Fearless Creativity

A guest post by Danielle Maveal, aka Daniellexo, Etsy’s Seller Education Coordinator.

One morning I woke up to a Facebook message from one of my favorite college professors. I was excited to hear from her; she taught me so many lessons about creativity, and I often think about her when I’m sketching or working on new designs. Soon after we connected on Facebook, I caught one of her updates:

Even if they seem good solutions, avoid ‘clenching’ ideas. Hold them lightly, let them evolve and swim. Good ideas often transform into great ones if you give them enough room to play!

I think I’ve had good ideas, but I know I often don’t give my ideas enough room to play. I wondered why that was, and I set out to write my own plan of attack. Here’s that plan.

fortune  favors the brave
print by lilcoletterpress - click image to see more

Seth Godin says, “The enemy of creativity is fear.” Creativity has other opponents, but fear is definitely at the top of creativity’s sh*t list. So be a warrior, and know your enemy. Here are the forms fear comes in when you are trying to be creative:

embrace messy hair
print by funnelcloud - click image to see more


Observe your thoughts throughout your creative process. What does that inner snob have to say? When I’m sketching, mine says, “That’s been done before.” It drives me crazy. My inner snob expects genius right out of the gate. How can I live up to that?

Take notice of that inner snob and shut it up. How do you do that? Give yourself permission to brainstorm, sketch, build and create without having to hear from the inner snob. Tell yourself there’s a time to step back and be harsh, but that time isn’t during the first stages of brainstorming. Giving yourself permission to unleash the inner snob later on in the process, this should free you up during your brainstorming session.

Task Master

The task master gets uneasy when you don’t follow your daily routine. The task master is a stick-in-the-mud and fears the unknown. It sees the first flicker of a creative idea and wants to file it away for later. Don’t let it. Put down the dishes, take a break from the To Do list and give yourself a free hour to brainstorm. Here’s the trick, set a timer and don’t let guilt creep in. This is important and you need it. Find a quiet place and think, think your thoughts! And as the brilliant John Cage said, “Be open to whatever comes next.”

my favorite thing is to go...
image by sass & bide - click image to view


Apathy sounds like this:

“What’s the point?”

“I’ll never be as good as (fill in the blank).”

“I’ll work on this later.”

And here’s the one I hear the most and want to slay, “I’m not creative.”

My biggest weapon towards apathy is curiosity. Let’s say there may be no point, you may not ever be as good as blank, and maybe you are not “creative” (bullshit), and what if you did it anyway. Aren’t you curious to see what might happen? What if you sat down and made yourself sketch right now. Don’t you want to see what you might come up with? Not everything you create needs to be shared or consumed, sometimes we can create just to give form to our own weird inner beasts!

being creative makes you a weird little beast
carving by mark andrew webber - click image to see more

Fear kept me stuck from moving forward. Curiosity helped me crush the line of work that I was creating and selling for years and was thoroughly bored with. I got over the fear by letting myself play with a new material. I spent an entire weekend sculpting my new line, just because I wanted to see what I might come up with. I didn’t set out to create new work, I just challenged myself to master this new material and process.

How to Beat Your Opponent

just an observation

Teach (but don’t be an expert)

Every single time I lead a workshop I’m incredibly inspired to create. When a beginner approaches a new technique or material, they’re not bound by years of experience. They don’t yet know what the limits are (or supposed limits). Each time I work with a new student, I am inspired by their enthusiasm and open mindedness. Here’s the trick though, you can’t be an Expert (with a capital E). You should know your stuff, but if you think you know it all, you won’t evolve in this environment.

print by hellojenuine - click image to see more


Be creative, in your own way, every single day. Schedule it. Make yourself. Sounds boring and counterintuitive, but you’ll never live up to your full creative potential without practice. I love the daily projects out there, and a good place to start would be picking up Noah Scalin’s new 365: A Daily Creativity Journal. If you think you’ll have a hard time sticking with it, make yourself accountable to your significant other, friend or colleague.

And If All Else Fails, Fail Big

The worst part of failing is that moment of shock — things were supposed to go a certain way and they didn’t. That moment of the unknown is what’s so frightening. Picking up the pieces is the easy part. We know where they landed, now all there is to do is clean up this mess and move on.

