The Unexpected Path to Everyday Creativity

In A Beautiful Anarchy, Books, Creativity and Inspiration, The Life Creative by David17 Comments

The Short Version: My two new books are out today and you can get more information and links to how to get your hands on paperback, PDF, or Kindle versions at The longer version below is more compelling, but it’s, well, longer. Keep reading.

In bold, trendy font, the advert for some piece of computer equipment aimed at photographers and illustrators made an equally bold and trendy claim: “Free your creativity!”

I’ve seen these ads before. They must think we’re a bunch of easy marks. Sell me a piece of new gear and free my creativity at the same time? I’m in!

But free it from what, exactly?

The same tired promise of creative emancipation has been used to flog cameras and keyboards, computer applications, and bizarre novelty items, and for all I know, there are people out there selling easels and paintbrushes, guitar tuners, and the latest in pottery wheels the same way. There’s more creativity in their marketing claims than will ever come as a result of these tools and toys.

We love the word freedom; tell me your new thing will give me freedom, and I will be all over it. You’re going to free my creativity? I don’t care if it costs $39 or $399, I’m in. Especially if it frees me from my fears. It does that, right?

Or the worry that I’m faking it more than others. And the fear that the world is going to find out. Or the way I constantly compare myself to others—have you got something for that?

How about the crippling anxiety that I’ve done my last good thing or the suspicion that even that wasn’t all that good?

What about the procrastination? The distractions keeping me from my best work? The need to have it all figured out before I get started and therefore never gain momentum? What I wouldn’t pay to be free from that!

Oh, and how about the obligations and expectations of others?

And time. Man, if I had more time, how much more creative could I be then?

How about the fear that I’m repeating myself? Or the voices that tell me I’m not good enough, even when that voice is my own? Does your thing free me from those?

What about the need for the approval of others before my work is validated?

Can your new tool help me bring greater insight or humanity to my work, or help me be more vulnerable with it? Can it help me think more in terms of possibilities and play than in terms of being correct or doing it right? Can it free me from those times I lie awake at night wondering what my next move is? No?

Because my creativity doesn’t need to be freed; I do. And it won’t be with toys or tools. Nor with gimmicks and platitudes. It will be freed by things that have never had a price tag, though they don’t exactly come without cost.

What will truly free us is the courage to keep following our own voice, even when it’s hard to hear.

We will be liberated by the faith that entertains honest doubts and, because of that, makes more honest work.

By the discipline that reaches hard for excellence but isn’t seduced with unattainable ideas like perfection.

By love for the challenge and the process and the way it allows me to make my art, while in turn, my art makes me.

And by the kind of curiosity that has me peering around unfamiliar corners for the delight of discovery.

We are freed creatively not by thinking outside the boxes, because that’s not where the problems are, but within them.

Creators will be freed not by our tools but by the way we think about wielding them. And, maybe most of all: why.

We will be free when we stop waiting for the muses, and neither credit nor blame them, but take responsibility for our own work while still marveling at the mystery of the unexpected and serendipitous.

We’ll be free when we finally stop wasting our time, stop busying ourselves with the so-called “urgent,” and get back to what’s important.

And when we stop expecting everything to go well on the first try and begin instead to embrace a more evolutionary process, one that has room for the ugly first tries, the crappy first iterations, the wrong ideas, and the detours. That would be freedom!

And most of all, perhaps, we will be free when we stop kowtowing to the need to create “content” instead of meaning, to say the right thing with our art (whatever that is) rather than the safe thing. When we stop worrying about the algorithm and start concerning ourselves with impact.

Creative people do not only need to be freed from something but to something. Freedom from is always also freedom to. It must be.

Freedom to make something bigger than ourselves. Freedom to open closed eyes. To ask uncomfortable questions that demand answers.

To affect change. To solve problems. To call for greater things (justice and compassion come to mind) in ways that otherwise might not be heard.

Freedom to build new and beautiful things and to re-build those that are not.

Freedom to push this too-timid race toward courage, and to make not only those things we usually think of as creative and artistic, but freedom—with all our creativity—to make a difference. To make a change. To make light where there is none. To make a life and not just a living.

Just once, I’d like to see the ad for that. 

But we all know it’s not coming. Nothing we can buy can promise this. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be had. Found. Created. Uncovered. This is one of the reasons that, while I continue to write about photography, I also mostly write about creativity and the bigger themes of life.  It’s why I’m putting most of my efforts now into my podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy.

