30 days of (wild, playful, maybe even unseemly) creation

I’ve been in a bit of a creative funk lately.

I’ve been writing and doodling and even painting, but I’ve felt off – antsy and unfocused. Last weekend, I figured out what was wrong. In January of this year, I took all these little parts of myself – writer, doodler, inexperienced insanely hopeful creative entrepreneur – and I opened my Etsy shop. And though I’ve made money on my writing in the past, the Etsy sales felt different. More than ever before, fueled by nothing but deep-down desire and blind optimism, I felt I was taking charge of my life as an artist.

So when, a few weeks ago, I noticed I wasn’t having as much fun, wasn’t leaping about as I had been in the beginning, wasn’t grabbing hold of my ideas and dancing them to creation, I didn’t know what to make of it. I thought maybe I’d made a mistake. Maybe I wasn’t the right kind of person to make a business out of doing what I love.

Then, over the weekend, I pulled out my watercolor pencils (which I’ve had for months and never used), and I made this:


Part of me had so much fun doing it – playing with way more color than I usually do, learning how the pencils work, getting over my irrational fear of paint. But there was this other part, too,  the naysayer that lives in my head, who was convinced I was wasting my time. “This is silly,” she said, “and also dumb. Why aren’t you designing something new for the shop? Why aren’t you working on that Huffpo piece, or submitting to a new market, or setting up your accounting system, or painting the hallway?”

I ignored her and kept going (though she’s right; the hallway does need paint in a big way). When I finished, I posted the colorful doodle on Facebook and, as usual, my friends were wonderful, enthusiastic and encouraging, even though I hadn’t told them about my funk, even though they didn’t know I was in dire need of some enthusiastic encouragement.

Not to paint, as it turns out… but to play.

It hit me as I read their comments that I haven’t been playing. I haven’t been writing just to write, or drawing just to draw, or doodling  just to see what unfolds on the page. I haven’t been experimenting. I haven’t played with new mediums or tried a whole new art form. I signed up for a collage class three weeks ago but I haven’t yet attacked my first canvas.

What I’ve done instead is get too serious about it all. I opened an Etsy shop and became my own task master, robbing the creative process of all its fumbling, faltering, messy fun.

Here’s what I know. As artists, whether we write or paint or draw or dance or sculpt or take pictures or play music or sing, we will never make the beautiful art we’re capable of if we’re afraid, at first, to make crap. To waste time. To try things that don’t work in search of the thing that does.

So in honor of my revelation, I’m doing a new 30-Day Challenge. Every day, for 30 days, I’m going to make something. If I start on a project and realize that it will take longer than a day to finish, then I’ll take a break and doodle something fun in the interim, or maybe whip up a dirty limerick. (Just made myself laugh, but it is definitely NOT out of the question. The point is to play.)

The challenge will be to actually finish something new every day. I don’t know what it’ll all look like at the end of 30 days, but I’m determined to have 30 new things to share.

I actually started yesterday. Here’s what I made:


If you feel you need a creative kick in the ass, join me! I will absolutely cheer you on. (If you’re on Facebook, I may even check in to see how you’re doing.) And then, in 30 days, we can play show and tell.

*** Jump on my email list if you want to get weekly updates on my challenge and/or share your progress with me. ***

I’m excited, which is almost always a good thing!



  1. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on July 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I think this is a great idea! Lately I’ve been trying to reinvigorate some old hobbies that have no outcome except my enjoyment, but I haven’t taken it as far as doing something every day. I hope the next 30 days inspire the heck out of you!

    • j on July 11, 2013 at 9:01 am

      I envision it working a little like NaNoWriMo, in that to accomplish the daily goal, you really have to let go of any expectation that you’ll create a masterpiece. But I’m thinking there will be seeds in all the stuff I create, from which I might grow a few masterpieces.

      One thing for sure, I feel more excited right now than I have in weeks.

  2. Pam on July 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I love this challenge. I did it in 2009, and found it to be a great way to get past the impractical person inside who thinks I should either do something excellent or do nothing at all…to just enjoy the act of making something.

    Go go go! I’ll be cheering you on.

    • j on July 11, 2013 at 9:04 am

      “I should either do something excellent or do nothing at all.”

      Yes! That! And how silly it looks when we write it out like that. Gah! This 30 days is about breaking that habitual thought once and for all.

      You were definitely part of my inspiration – you being my shiny example of someone who does not differentiate between her creative life and her regular life.