Keep that in mind as you create. Why fail a little? Make a splash, if you fail, you’ll have to get out the mop either way, right?

illustration by gemmabear - click to see more


I’m no expert (wink!). So I’ll make sure to leave you with a few of my favorite resources so you can study up.

1. Living Out Loud by Keri Smith

2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

3. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

4. 12 Fantastic Ways to Bring More Creativity Into Your Life by Blacksburg Belle

5. Coffee

Danielle Maveal, aka Daniellexo, is Etsy’s Seller Education Coordinator.

43 thoughts on “Fearless Creativity

  1. For me, snobbery and apathy seem to work together at times to keep me from creating. Regular practice may ward them off. Thanks for the great reading list!

  2. Brilliant words! Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for cutting through the static and pointing out my favorite line… FAIL BIG! I plan on some spectacular fails in 2011, because I know that not only will I have to mop up the mess, but something beautiful will grow out of it.
    Enjoy the day!

  3. Awesome, awesome post!

    For me, fear definitely comes in the form of snobbery. I get that voice that says, “That’s been done before,” too, and it’s easy to get discouraged. But playing around with existing ideas and putting my own spin on them is part of the journey to coming up with something truly unique.

    Also, I love that this post involves a Venn diagram. :-)

  4. I feel so grateful that I happened upon this article today. Was planning to sit down and draft some new designs & all the feelings described above crept up from the depths. Thanks so much for sharing this & helping me to put all those sneaky little creativity blockers in check 😉

  5. I <3: And here’s the one I hear the most and want to slay, “I’m not creative.”

    I hear that alot when teaching. I slay it with reminders that everyone is creative, they just need to tap into it and play! Slay away, Danielle – and thank you for sharing your insights.

  6. So very timely. I had come to the conclusion earlier today that my issues with being a focused creative ‘professional’ stems from greed (I want to go in so many different directions all at once – I’m hanging on so tightly). And fear. lol. Big changes coming :)

  7. It’s all fabulous but my first goal for 2011 is to be an artist and not only a ghost on etsy..sometime I talk with myself and every work is very hard..so, colors on me and light, I want to be full of life BUT a real artist not a cloud…

  8. I love this post, your professor sounds wonderful. I like and embrace what she said about give ideas room to flourish and grow and not to clench onto them or even let them go.
    That is the enemy that shuts them down. And that is the fear. Seth talks about. So much hides behind fear in our lives. Great mantra for the new year.

  9. A very timely and beautifully expressed post, Danielle! Thanks for blogging it, Tara. I was just thinking about some of these this morning as I was making things and listening to the constant chatter of my mind.
    It’s amusing but the messages are limiting.

    “Shhh! We’re creating here!”

  10. Thank you for the very timely advice and words of wisdom! As I’m sitting on the edge of 2011 wondering what the new year will bring you have encouraged me to not be so hard on myself; to relax and let the creativity happen; to allow myself to play and not to be such a hard taskmaster. I will embrace the fact that I am a creative being and own the title of ARTIST!!

  11. I really love this. It all sounds so familiar… as in I can totally relate. Thank you for sharing this :) I will definitely be referring back to this {{{BooKmArk}}}

  12. OH, I love this! Favorite part is the “fail big” I am fearless, but I create these insane goals! I was searching for new reads for the year ahead! Found yours. Looking forward to buying some of these books! Thank you, for these suggestions.

  13. Here comes a really big THANK YOU !
    So much food for good thought in your article ! I will keep going back to it, as I am trying to face square on my fear and snobbery and my scarey learning need re computers and my digital camera.
    Have a good and creative 2011 ! x

  14. This is the best New Year’s post I have read! Thank you so much Daniellexo! I have been reflecting on the past year and realized I needed more of the uncontrolled excitement I had when I first started without the business/logical side always taking over. Here’s to an exciting and fulfilling year!

  15. Shared these words of wisdom with our team of Upcyclers…I especially loved the suggestions to shut up your inner snob and to take time away from the to-do list when an idea hits you. It seems like my best ideas come when I’m doing a mundane task but I don’t allow myself to walk away until it’s done and then the light bulb has dimmed!!

  16. Great suggestions! I’ve found, for squelching that nasty inner judge, “Taming Your Gremlin” by Rick Carson is fantastic. Wonderful food for thought, Danielle!

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