Forming Creative Habits: Lessons from The 100 Day Project

Back in July, I finished the 100 Day Project, an endeavour adapted from Michael Beirut’s graphic design workshop at Yale School of Art and popularized by author and artist Elle Luna. My project, 100 Ladies of Literature, was an effort to reconnect with my creative roots and learn about the women who paved the way for today’s women in literature.
Black line illustrations of Sappho, Aphra Behn, and Ursula K. Le Guin

I first learned about the 100 Day Project on Instagram from cartoonist Lucy Bellwood (who last year completed her 100 day project, which is now a book, 100 Demon Dialogues). I’d long considered myself a creative person, but I wasn’t creating as much as I wanted to. My creative output had been dwindling since I completed university.

When we talk about creativity, we often talk about inspiration. Writer’s block and art block are often attributed to difficulty coming up with ideas, but if you listen to successful people in creative fields, they’ll often talk about forming habits. Being disciplined and setting aside time for creation—whether it be illustration, writing, graphic design etc.—regardless of feeling inspired is a method many use to improve their crafts and reach their creative goals. So, I’ve been trying to incorporate this into my life more.

So way back in April, somewhat on a whim, I decided I would do the 100 day project. 100 Ladies of Literature had actually begun as a concept for a book design course I’d taken a few years back, so I had my theme to build my project around. I decided that every day I would draw and share a woman writer, editor, or publisher. I knew my time would be limited, so I decided to keep my illustrations simple, and tried to push aside the desire for perfection.

 

 

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Doing 100 days of illustration definitely had its ups and downs, but I finished. And I learned—not just about the women writers I set out to learn about—but about what works for me when it comes to forming creative habits.

So, since many of you may be trying to live more creative lives, and since NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, I thought I would share a few lessons from the 100 Day Project.

External Accountability Is Helpful

I learned (or reminded myself) that I work best with a deadline. Self-imposing deadlines is hard for me though, so having some kind of external accountability is helpful. Instagram and the 100 Day Project hashtag were my external forces. Seeing even a few people like a drawing or comment about one of the women I drew was rewarding and motivating, as was seeing all the other people participating in the challenge.

If you don’t want to take the internet route, you can try a buddy system. Find a friend, perhaps with similar goals, and agree to report progress to them. And if you really need motivation, have them give consequences for missed deadlines or rewards for meeting them.

Reception Shouldn’t Matter

Social media is a double-edged sword. As fun as it was to participate in the social aspects of the 100 day project, I found myself starting to worry about likes and followers. When I missed a post and a few followers dropped off, I felt bad. Like somehow my work was less valid without eyes to view it. While having viewers/followers/readers is important if you’re trying to make a living from your craft, the point of this project (for me) was to form a habit. 100 Ladies of Literature was supposed to be for me. I had to constantly remind myself of this in the face of social media disappointments.

This can be really hard to do. But finding ways to celebrate, or even just record, your actions and accomplishments can help keep the focus on the work rather than reception.

The Hardest Part Is Starting

I also learned that for me, the hardest part of being creative is always just starting. Every day, I’d think about what women writer I wanted to draw and just get stuck in the thinking. Since doing the project, I’ve recognized that I do this with writing too. It’s easy to get stuck in the planning, or in imagining the outcome of an idea, but eventually, you do have to actually start.

My best advice for avoiding this is to start right away—as soon as you wake up, or as soon as you’re done work. In short, don’t give yourself the time to think. To borrow from Nike, just do it.

Setbacks Aren’t Failures

The challenge of starting can be compounded when you face setbacks. I fell behind on my project thanks to travel and work, and that made starting even harder because there was more ahead of me to think about.

At first I would just miss a day, and catch up the next, which wasn’t too bad. But then, I missed almost a week and I found myself thinking “I’ll never catch up” and “I’m already so behind, what’s the point?”. There were times when I thought about giving up, but (with some encouragement both online and off) I reminded myself that any amount of work was still leading me to my goal.

So when faced with a setback, I recommend taking a moment to collect yourself. Remind yourself why you’re working on something and remember that small steps are still steps. Break up tasks into small chunks if you need to, and keep going.

I hope this advice is helpful to you, but in the end, you have to figure out what works for you. It might take time, but as long as you keep trying, you’ll figure it out. So keep being creative, keep writing, drawing, photographing, whatever. And remember above all to keep having fun!

A previous version of this blog post was published on the Common Deer Press blog.

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