Embrace creativity with Dan Nelken

Dan Nelken calls himself Chief Creative Ding Dong. No, he doesn’t create piano music; he’s a copywriter.

And he talked about his creative journey on The Newsletter Nerd Show, a podcast hosted by Akshaya Chandramouli. He told why he gave himself the title, how a course inspired him to create his newsletter, and what influences his creative habits.

This article summarizes that podcast episode. Keep reading…

Be unapologetically yourself

If you want to be a creative ding dong, the first thing to keep in mind is: you can’t be a creative ding dong. It’s only him. Dan.

You have to be yourself, something which you already are. Just don’t hold back. Make sure you get your personality out there. Not everyone would want to hire you (and you too don’t want to work with everyone either). Once you get your personality out there, you’ll have fewer opportunities, but those would be a great fit.

Make your own rules

Dan talked about the lack of order at home while growing up. He wanted to be a good boy, and so he obeyed rules. But he found his older brothers, who were creative and funny, breaking the rules often. He would be around them, go with them to their practice, gradually soaking their personality. And thus, he ended up being the creative professional he is.

The lawlessness during his childhood allowed him to, kind of, make the rules he wanted. And as it seems, when it comes to creativity, you’ve to be able to evaluate the situation for yourself.

Creative people should do their work and promote themselves in a way they find relatable, different from others.

Choose creative habits over creative goals

Dan starts off by explaining how you can’t decide your creative goals by waiting; waiting for the perfect idea.

Lot of people are filled with self-doubt just because they approach creativity as if it’s a magical thing. You feel you don’t have any control over it, and then it gets chaotic.

That’s where processes and habits come in. They can really give you some control over creativity. You find yourself, get to your creative goals, by just doing stuff. And your habits, on the way, make you more efficient.

Subscribe to A Self-Help Guide for Creatives, the weekly newsletter by Dan, and get tips and tools to unstuck your creative wheels.

Time your sessions

The conversation turned towards Dan’s habit of timed sessions. He sets 15-minute timers and sits himself to work. He won’t look at phone, check email or hop on social media. Once the timer goes off, he takes a break.

He said it’s hard to commit your attention, with so much distraction around, to something even for 15 minutes. But the beep-beep of the timer acts as the reward.

There has to be a reward for a work well done.

Start work early

Create a list of things, routine things — e.g. meditate, exercise, read — which you want to do daily. Then, wake up an hour earlier than others. And do each of those things for a few minutes. This way, you tick off the check boxes, early in the day.

When you leave things for later, the pressure just builds throughout the day. Long meetings, household chores, deadlines… all add up to affect your work.

But by starting early, you’re getting ahead of the day, instead of chasing it. You get control over your work, which Dan considers important for a creative person.

Begin with what you have

Next, Dan talked about his newsletter. He said creating something for yourself, apart from ‘work’ is important. It gives you freedom to express. It would feel good.

His newsletter started off as a course, which didn’t see the light of the day. He had to outline content for a training session for writers. But things didn’t work out as intended.

However, the training booklet was almost complete. So, he finished it, and began sharing it as articles, bit by bit, on LinkedIn. There some people messaged him saying he should start a newsletter, so they can read those articles regularly.

That’s how the newsletter started.

Share your work

Once you start something, anything, further ideas come and you figure out what can be done. Play with the format, tweak it all the way you want and share it with others. Get feedback.

You’ll be amazed to find how little everyone cares when something sucks. But they’re supportive when you’re trying to make it better. There would be an entire community of people, especially other creators, who would push you to create what you’re creating.

Focus on what you enjoy

Not everyone will like your work, of course. Dan said it hurts when people unsubscribe. It’s a tendency to notice, more, when something wrong happens. But then, he also gets a lot more people who subscribe to his newsletter.

People might not tell you if they like your work. But once in a while, someone will thank you for what you’re doing. And that, that’s when you will feel it’s compensating enough for all your creative work.

So, go all in. Build your creative habits. Put in your personality. Not everyone will like you, not everyone has to. But you’ll find people who value your efforts.

Listen to The Newsletter Nerd Show on Spotify for the full episode.

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