Instagram the week of September 5, 2016.  What do we know about daily creative challenges?
Serena of @sirensfinds has experience with the Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist Journal Challenge. And I, of @blueskyquilter, have experience with The 100 Day Project making improv fabric art. On the fourth day, we talked about How to Stay Motivated. Our discussion is reproduced below.

How to Stay Motivated

Serena... My advice is to find or build a community around it. This creates accountability and a support system. During the initial challenge, there were many people also working through the journal so knowing there was a group to hold me accountable-and seeing their progress throughout-really kept me going. Now I'm motivated by the improvements I've seen in my own work and in my thought process when I come to certain points in my day... But it helps to have a community by your side.

Kathleen... Oh my goodness! I agree. The community on Instagram of fellow creators has been invaluable to me both during the 100 Day Project and to this day. Other creator's work can inspire you and help you find your unique style by analyzing why you like something. I have fallen in love with abstract expressionism by noodling around in the hashtags of Instagram and it has helped me work out ideas in my own art. Serena, I love how you say you are "motivated by the improvements my thought process".  Your creative challenge has made you have more clarity in your life. Yippee!

Serena... It's very true! After all, it's through Instagram that we came across each other! It's so encouraging to see other artists at work even when the medium is vastly different from your own. More than that, as you said, what they do can inspire your own work in unexpected ways.

Kathleen... As we have talked about the past few days, the best motivator is to have set up your creative challenge to be successful in the beginning. Here’s how...

Pick a creative activity that really, really interests you. (Not one you feel you should do! Cannot find a challenge, make one up for yourself) 
Pick a short amount of daily time to create. (10-30 minutes)
Pick a long duration for the challenge. (More than 21 days)
Pick something that scares you a bit by its scope or duration. (You know, a “challenge")
Make decisions up front so you know what you will be doing every day. (Get organized!)
Keep a light focus and sense of play. (This should be fun)
Evaluate at the end. (Stop judging yourself)

From Josh… I’m a beginner at everything and I don’t know what to focus on so that I keep on pushing myself to learn. It’s like I plateau before even getting anywhere which is annoying. I’m trying to figure out to avoid or get over that?

Kathleen... I understand your frustration. Learning any new skill takes time and patience. In the beginning, it is easy to fall prey to discouragement. Your immediate goal is to consistently put in the amount of time you decided daily.  Success comes by putting in the time. Save the evaluation of how you are doing for the end of the creative challenge.  Then you will see the progress you have made. If you are not happy or decide you are really not interested in this creative pursuit, keep trying till you set up a creative challenge that makes you look forward to it every day. If you are not sure about what to do, your creative challenge can be to find out what interests you by exploring your options for 20 minutes a day for 21 days.

Serena... Hey Josh, I want to encourage you to work through it. Whenever I find myself coasting, I've found it's time to rejuvenate. Picking up a few extra books or finding someone who's done well in that field and heading their advice can help. Additionally, look for a new angle. Present your work to someone you trust (preferably in that field, but that's not necessary) and ask them what you can do better. Focus on that area for a while and see where it takes you. Breaking the plateau requires vulnerability and as much as my pride and I would like to tell you it's avoidable, it's not.
Kathleen, I like your suggestion to use the challenge time as a time of exploration? It's like creative taste-testing.

A comment from an Instagram follower suggested that Josh consider reading the quote from Ira Glass about creativity and encouraged Josh saying that when you first start an activity, we understand we are not going to be an expert at it when we first start. This perspective can really be helpful.

Kathleen... You do definitely have to go through a phase to get to your style. It has taken me years but I have enjoyed the journey. 

Here is the full Ira Glass quote.   “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.” 

By the way, thank you to this Instagram commenter who is one of those creators on Instagram from the 100 day project in 2015 I mentioned above that help motivated me to continue.

Serena... It's so very true! Our expectations often heavily surpass our realities, but we still need to work with that with what we have. Thank you for chiming in and reminding us of the awesome power of community support. Also… Based on the conversation above I want to add a video suggestion: "the expectation trap "by ElliotExplicit on YouTube that is heavily based upon Ira Glass's wisdom.

Another Instagram commenter wrote about her experience where over time she has started to feel good about her finished art compared to her expectations. 

I responded that I know it takes a lot of effort and soul-searching to get to that level. But that's why we do this work. We practice and we keep practicing to get to that point where the vision we see in our mind's eye is what we eventually see in front of us in our own art. 

Let the conversation continue. Ask any questions you have about staying motivating.  

Find Serena @sirensfinds on Instagram and for email. Her website and blog are at

Find Kathleen @blueskyquilter on Instagram and for email. My website and blog are