      • Pam on July 11, 2013 at 9:45 am


        If you always have to make something excellent, how daunting it is to try making something new! (And if you never make anything new, what a drag.) That voice is not only impractical, it’s a big killjoy. *makes a heartfelt rude gesture to the internal killjoy*

        I recently saw a quote on Twitter that went something like: we don’t make art to make something salable, we make art to save ourselves. Maybe it’s a bit dramatic, but I like it.

        • j on July 12, 2013 at 7:27 am

          “makes a heartfelt rude gesture to the internal killjoy” made me laugh aloud.

          I love that quote too. Dramatic or not, it’s pretty much the truth. There’s a huge quality of life question at stake here.

  3. Leah on July 11, 2013 at 8:54 am

    J, this sounds perfect! I know what you mean about letting things turn into “have tos”. That sucks the joy right out of the creative process. I love your watercolor pencil painting. It is GLORIOUS! You have so much to give and create. I just know you are going to unearth some golden nuggets in the next 30 days. I’d join you but I’m afraid I’d have 30 unfinished art projects at the end of the month. LOL! I will however make a vow to work on my art each day right along with you. I can do that.
    Go have fun!

    • j on July 11, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Yay! I love knowing you’ll be doing that with me. Every time you share something you’ve made, I get inspired (which might be essential around Day 17). 😉

      I think I’ll unearth golden nuggets too. I think by focusing on the fun of creation, I’ll loosen the hold that my perfectionist-naysayer-big-stupid-head-monster has on me… and that can only lead to good stuff (or golden nuggets, as the case may be).


  4. Christie on July 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

    First of all, I love that very colorful doodle. I think it may be one of my favorites, especially since purple is my fav color!

    With that being said, I can understand how “businessing up your art” took the fun out of it. Your left brain stepped in and saw all the potential of your art and started focusing on the money aspect while your right brain was trying to stay in the “it’s all groovy baby” *said in my best Austin Powers voice* mode. That left brain can be a bit overzealous at times, but the intent is always good.

    I love your challenge and I think it is just what will do the trick! Play, have fun, go read something aloud in front of bunches of people, spend time with friends who fill your soul (bring your stuff and we will create on our date) and before you know it, all will be right with the world again :^)

    Show that left side who’s boss! (while still letting it know it is appreciated, you don’t want is sulking in the corner, being all pissy)


    • j on July 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Oooo, artsy play date! That is an excellent idea!

      I totally got an image of the left side of my brain sulking in a corner, being pissy. I may have to doodle that. 🙂


  5. ka on July 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

    This is a great idea! 30 days of creativity…..I’ve been in something of a creative funk lately and haven’t written anything “new” for a while. Part of me doesn’t want to “force” myself to keep writing and just come up things, but another part says if I don’t just write something, then I will never have anything.

    Even just PLAYING with words or phrases or rhymes or anything would be relaxing. I love your challenge too and I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with!

    Also, your naysayer is just that–a naysayer. Why not play with watercolors or do what you want? If it gives you the relaxation you need, then all of the other things will come in their due time.
    Love your pictures 🙂

    • j on July 11, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      Also, for what it’s worth, doing something totally different sometimes helps me write. I’m a firm believer in creativity begetting creativity. Try a doodle! You can even doodle words. I’ve done that. It’s very zen-inducing.

      And I agree – relaxing, creating without a deadline or even an end goal will me open up to other possibilities along the way.

      Thank you!

  6. Nicci on July 11, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Love this + your 30-Day Challenges! I have been in such a funk lately that this is so very timely.
    My issue is that when it’s time to get down to business, create, etc. suddenly I’ve a million chores to do? My house becomes very clean for the next couple of days. I’m learning that the equilibrium (like what you said) lies in giving attention to both what you need to do & what you like to do, and in that process both things become more fulfilling. I’m also learning to come to terms with the artist and the business woman. They used to be separate like giving up one dream for the other, but it’s becoming quite clear that neither can exist without the other. It’s just a matter of time management :-).

    • j on July 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Yes, I’ve definitely been known to clean the house, do the laundry, vacuum the refrigerator coils when I’m avoiding my writing. (I wish I was kidding about the refrigerator coils, but alas…)

      For the next 30 days, I’m not even going to attempt balance. It’s all about play and creation. I’ll engage my logical, business-y self on the other side of my 30 days! 🙂

  7. Clare Flourish on July 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

    You talked about fear of performing in public. Now, I get energised by it- a microphone and an audience and I am in Heaven- but you might try catching someone’s eye and smiling, and imagining that they are all rooting for you to do wonderfully. Because they are- they do not want a poor performance, and they don’t want to nitpick it, they want a good time. And you can give them one.

