What does it mean to be creative?
What’s the benefit of a daily creativity habit?
Does keeping a daily log help keep creativity—or any habit—on track?
These are the questions I asked myself when I set my 2022 goal: to do one creative act every day, for a year.
Why I set a daily creativity goal
Discovering the critical role of creativity in my life prompted me to establish and maintain a regular creative practice. I had a hunch that daily creativity would have as transformative an effect on my life as my daily yoga practice.
So at the start of 2022, I set a single, simple, New Year’s resolution: do one “creative act” every day. This creative act could be anything, really: working on an art project, writing, performing, crafting. But it needed to be in my personal time, not something I did for work.
My hope was that by being creative on a daily basis, I could satisfy my need to express myself and therefore, feel more at peace.
How I logged my daily creative act
I already have several daily habits: yoga, and writing in my journal. To remind myself to do those things, I use the app Things, with a daily recurring reminder set for each.
However, to remind myself to do this daily creative act, I decided to try the Day One app. Day One is a flexible app for recording written and multimedia journal entries. Using the app would give me reminders, but also allow me to log, in a few words, what the nature of the creative act was. I’d also be able to see, at a glance, how many days I actually recorded something.
I set up the app with a dedicated journal and prompt to log my creative act every day, with a reminder at 7pm every night (so I’d still have time to do something if I hadn’t yet). Conveniently, I could even record it from my Apple Watch.
Out of the 365 days in 2022, I logged a creative act on 256 of them, which meant I had a 70% success rate for doing a creative act every day.
It’s worth noting that for 134 of these days I worked on a single cross stitch project (more on that later), and 32 were auditioning, rehearsing, performing in All My Sons.
What I could have done differently (aka how the experiment failed)
Sure, “failed” might be a little dramatic. But overall, I wasn’t successful in getting what I wanted out of a daily creative act. Here are some things I could have done differently:
1. Better define what a “creative act” is
For this experiment, I intentionally left the definition of creativity open. To make the goal achievable, I didn’t want to set too many limits for myself on what I’d be able to “count” as a creative act. However, since I was literally counting creative acts, I needed to reckon with a basic question:
When does an activity count as creative?
Is the artmaking process continuously creative, even if most of the time on the project is spent following a predetermined pattern? In a play, is the rehearsal creative and the performances not so much? When oil painting, where you are constantly making decisions about which colour to mix or where to place a certain stroke, is that always creative? Is the decision the creativity?
For example, the cross stitch project I mentioned earlier was creating 4×6 inch flags for each country of my kids’ citizenship. That’s two copies each of three flags; six in total.
First, the creative part: I designed the patterns for the flags using Stitch Fiddle, making decisions like how stars were depicted, and how to fit in the correct number of stripes to fit the constraints of the finished piece’s dimensions.
But once the designing was done, the rest of the project was akin to a cross stitch kit, or even a colour-by-numbers. It’s a monotonous process of following the pattern to create a tiny cross in every square of Aida cloth.
Is that “creative”? Not really.
2. Not bother logging
I expected that on the days I’d forgotten to do a creative act, Day One’s notification would remind me to get something in before bedtime. In reality, though, there were very few days when this actually happened. Most days, I had at least picked up and worked on the cross stitch, or done something in the play, and that ended up as my entry for that day.
As the main purpose for the log was to remind and inspire me to do the actual act, this was a failure.
In fact, it’s made me question the idea of logging in general. It’s definitely an additional burden: you do the thing, then you need to record that you did the thing. And then, will you ever look back on your log of the thing?
For me, the burden of logging can dampen the enjoyment of actually doing the thing. And further, I don’t think I’d ever look back on the log, or make anything out of it.
Perhaps it’s actually more interesting to see the development of the creative artefact itself (artwork, performance, video, etc) as a self-contained unit. I’ve always thought documents like sketches, progress drawings, and time-lapse videos are a compelling way to log the work of creativity. For a Scanner like me, this type of project-specific documentation makes a lot of sense, since it contains all the progress of one project, no matter the timeframe to completion or the other distractions that happened in the meantime.
3. Count work creativity
Even though I deliberately chose not to count work-related creativity for this project, was that the right choice?
In retrospect, I’m not convinced that I needed to separate “work creativity” from “me creativity.” I’m lucky to have a creative day job, and the nature of my creative projects at work means that most of the time, my work still scratches the itch.
Given the project’s goals—to express myself and be at peace through a regular habit of creative acts—shouldn’t work creativity count?
4. Not try to do it every day
As I reflected on the goal over the year, I wonder if it was really necessary to force myself to do a creative act every day. Too often, this need to log creativity daily meant that on several days I kind of phoned it in. The result? I didn’t even get the fulfilment I was hoping for.
It’s probably enough (or even better) to recognise when I need to be creative, and then act on that—I probably don’t even need the external prompt.
Overall, the experiment of logging a creative act every day didn’t give me the results I’d hoped for.
I wanted to instil a creative habit, to satisfy my need to be creative on a regular basis and be happier overall. To achieve this, I set a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based) goal to log a creative act every day.
Upon reflection, I discovered that I don’t need an external reminder to motivate me to be creative. Just understanding how essential creativity is to my existence is enough.