Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Three Lessons on Creativity & Making Better Art (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Blaine Hogan, who is a creative director, author, and actor. Blaine works on projects for Google, YouTube, and Willow Creek. He lives with his wife and daughter outside of Chicago. Connect with him via his blogTwitter, or Facebook.

About a year and a half ago, I started working on a book. I wanted to explain how I made things.

Field Notes

Field Notes

At first I thought this was just an exercise for myself — I wanted to be able to understand my own creative process so that I could make better things. But as I got going, I realized this might be useful to others.

For years I’d been keeping track of random thoughts in dozens of Field Notes notebooks. Then two summers ago — the summer our first child Ruby was born — I poured through stacks of these banged-up beauties to uncover my process.

The book went from a humble eBook to a full-fledged paperback. Now, I’ve just finished a second, revised edition, and through the process I’m relearning the lessons I shared in the book:

Lesson 1: Your art is not just what you make, but also how you make it

I’m beginning to realize that art-making, and all creativity for that matter, has much more to do with how the creator makes something than it does with what she creates.

I used to think being an artist was about making art — shows, films, events — but now I’m learning that being a good artist is really about being a better human. So I must ask: “What are you really making?”

If you make songs, are you making good music at home?
If you make photos, are you reflecting as much light as your camera?
If you make books, are you telling a good story with your life?

Art is not just what we do. It’s who we are.

Lesson 2: The best works of art are the ones that don’t set out to prove a point, but tell a story

Most of us don’t create in vacuums. We want what we make to have impact.

We all have a message we want heard. We may even, in fact, have a point we want to make. But unfortunately, points don’t resonate.

Ever seen a Powerpoint presentation that blew your mind? Neither have I. Points don’t make an impact; only stories can do that.

Salesman prove points, artists tell stories. Which one are you?

Lesson 3: Find what moves you deeply and work from there

In his book Now and Then, Fredrick Buechner references something Robert Frost used to say about his novels. Frost would speak of this “lump in the throat,” as the beginning of all his work. He knew if he could locate the thing that moved him, that thing — if worked over in the proper way — would move his audience.

Often, we try to work the other way around — asking the wrong questions, making the wrong assumptions:

  • “What does our audience want?”
  • “So we have 30-50 year olds coming tonight, what should we do?”
  • “I really think they need to hear this…”

These aren’t bad questions or statements. It’s just that if what you’re making doesn’t resonate with you, it probably won’t resonate with someone else. We can’t move others to tears until we’re moved ourselves.

To put it succinctly: The best ideas must move you before they can move someone else. [Tweet that]

So, dear creator: What are you making, and why does it matter?

UNTITLED by Blaine Hogan

UNTITLED by Blaine Hogan

Between now and Christmas Eve, you can pick up a paperback copy of Blaine’s book UNTITLED for only $7.99. Also, he’s graciously agreed to give away five free copies. Here’s what you need to do to win:

  1. Share this post via social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
  2. Leave a comment here answering the question below.
  3. That’s it! I’ll contact the winners via email (giveaway ends Dec. 23 at 11:59pm CST).

What’s one lesson you’ve learned about creativity? Share in the comments.

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Beduwen

    I’ve learned that being creative is not simply just “creating” but actually “living” a creative life! It is impossible to produce something out of nothing.

  • Marilynslagel

    I’ve learned that creativity is a natural process for some of us – the lucky ones – and that the more we feed it by learning from the masters, the happier our lives become.  I cannot imagine a life without the ability to create something beautiful to read, look at or just enjoy…

  • Jeff and Ashley, your son Aiden is adorable. You also have a great looking dog. All my best to you for a blessed Christmas and a productive 2013.

  • “We can’t move others to tears until we’re moved ourselves.”  Well said, Blaine Hogan. Create, as a verb, means to bring something into existence. I had stories hidden deep within me. Stories from my childhood. I put the stories into words, and cried. Others cried when they read the stories. 
    Goins said to write something meaningful and share it. I did. 

  • Leah Hynes

    My greatest lesson so far has been to embrace imperfection because great creativity come from things not going to plan

  • Shared this article on Twitter!

    I’ve been naturally starting to realize that my art is not just what I make, but HOW I make it (lesson 1) and discovering what moves me and working from there (lesson 3).

    I’m trying to put myself in as many scenarios and opportunities as I can to see what makes me feel something. Not just any something, but something that catapults my heart rate and hastens my breath, something that turns my cheeks red from excitement, which usually has me laughing too.

    Lesson 1 and lesson 3 work so well together. You have to live your life a certain way in order to freshly feel that jolt of life.

    If you don’t find yourself electrified, how can you get others to be?