    Someone told me to take a couple of deep breaths, and so I took them too close to the microphone once- Doctor Who sound effect echoed round the room- and

    then I launched into it.

    • j on July 12, 2013 at 5:43 am

      I will have people I love in the audience tonight. Catching their eye will help, and I won’t even have to just imagine them rooting for me! But you’re right… everyone in the audience will be on my side. Just as I am always on the side of the people I go to see.

      *Makes note to take deep breath BEFORE leaning into the mic* 🙂

    • j on July 12, 2013 at 5:44 am

      Update: I did just what you suggested, deciding that every single person in the room wanted me to succeed. It worked! xo

  8. Alarna Rose Gray on July 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Definitely something I struggle with – not turning creativity into a chore. It’s like there’s always this little voice, when you’re enjoying it, saying ‘Hey, you’re having too much fun. This isn’t work!’ But it is the Best work! Hope you have a blast these 30 days 🙂

    • j on July 12, 2013 at 5:50 am

      You’re exactly right. And why does “it isn’t work” make us feel so shitty, like we should be doing something else? Our answer to the voice should be, “It’s the work of filling my soul.”

      Recently I went to a friend’s house and she’s kind of a superhero at producing art. She is always working (and finishing!) new things, just for the hell of it. Just because it fills her soul.

      I was commenting on how prolific she is and she said, “Well, j, look around. I don’t worry about cleaning the house all the time.” I’d been there about a half hour and it was the first time I noticed the condition of the house, which was messy… but also comfortable and fun and seriously full of art. Her priorities seemed just right to me.

      • Alarna Rose Gray on July 13, 2013 at 11:04 pm

        Hehe! It’s a great reason to feel good about NOT doing the housework 🙂

  9. lunajune on July 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    a train of thoughts are pouring out… ready….:~)
    just strolling through this post, I have had all sorts of creative things suggest themselves to me
    from finally figuring out what to paint on the blank canvas that has been staring at me for the past couple of weeks, to a thing I did as part of a twitter challenge from years ago, a short video 140 seconds on a subject… anyway… thanks for the inspirations
    I am too crazy busy with work & house visits to do the challenge but I will say that I will make time to work on these two things daily for the next 30 days. truly excited about the canvas, going to go put a mark on it before I go to bed tonight… day 1 has started.

    so in love with the j doodle seeing as my name is a j word <3 its awesome
    I too have had since christmas the watercolour pencils, and don't know how to use them
    and my whole house has been painted except the hall and stairwell, the paint has been sitting there for like over 2 years LOL

    I can't wait to see your creations :~)

    • j on July 12, 2013 at 5:41 am

      First, yay! I love that you finally thought of what you want to do with that canvas. Can’t wait to see!

      Second, a video. I hadn’t even thought of that. That would be a crazy, different, I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing sort of project. Thank you, oh creative-project muse!

      The “j” was really fun. I love that kind of doodling – the sort of messy, movement-full kind. I’m hoping the next 30 days will be full of me learning what I love to make by making stuff I’ve never made before.

      So happy you’re taking this challenge by the horns, modifying it to fit your life, and going for it. You rock!

  10. sophylou on July 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I’m going to try to play along, as I had a rather sad revelation tonight that I am feeling like I’m supporting other people’s stuff but neglecting mine, which is getting me out of balance (along with sad feeling that I am not doing anything that other people can support — nothing they can reciprocate, in a way)

    I hope the reading went well!

    • j on July 12, 2013 at 5:55 am

      I am familiar with that sad feeling. It totally sucks. So, yes! Play along, in whatever way gets you out of that stuck place. I’m here for you!

      The reading went really, really well. I have things to share about that too, either here or in the weekly email. I learned some stuff about the nature of performance art, the magic of a good pair of jeans, and the power (again!) of love.

  11. Chris Edgar on July 12, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I’m glad to hear you’re getting back to having fun with your work — I can certainly relate to slipping into taking my work dead seriously because it represents “my legacy” or “my gift to the world,” and losing the spontaneity that’s the whole reason why I started it to begin with.

    • j on July 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I just read your recent related post. I do think sometimes that assigning ourselves a title, with all the implications inherent to the term “writer,” “artist,” “musician,” “business owner” often winds up killing the creative energy we used to get us there in the first time. So… you’re writing a story and I’m making some stuff. 🙂

  12. KjM on July 12, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    “…creative funk..” and “…kick in the ass…”

    Hmmm. As Kris Kristofferson sings (well, sort of “says” actually to tell the truth) in the song “To Beat the Devil” – “…you’ve been readin’ my mail.”

