Top 9 Common Mistakes That Creative People Make

You’re a creative person.  Whether you’re a musician, writer, painter, dancer, or just a creative problem solver, you know what it feels like when you are expressing your creativity and when you are not.

When I’m not being creative I feel like crap.  I have less focus, energy, ease, and enjoyment in everything I do. Everything in my life suffers when I’m not being creative.  Maybe you can relate.

On the other hand, when I am being creative it feels amazing! I see possibility all around me, and I show up to each moment with joy, enthusiasm, and generosity.

As a coach working with “creatives” the one thing I know for sure is that we all experience some form of what I’m describing.  

Creating = the best.

Not Creating = literally the worst.

Because of how important it is for us creatives to be expressing our craft on the regular, I put together this list from my own experience of:

The Top 9 Common Mistakes That Stop Creativity:

1. Waiting For Inspiration

“A night like this doesn’t come along very often. I seized it!” -Jerry McGuire

The movie version of writing a song or a poem or a status quo wrecking mission statement, goes something like this: 

Jerry Maguire.jpg

You wake up in the middle of the night overcome by the irresistible wave of creative impulse. You go to your desk and write all night, because it’s just pouring out of you and you don’t want to lose this rare moment of inspiration.

This kind of thing may have happened to you before.  But if you’re waiting around for it to happen again, how much are you getting done?  Successful artists learn to create even when they are NOT feeling “inspired.”  

2.  Not setting Concrete Goals

You might be saying, “But Greg, I DO have a goal. My goal is to be a great musician who touches people’s lives with my incredible music!”

That’s not a goal, that’s a vision. Learn the difference. Your artistic vision is what you would love your life to be all about, what you long to be known for.  But without concrete goals to focus your energy and demonstrate that vision in the real world, it’s just a nice idea. And it quickly becomes very unsatisfying.

A good goal with a deadline focuses your energy into meaningful action every single day.  


“By January 1st I complete one painting and display it at the art festival.” That’s going to have you painting every day (even when you don’t feel so inspired.)

3.  Promising time, not results

Have you ever done something like this?  

Artwork by Jess Minckley

Artwork by Jess Minckley

“I promise I will write for an hour every day!”  After the first week you have half a page and a lot of frustration.  The creative process is like that right? You just have to commit the time, but you can’t rush the process.  Sometimes it’s about staring at that blank page.

It’s not about staring at that blank page.  It’s about filling that blank page.  If you promise to fill the page, I guarantee you’ll spend less time staring at it and more time creating.

This is one of the biggest lessons folks get out of my songwriting program, as they learn how to break down a song and focus their creative energy on getting results one step at at time.

4.  Giving yourself too much time

So if we’re promising results, we need to give ourselves enough time right?  How long does it really take to complete a song? A painting? A blog post (in the case of this blog post, longer than I care to admit.)  

How much time do we give ourselves?  It takes some trial and error to get it right, but beware the tendency to give yourself way more time than you need.  “I’ll finish my next song in 10 weeks” often leads to 8 weeks of procrastination and 2 weeks of creativity.

5. Giving yourself too little time

On the flip side of planning for procrastination, you can set yourself up for failure by giving yourself too little time.  Usually takes you 2 weeks to write an article? Maybe don’t set goal of publishing 6 articles next month. Have you only made a few paintings?  Maybe getting your own gallery exhibit in 2 months isn’t the best plan for success.

The key is that you are creating consistently over time through small goals that are a stretch, but attainable.  Trust me that feels better than burning yourself out trying to write a symphony over the weekend.

6. Doing it Alone

Being creative is a solitary process, right?  Sometimes it is, often it isn’t, but either way you don’t have to do it alone.

Original Artwork by Jess Minckley

Original Artwork by Jess Minckley

Like anything else in life, if you try to do something by yourself, especially something uncomfortable like creating art, you are more likely to give up before you’ve really given it your all. 

Even a solitary activity like writing, drawing, or practicing can be done with support.

Find another artist, or even just a friend or loved one, with whom you can share your goals, plan your actions, and celebrate your success with.  You’ll get more done and have more fun doing it.

7.  Prioritizing

Have you ever put off a creative goal because it didn’t make it to the top of the priority list?  It’s so easy to tell ourselves that certain tasks (balancing the budget, doing holiday shopping, focusing on that big project at work) are higher “priorities” than working on that painting, or writing the next verse for your song.  

The problem is, that over time we can become resigned that we’ll never have time to be creative, and that it probably wasn’t that important to begin with.  When this happens life becomes less vivid, and we slowly “leak” energy in every area of our life.  

On the other hand, when you promise yourself that you’ll take small sweet steps toward your creative goals, the energy of creativity will permeate your life and you may be surprised that you’re more productive, not to mention more satisfied.

8.  Creating without a container

There’s a myth that creativity requires total freedom from restraints.  Expression can’t be boxed in, right?

Think about the moments in your life when you have been most creative.  There was probably some obstacle or situation that seemed to limit possibility, and creativity was the way to rise above the challenge.  If you’ve ever sat down at a blank screen, or to a blank page and thought “just write” without a deadline, purpose, or theme, you probably know what it’s like to draw a blank.

Creativity needs a container to take form.  One of my most creative moments was when I had two days to write a funeral dirge with my band Melodeego for a direct action against the Keystone XL Pipeline.  It was a challenge that left no room not to be creative.

9.  Perfectionism

You’ll notice, this article is not perfect.  The idea of perfectionism kills creativity. 

Perfection isn’t even real, let alone attainable. 

Our brains have something called the “negativity bias” which will always be able to find something wrong with what we’re doing. 

When you focus on whether or not something is or will be perfect, you stop creating.  When you shift your attention to the contribution your unique expression will be to those you share it with, you can boldy and vulnerably create what you’re here on this planet to create.

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Not willing to let another year go by without finally writing your songs?

Get Your Song Out is a 6 month immersive online course that will give you everything you need to consistently complete your own original songs that you can be proud of.
Greg Reinauer is a professional musician, songwriter, and certified life coach who supports creative people to take consistent, courageous action from the heart.