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When Creativity Advice Is Contradictory

Often the advice we receive on creativity is contradictory.

Have your own workspace; be able to create anywhere.

Have the right tools; be able to use anything.

Take your time and focus on slow creativity; work quickly and up your quantity.

Take breaks when you’e feeling uninspired; work every day, rain or shine or inspiration.

Set deadlines and stick to them; go with the flow and give your creativity room to breathe.

So which is it? What is correct?

In actuality, there’s no one or right way to be creative.

In her wonderful journal The Opposite Is Also True: A Journal of Creative Wisdom for ArtistsCleo Papanikolas purposely features contradictory tips. That’s because she suggests readers chart our own creative adventure.

As Papanikolas writes, “The advice is presented in pairs of opposites, and both directions are good. You get to decide for yourself which way to go based on your own point of reference. It’s like reading an old-school paper map instead of blindly following the electronic navigation voice on your phone.”

Below are some opposites and insights from this whimsical book to help you go where you need to go. Which may differ day to day, month to month, season to season. Papanikolas suggests reading the prompts metaphorically, because they focus on all types of art—from writing to drawing to cooking to photography. As she writes, “maybe your sharp pencil is a heavy chef’s knife.”

Make good art. Good art is “innovative ” and “personal ” and “causes emotions” and “breaks boundaries.” But Papanikolas suggests making something because the “idea is pinballing around in your head and needs to get out. Make it because you like it, and some of those words will stick to it as it dries.”

Make bad art. Make something ugly on purpose. In fact, this is the first step in the artistic process. After all, it’s hard to edit something that doesn’t exist. And remember that “if it is honest, it is successful.”

Start something small. If you’re not sure where to start, start with whatever even mildly interests you. “Keep your hands busy, get quiet, and listen….Think about the materials, or the marks you’re making, or free-associate—just don’t think about yourself.”

Start something big. What are you really curious about? What themes have you been mulling over? What do you want to gain a deeper understanding of? What techniques or tools would you like to try? Create a body of work based on those themes or interests or ideas. “Gather all the different ideas and techniques you work with, and distill them into a core concept. Clearly define your main purpose and use the opportunity to work large-scale, do research for an in-depth study, or commit to a long-term project.”

Make something every day. Make your creative work into a daily habit, whether you feel like working or not. Show up. And keep going even when it feels like your brain is bare. “Wring every bit of worth out of each day’s work session.”

Take a break. “You can’t go in depth with a project if you turn out quick one-offs every day….refresh and renew your spirit.” Spend your break gathering research or letting your idea incubate.

Develop a signature style. Experiment. Explore. Make a lot of work. See if a specific look emerges. “Set some guidelines, rules, and boundaries for work in a series, and your style will evolve cohesively.”

Diversify your look. Develop different portfolios with their own specific styles. “Have a style to fit each mood and message.” Think different sizes, colors, patterns, genres, techniques. Think simple or complex.

The best creativity tips are the ones that work for you. Because each of us has different needs and preferences and desires and dreams. Each of us has a different path we want to take. The key is to take the time to get to know yourself and to trust in your inner voice when it speaks.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

When Creativity Advice Is Contradictory

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). When Creativity Advice Is Contradictory. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Nov 2018
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