    My constant practice is writing and I hope to incite hearts with emotion.

  • Darlenekcampbell

    I’ve learned that I need to listen to the whispers of creativity that come to me and to respond to them intuitively. I have learned that the creative process needs practice every day and that there will be mistakes. Some of my “mistakes” have become my best creative efforts. I have learned that I have only touched the surface of my creative abilities.

  • Darlenekcampbell

    I posted about this on FB. Thanks for the chance to win!

  • I shared this article on Twitter!

    Creativity can’t be manufactured, it comes from inside you. It takes work! I think I’m most creative when working at the intersection of my gifts, talents and passions.

  • I had the privilege to apprentice with an artist for over ten years. There are a million lessons from those years, but one thing always comes to the top: creativity flows out of a believing mindset or attitude that spends little concern on limitations and obstacles; instead, it’s caught up in the creation.

  • Write down everything. No matter how small or silly. It has all helped me develop my story.

  • When you don’t try so hard and write/play from the heart your art becomes more pure.

  • Fantastic points, love that line about moving ourselves first.  So true.

  • Tarisai Mzwimbi

    I’ve learned to just write something down and make it a work of art later.

  • I’ve learned something about creativity/originality from Malcolm Gladwell, “Old words in the service of a new idea aren’t the problem. What inhibits creativity is new words in the service of an old idea.”

  • It can’t be forced, but sometimes you have to force yourself to show up and do the work.

  • Ernest Dempsey

    Love lesson #2.  You’re absolutely dead on with that.  
    Lesson #3 is great too.  If you just do what you think the audience wants all the time, you will not only be continually trying to please everyone, but you’ll lose yourself int he process.  The good news is that if the message or story resonates with you, there’s probably a lot of other people similar to you out there who will also get it.  
    Great stuff.  Thanks for sharing.

  • My greatest lesson so far has been to embrace imperfection because great creativity come from things not going to plan

  • This beautiful post gave me a lump in my throat to create. Thanks Blaine and Jeff for sharing this. 

    I HAD to tweet your quote: ‘Frost would speak of this “lump in the throat,” as the beginning of all his work.’

    Not just to try and win a copy of the book (though I’d love to) but because it’s some of the best advice any creative can get.

    Thank. You.

  • Mitzi129

    Creativity and inspiration only find me when I’m working. Thanks for asking and for reminding me to get back to work.

  • Pastordude49

    A clear eyed look at the creative process. I LOVE the way you emphasize asking the right questions.

  • Leonahosack

    One thing I’ve learned about my creativity is that spontaneousness is a big catalyst for me. Not that I can’t plan a project or make an outline, or do research but I’ve learned that if an element of spontaneity is present it moves me to a place of joy. And creativity seems to springboard from joyousness for me. 
    Maybe what I’m really saying is that staying in the moment with the fun of the project helps me to do better work, rather than letting feelings of being overwhelmed get me down.  

  • Robert Nicholson

    I wanted to be a musician. I yearned to be a musician. I wanted it badly. So badly that I was more worried about being recognized in hopes that the notoriety would fill the black hole left where self-acceptance aloped with self-efficacy. It was all about me, me, me and affirmation from the outside.  In fact,  it stopped truly being about me, and became more about the marage of who I wanted to be.

    I finally got so frustrated that I decided to start painting with the intention of NEVER EVER showing anyone my paintings. In this way I discovered the meaning of process over product. I am now in graduate school for Psychology and Counseling where most of my work involves the process of creativity and self-growth.

    After spending years kicking and screaming like a selfish toddler in a temper tantrum it finally struck me. I first had to address the process of “being” before the process of “making” had any real meaning.  When the intrinsic artistic motivators were discovered, the extrinsic need for acceptance dissolved. Life feels more authentic. Your words resonate! Good work and good luck with your book!!!!!


  • Christi59

    To express creativity and be understood you must have the passion it takes to deliver this type of creativity or it will be nothing but hollow words.

  • John Thomas

    Creativity can be jumpstarted.  If you get to work on your work doing something, anything!, then you’ll find, as you immerse yourself in it, that the creativity will begin to flow.  Sometimes half the battle is just getting started.

  • It shows itself in the many little moments when you quiet your might to think, reflect and create. Sometimes the creativity is concrete, but sometimes it is abstract and fluid.

  • Austin Hodge

    I think storytelling is the most powerful way to communicate and motivate people for sure. Oftentimes, people limit their idea of storytelling to stories in movies and books, but when you think about it, the best leaders are usually the best storytellers. 

    Here’s to all of us learning to become better storytellers in 2013!

    Austin Hodge

  • Thanks for the advices. I think the number one step and the most important to get creative is start to work