And it’s why I wrote the two books I’m launching today.

The first is called Start Ugly, The Unexpected Path to Everyday Creativity. It’s a manual to getting started and making the most of our creative efforts, and no, it doesn’t promise to free your creativity, but it might help you do so. It might help you bring to your creative life the freedom you’ve been looking for by getting started more often and being less worried about getting things right on the first try. It might help you take more risks. And if you can do that, your photographs have a better chance of becoming stronger, and–more importantly–more creative and more uniquely you. 

The second book is called The Problem with Muses, Notes on Everyday Creativity, and it’s a written version of the best of my podcast, for those of you that prefer the written word, aren’t podcast people (like me, ironically), and for those that love the podcast but have been asking for a way to access the ideas and wisdom therein without having to be connected to a device. 

These two new books were meant to go together, though they stand just fine on their own, and both are available today as paperback, Kindle, or PDF editions at I would be so honoured and so grateful if you would consider adding them to your collection of resources that enrich your creative life.

Start Ugly and The Problem with Muses can be bought from Craft & Vision, Amazon, and other bookstores, beginning today. The fastest way there is through

Thanks for letting me be part of your creative journey,


  1. Pingback: Starting Ugly | May 2021 Thoughts | Food on my Shirt

  2. I just wanted to pop in and add my voice publicly in support of Start Ugly. I bought it last summer but, due to a certain busyness of required pivoting to all the curveballs 2020 threw at me, I did not have a chance to give it the time it deserved until now. At this juncture in time – in a momentary pause between the blur of the past and the unknown of the future – it is both a bolstering support and appreciated prod to do the work.

    Thank you David.

    1. Fantastic, Christine. Thank you for that. Looks like a wonderful film.

  3. Hi David. I’m a long time follower and always appreciate your incites. I have reread “A Beautiful Anarchy” a half dozen times and always find something new in it. I also follow Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” and todays post(7/30/2020) on John McPhee and other writers and their self-doubt ties right in with what you have been writing about. Here’s a link if you or others are interested.
    Thanks for your continuing work.

    Jim Ruppel

    1. I’m late in replying but thanks so much for this Jim and for your words of encouragement!

    1. Depends, Tom. Is it a Leica lens hood? Was it expensive? The more expensive it was – especially if it’s handmade by artisans with leather aprons and gentle beards, the more it will free your creativity. And if not that, the more it will free your wallet of the burden of excess cash. 🙂

  4. Hi David. Looking forward to meandering, mulling over, and … hmmm … what’s another “m” word? … Ahhh, migesting* (verb, def’n: digesting into the mind) your latest books. There’s not a single piece of content you’ve released that hasn’t contained wisdom and distinctions that have helped me as a creative and a photographer, and I’m confident your streak will not be broken with your two latest contributions.
    Hope you and yours are doing well thru these days of isolation and madness.
    Cheers —
    * yes, this is, of course, a concocted word … but not a bad effort, eh?

    1. Thanks, Mark! Migesting is a good first effort! Beats anything I’ve got right now. 🙂 Doing well, thanks for asking. In part it’s these 2 books and 2 new courses (September) that have been keeping me busy. Not sure what happens when October arrives and I’ve run out of ideas! 🙂 Stay well, my friend.

  5. I m intrigued and yes you nailed the reasons I stall and don’t start projects and my own ideas. A thought for you. I’m making our (Future Films of Iowa) website and have gone on a long learning journey.. Your website is beautiful and clear. From what I’ve learned I would like to suggest one change. That would be to move the paragraphs that are just below your landing page lower and move the “Get two books!” pictures and links to just under the landing page photo and link. I read the blurb on your email and that’s why I tapped the website Link. So I won’t read it again. So it’s a wasted use of space. The next section, vibrant and an action step, captured my interest immediately and I will buy the kindle version. Best wishes. But I had to scroll past the too long and BORING words that I knew I had already read. I perhaps would have been engaged by one sentence about making me successful! Best to you, Jessie Nichols, Fairfield, Iowa.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to suggest that, Jessie! I’ll take a look.

  6. My husband (who’s a photographer) and I (a musician) are really enjoying getting your posts, David! They are so spot on in addressing the creative issues we grapple with on a daily basis. So glad we found you 🙂

    1. Thank you, Pamela! I’m glad you found me too! I hope you’ve already discovered my podcast – sounds like it might be right up your alley. Short 15 minute episodes about the creative life. If you’ve not discovered it already, it’s at Welcome here!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.