creativity: lipstick and cowboy boots

April 23rd, 2014

elsie marley // creativity: lipstick and cowboy boots

I’m so glad you guys enjoyed my last post about creativity. Now we know you and everyone around you is  creative, whether or not you define yourself by your creativity. But how do you access it? How do you turn it on? The absolutely best way to kill all creativity is say, “Be Creative!” Arg! I think I even did that in my last post, sorry. It’s so easy to do, because if you are telling someone else to be creative then you probably aren’t the one doing the actual creative work.

And being creative is work. Like work it is really hard to get started and it totally sucks sometimes. Other times it’s so awesome you can’t even stand it.The part of creative work I want to talk about today is the getting started part. Before you have an idea, before you even try to have an idea about an idea, you have to get up.  You have to literally get your ass up and get to work.

red lipstick on elsie marley

After college I lived in Chicago and decided I wanted to learn ballet. Well I had wanted to for years, but my insecurities held me back. Luckily, I lived close to a small, super fantastic ballet school, Hyde Park School of Dance. I was the lone 20-something in a room full of 14 year olds, but I quickly got addicted and was going to class 2 or 3 hours everyday. The school was run by two sisters who were both kind and strict. All of their students were attentive and hard-working and doing their best. And they were teenagers! The sisters inspired something in these girls (and me). I remember both of them talking about showing up–not actually showing up to class, they’re parents  drove them there–showing up and being ready, mentally, for the work. Each of the sisters had a trick they used. The older sister August would put on bright red lipstick when she needed to be on, even if she didn’t want to be. And the younger sister, Aimee told a story about being nervous for an audition and wearing a white leotard. In a sea of black leotard clad dancers, she felt bold and different and of course got the part.

This was a revelation to me. I didn’t know that grown ups had to do this (I was 20, remember), or that people I considered throughly creative had to do this. And had to do it all the time.

cowboy boots and creativity on elsie marley

Often just starting (sitting in front of your sewing machine, opening your sketchbook, taking out the mixer) will let loose your creativity. But there are times when getting started seems overwhelming and devastatingly difficult. That’s when you need a trick. When I need to get myself up, get serious, get moving, get something, I put my cowboy boots on. As you can see by the boots, I have to do this often.

When I need a little bit more motivation, I use August’s red lipstick trick. My favorite is Red Revival by Maybelline. [Quick disclaimer: I know next to nothing about makeup and all of mine comes from the drugstore. Also, these are affiliate links] And two new favorites are Revlon’s Just Bitten in Gothic and Cover Girl’s Smoochies in #textme. Yes, I’m 36 and I wear lipstick called Smoochies (the i is dotted with a heart, of course). But it works!

lipstick and creativity on elsie marley

There is little motivation for doing creative work when you aren’t getting paid, no one is demanding it of you, and really “Why am I making this painting, cake, shirt, blog, headboard, raised bed garden, [insert creative endeavor here] anyway?” We can get caught up in the why, when really creativity is often about saying, “Screw why!” Stop thinking about why, really just stop thinking. Put on your boots or your lipstick and start.

Do you have to trick yourself to get started Do you have your own trick that works?


Posted in creativity.

27 Responses to creativity: lipstick and cowboy boots

  1. Emily says:

    My trick – when a task is too daunting or I’m having trouble getting going – is to tell myself “I’ll just do one small step.” In sewing, it’s cutting the fabric or pinning the pieces or ironing the hem. In painting rooms, it’s getting the supplies and taping off the edges or trim. In cooking it’s getting out the ingredients and measuring cups.

    Then I do that step. Usually then I’m into the project, and I keep going with ‘just one more step’. Some days, though, I’m really not in the mood and I stop after that one step. But that’s okay, too; I’m still one step closer to being done.

  2. Marlena says:

    Love the lipstick! Not sure if I have a trick, but if I feel stuck writing, I move away from the computer and get out my “good” pens and write on actual paper. Taking the time to write words and edit on paper jostles something, and then it’s easier to go back to my thoughts in computer world. Boop beep boop boo (that’s me, trying to mimic working on a computer).

  3. erin says:

    oh, i do this, too! for me it is getting dressed for work – maybe a dress or a skirt. and i have to do my hair, no ponytail allowed. the lipstick happens when i’m really serious. i find that tricking myself into working is the best way for me to get started.

  4. britt says:

    knitting. totally clears my mind and i get the creative ideas flowing. driving is another one. when i was teaching, i would get some of my best lesson plans while driving to or from school.

  5. christina says:

    If I were a huggy sort of person, I’d want to hug you after this post. To get out of a creative funk I make lists (I know, I know, I’m a total nerd). And if that doesn’t help, I push myself to try something new without any strings of perfectionism or achievement attached. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll either push watercolors around a blank page (or twelve) or snap just a couple of creative photos.

    • meg says:

      Lists are great for so many people. For me, lists make it worse. Somehow my list always ends up too grand (remodel kitchen, paint all the trim, landscape the backyard) and then I end up back on the couch.

  6. Monique says:

    There is a fantastic TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity. I think EVERY creative person needs to see it. Here’s a link:

  7. christina says:

    I have to let myself not be perfect. Yes, I could spend ages thinking about how to make that ‘thing’ even better/faster/cooler the first time around, but sometimes, I need to put away the thought process and just get my hands dirty. Sometimes it works and sometimes I end up with a mess — but a creative mess!

