Life is more satisfying when you have a creative outlet—whether writing, painting, woodworking, playing guitar, singing in a choir, planting a garden or inventing new recipes. Expressing yourself creatively stimulates the brain, boosts energy, ­relieves stress and brings joy.

Whatever your favorite form of expression, creative time too often gets pushed aside by life’s other demands. If you do manage to carve out time to ­create, it is easy to get derailed by obstacles and doubts. Examples: I’m too old to be doing thisI have no idea how to get an agentNo one cares about my work anywayI have hardly any time—what’s the point of starting something I can’t finish?My work will never measure up to professional standards, so why bother?

In research for a course I teach at Emerson College, called Creativity in Context, I studied people from a variety of creative fields who had achieved great success. They too encountered doubts and creative blocks. What enabled them to persist?

People who pursue their passions despite their doubts have a quality others lack—they know why they create. Aware of their motives and mission, they can overcome discouragement and get back on track.

You can move past your own creative barriers by understanding your creative type. Your creative type is your artistic personality—the factors that drive and motivate you to create. In my research, I identified five distinct creative types…

A-Listers want to have an emotional impact on an audience. They crave applause and praise.

Artisans believe in creativity as its own reward. The process itself brings them joy.

Game Changers are driven to break boundaries and create work that has never been seen before.

Sensitive Souls pour all their feelings into their art, using their creativity to explore their life experiences and achieve catharsis.

Activists want their creativity to right wrongs and change the world.

We all have characteristics of different creative types, not just one. And all creative types may be prone to certain impediments to creativity such as feeling the need to have perfect circumstances before they can create. But by understanding your predominant type, you can motivate yourself more consistently and navigate obstacles more effectively.

To determine your creative type and make the most of it, ask yourself which characteristics below are most true for you. You also can take a short online quiz to determine your type at


You may be an A-Lister if…

• You love being the center of attention.

• You need to have other people respond to your creative work in order to feel that it is worthwhile.

• The idea of being famous excites you.

To maximize your creativity and stay motivated…

Use your competitive drive as fuel. Friendly rivalry can bring out an artist’s best work.

Example: When John ­Lennon and Paul McCartney heard the Beach Boys’ complex album Pet Sounds, they immediately started writing the Beatles’ groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—partly out of the desire to one-up the experimentation of the Beach Boys.

Explore new ways to promote your work. Your natural gift for self-promotion can serve you well in the age of social ­media, bringing your art to the attention of an ever-wider audience.

Remind yourself to appreciate the act of creating as well as the end result. From time to time, shift your attention from creative projects with commercial potential to a less marketable pastime just for the pleasure of it. Example: If you write and publish ­essays, try your hand at poetry.


You may be an Artisan if…

• You would be happy to follow your creative pursuit even if no one ever knew about it or paid you for it.

• You live for those moments of flow when you are so absorbed in creating that you lose all awareness of time and place.

• You love the creative process even more than the finished product.

To maximize your creativity and stay motivated…

Indulge your desire to study, deepen and perfect your craft. Having a greater repertoire of tools will increase your natural enjoyment of your art.

Collaborate. Artists whose skills are complementary to yours can boost your confidence and take your art in satisfying new directions.

Ask for fair compensation for your work—don’t just give it away. Artisans find the work itself so rewarding that they can happily put countless unpaid hours into their art—potentially putting themselves at financial risk.

Game Changer

You may be a Game Changer if…

• You are easily bored with the status quo.

• People often don’t understand your art.

• When others question whether something new in art can really be done, your response is, “Why not?”

To maximize your creativity and stay ­motivated…

Push yourself further by mixing genres. 

Example: If you are a painter, see what happens if you add pen or charcoal to the canvas. If you are a home chef, combine ethnic traditions.

Seek out other Game Changers. At workshops, exhibits and events, look for the people who seem bored by tried-and-true approaches or who express contrarian views. Sharing ideas with other visionaries can inspire you to greater innovation.

Practice patience. Game Changers tend to be naturally impatient, yet it may take years for a Game Changer’s vision to find an audience. Make a list of favorite creators whose work was rejected or underappreciated at first and refer to it when you are frustrated by lack of recognition.

Examples: Gertrude Stein, with her unusual use of language…Steve Martin, who mystified early audiences with a style of comedy that lacked punch lines…Édouard Manet, the French Impressionist who scandalized French society with his risqué scene that includes a nude woman picnicking with two fully clothed men.

Sensitive Soul

You may be a Sensitive Soul if…

• You feel compelled to channel your most intense feelings into your art.

• Expressing yourself creatively lifts your spirits when you are feeling down.

• People have accused you of being overly sensitive.

To maximize your creativity and stay motivated…

Pay it forward. If your art brings you solace, others also may find comfort by seeing their lives reflected in your memoir, sculpture or song. Seek out open-mike nights, community exhibit spaces and other ways to share your work with people who could benefit from it.

Create from a variety of emotions—joy as well as sadness. While much great art has come from pain, humans are multidimensional. Expand your creative and emotional repertoire by being on the lookout for moments of happiness, excitement and surprise, and capture those in your art.


You may be an Activist if…

• You see wrongs everywhere and can’t live with yourself unless you work to right them.

• You believe artists have a duty to use their talents in service of political change.

• You’re interested in politics but would rather use your creative talents to bring about change than seek a law degree or elected office to make a ­difference.

To maximize your creativity and stay motivated…

Expand your impact. Example: Partner with a nonprofit advocacy organization to produce art-related events or exhibits.

Keep things in perspective. Work that is preachy or heavy-handed may not get your ideas across effectively. Make at least some art just for art’s sake to help you balance purpose and aesthetics. Don’t let the message overwhelm the art.

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