April is National Poetry Month, and like a lot of other poets, I’m cranking out a new poem every day at my poetry blog Strange and Potent Mixture. Writing a poem a day is a new challenge for me, and by taking on this challenge, I’m honing my skills, refining my voice, and discovering repeated themes in my work.
Creative Skill is a Muscle
Certainly, writing a poem a day isn’t for every poet, but finding ways to challenge ourselves is absolutely crucial to keeping our art alive and well.
Your skills as an artist comprise a creative muscle. In order to keep that muscle in shape and growing stronger, it not only needs to be worked consistently but it needs new artistic challenges, making it work and stretch in new ways.
Creating new, more difficult challenges for ourselves keeps us growing as artists, and it helps us to master our craft.
Yet how do we define appropriate creative challenges and artistic goals for ourselves? How do we work our creative muscle without burning out or injuring it?
Strategies for Working Your Creative Muscle
Here are some strategies I’ve used to create interesting challenges for my work and to keep my creative muscle stretching and growing in new ways:
- Assess where you’re at. Where are you in your development as an artist? Perhaps you’re a beginner or you have decades of artistic creation under your belt. Either way, it’s important to assess your skill level so you’re able to identify a reasonable and appropriate challenge. Also, it’s good to consider your strengths and determine ways to rely on them. So, try making a list of your strengths and consider how they can be used or even strengthened some more by your new challenge.
- Identify your weaknesses. What artistic skills do you need to work on? Perhaps you’re struggling to practice your craft on a consistent basis. Or maybe you’re still learning the basics of narrative plotting. Regardless of the craft, every artist can identify something they could be better at. So, identify one skill that needs work and focus on it.
- Create a SMART goal. It’s important to make your goal SMART (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound). Make your goal specific and concrete—one that can be measured in terms of progress. Also, your goal should be attainable and realistic, but it should require you to stretch your skills. Finally, put a time limit on it. Set a date on which you will achieve your goal. And stick with your time table.
- Work out with others. Just like physical exercise, working your creative muscle is more fun with a partner or a group of other artists. While certainly creating art tends to be a solitary pursuit, finding ways to include others in your challenge is worth the effort. For instance, I invited other online poets to join me in my poem-a-day challenge. Every day, we read each other’s poems and offer encouraging comments. By working with others who are aiming towards the same goal, then I not only have built-in support, but I’m able to share my work with a ready-made audience. So, consider how you too might be able to recruit other artists to join you in your challenge.
- Make it fun. If you’re not having fun with your challenge, then something is wrong. It’s either too challenging, which breeds insecurities and anxiety; or it’s not challenging enough, which makes for boredom. So, when you’re developing a challenging goal, then make sure it’ll be something you enjoy doing, rather than something you think you “should” do. In other words, let your core artistic desires and passions lead the way.
Tackling a new creative challenge can be highly rewarding. It helps us to grow as artists, to hone and master our skills, and to create a stronger bond with our craft.
But most of all, it’s fun to take up a new artistic challenge. The pleasure we gain through artistic success and risk is the greatest reward of all.