  8. Rachael says:

    I tell myself I only have to do the first part – usually I end up doing much more. For example, getting things into my garden. I said I only needed to do 3 of our seed varieties, and it would only take me 10 minutes, I ended up planing 9 of the varieties and working on it for half an hour. Love this post. Thank you for the reminder to just start!

  9. Jennifer says:

    I love this idea and need a trick, methinks. I look forward to reading some ideas here in the comments! Two houses ago (we move a lot!), I had a housecleaning trick. When I really needed to clean, I would tell myself just to clean the laundry room. It was right off the kitchen and had a small bathroom in it. It was also tiny. By the time it was sparkling (no time, really), I felt so accomplished that I could keep going. I love the idea of a creativity trick. I have felt stuck so often lately. Hmmm…

    • meg says:

      Yes! Cleaning the kitchen helps with so many things. Just putting on an apron makes me feel like I could conquer something–anything!

  10. Sara says:

    Totally random, but my kids both go to HPSD! Thanks for sharing these stories!

    • meg says:

      I was wondering if anyone would know HPSD. I’m so glad they are still there–and have gotten so big! I loved taking classes there and I hope your kids like it too!

  11. Kim S. says:

    This was such a thought-provoking post! I guess if I have any trick, (and I use the term loosely here!) its that I make a list of what I want to do, breaking it down into the absolute most basic steps. That way, it’s easy to start crossing things off the list. Once I see those items crossed out, I start feeling accomplished, which makes it easier to keep going.
    But I have to say, cowboy boots sound a lot more awesome than my baby-step lists!

  12. Michelle says:

    If only I had cowboy boots….that would be my trick.

  13. For me it is the “hack job”. Doing something I am totally avoiding and has been sitting there in the pile taunting me. By just getting it done without regard for the level of quality – I then feel like the cobwebs have been cleared a little and I’m a bit more free about it. x

  14. Tara says:

    Guess I need to get a trick! Sometimes, just allowing myself to sit still and be silent (as silent as a stay at home mom can be) helps bring forward creative ideas.

  15. Bérangère says:

    Love this. That shade of red looks really nice with the striped shirt. Getting dressed helps a lot. To really get started I put music on. I use my ipod plugged on speakers and make sure it’s on a random shuffle so I don’t have to pressure myself into choosing the right music. It helps me going big time. Starting is always the worse but if I manage to force myself to start, I get sucked into it and next ting I know, I can’t stop.

    I smiled at the lipstick name. My oldest daughter and I used to keep this pale pink nail varnish in the fridge (do people still store it there?) just because the name made us giggle. It had a bilingual label. In French it said: Rose coucou. In english it was: Peekaboo Pink :)

    • meg says:

      Yes music! And not choosing the music is clever. Somehow one more choice is like the straw the broke the [creative] camel’s back!

  16. This is a great post. I read The Art of War that is all about this- battling resistence to doing what we are supposed to do (specifically creatives). It was life changing for me. I highly recommend for anyone who creates anything.

    • meg says:

      wow, the Art of War, really?! I never would even considered reading it, much less thought it would have something to do with creativity. But I will check it out now!

  17. Jessamin Jensen says:

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this post. This is seriously a breakthrough for me. I follow you because I aspire to be like you. Doing what you love to do, daily, and making something of it. Your work becomes greater than you are by yourself. I want to be that, to have that. I just don’t know what my real passion is. I have been stuck because I have been questioning if something is my passion or not. I always thought that if this is what I really love than I should always love it, that it should always be fun and enjoyable. That the work will be beautiful. Maybe I have just been naive but I never thought that my passion would be like you described. “Like work it is really hard to get started and it totally sucks sometimes. Other times it’s so awesome you can’t even stand it.” Thank you for saying that! I love to sew, fabric is my passion. It is most often the source of my creativity. Go to the fabric store, in person or online and the prints and colors move me in a way that nothing else does. I want to buy them all. Even just a swatch so that I can have it to look at. I now know that this is what I should be doing now. Even if it is hard and scary to work towards something bigger than myself. I love the idea of having a physical “cue” to get mentally down to business. Thank you again for being so open and honest. Sometimes looking from the outside in, things look so easy and perfect. I say, if they can do it why can’t I? There must be something that I am lacking that they have. I thought it was talent, but maybe I just need to do it, even when it is hard.

    • meg says:

      and thank you for your lovely comment! I think you summed up this post perfectly: a physical cue to get mentally down to business. Good luck with all your endeavors!

  18. Monica says:

    I still protest when someone calls me creative. It’s strange, and being ‘the creative type’ just wasn’t my label in those formative years… It’s been a slow transition into embracing it, because it’s a label I don’t feel worthy of taking. A few weeks ago I was talking to my former 4th grade teacher and she remembered how great my drawings were, and I was like whaaa? I have no recollection of drawing, and wondered why or how that changed. This is helpful, though, the story of you being 20 and passionate about something to the point where you took a class with 14-year-olds and the thought that creativity is something that can be worked toward.

  19. Opps- I meant The War of Art!!! Big difference ;)