    I remember, from time to time, when I’ve been in the throes of writing, something, anything…it’s a blast. The world is painted in saturated colors and my mind races to line words up on a page…and they don’t/won’t/can’t stop dancing. And it’s glorious.

    And I’ve been thinking about that this past long while. Thinking, rather than doing. But I suspect you guessed where I was headed.

    I still tweet haiku, most every day. It comforts me that at least something creative is emanating from me.

    Time to start dancing again – not, not literally. That wouldn’t end well. Wouldn’t start all that well, in truth.

    I’m very glad I caught your tweet as it went by, J. I wish you well in your 30 days of creation. You have silly amounts of talent. Take joy in all you can do.

    • KjM on July 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      Oh, and by the way…when you finish painting your hallway…ours could use a little work too. 😀

      • j on July 13, 2013 at 7:10 am

        “You have silly amounts of talent” made my day. Thank you, Kevin. And just to be clear, I’ll kick your ass any time. 😉

        As for the hallway, I don’t seem to be painting mine at all, but I will now consciously start ignoring yours as well. We’re in this hallway thing together.

  13. julia on July 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Beautiful J. First, I L*O*V*E the gorgeous burst of color you created & that you chose to ignore that silly naysayer in your head. If you had chosen to paint your hallway instead, my day would have been missing the sunshine of your art.

    I understand all about the seriousness that can come when we begin to sell our creations, it takes a whole ton of mindfulness to keep bringing it back to love, doesn’t it? I see, though, that creation minus love = empty blah.

    Can’t wait to see the beauty & love that comes from these 30 days of PLAY.

    Loving you so.

    • j on July 18, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Thank you, Julia! And yes, love and play. I think that will be the secret to my success. (So far, 8 days, 8 creations. I’m rockin’ it!) 🙂

  14. Nina Badzin on July 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I LOVE this idea! How true that the business of it all–even blogging without the money part–sort of robs the artistic experience out of the artistic experience. I feel like a task master, too. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    • j on July 18, 2013 at 6:58 am

      Yes, I’ve definitely had trouble during my blogging life too. Oddly, when I set up this site, I told myself (and everyone who was reading me) that I wasn’t going to worry so much about a schedule, that I might not post every week. Somehow saying that freed me up. I have posted weekly, but I feel calmer about it. I know I have permission (from my task-mastery self) not to.

  15. Estrella Azul on July 19, 2013 at 3:59 am

    That is such a beautiful, colorful doodle, j! It makes me happy that you got around to just play with it all.

    I need some more play time fitted into my days. Desperately so. But even my every-day-Instagram posting idea turned into whenever-I-recall-to-post-something.
    Hmm, maybe I should start that again today and keep at it for 30 days. One pic is up today. Let’s see how it goes.

    • j on July 19, 2013 at 10:02 am

      I remember when I took a picture a day for all of December, and then posted them all. I found it hard. Sometimes I’d have to jump back up after going to bed so I could take a picture of something – anything – that day. (Which wasn’t what I had in mind when I launched the project.)

      For what it’s worth, I’m 9 days in and this challenge has inspired and energized me like no other. The challenge part comes in having to actually FINISH something every day, but I’ve just started having lots of things in the works all the time, so it’s getting easier and easier to find one that is near enough completion to get it done.

      I say this only because it seems like taking a picture a day would be easier, but for me, it wasn’t.

      • Estrella Azul on July 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm

        When I took part in the 30-day photo challenge that inspired me to make up my own, this was exactly my issue with things. That was a list I was following to take a picture of things each particular day, but I’d also jump back up after going to bed to take said picture. It’s why I decided on a 10-day (30-day seasonal) challenge when launching mine, and that was perfect. They could be shot for ten days in a row, or in one afternoon 🙂
        With being on Instagram now, I think it’ll be easier to stick to a photo a day. The challenge being to find something interesting to post and not repeat myself.

        Happy to hear it’s getting easier for you to finish since you have lots of things in the works. I know from my crafting that having a bunch of things near completion helps with actually finishing some of them!

  16. Week #100: Makin Stuff | A Month Of Sundays on July 21, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    […] for me to get started. Luckily, my best friend j just issued another 30 day challenge. She’s going to make something every day for 30 days and she’s invited the world to […]

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