There was a great post on a blog that I follow that prescribed the 1 2 7 14 system for screenwriters. The gist is this: writers write. You know what else? Photographers take pictures, filmmakers make movies, and creators CREATE. You have to be doing something every day that is related to what it is that you do. Your creative output is what sets you apart from people that dream about being this or that to people that are doing it.

If you’re a screenwriter, for example, as the post mentioned earlier suggests, you could

  • Read 1 screenplay a week
  • Watch 2 movies per week
  • Write 7 pages per week
  • Work 14 hours prepping a story

A time investment like that means that this person is serious about what they are doing. Anyone who wanted to get into screenwriting who followed this system would have written 2 screenplays, seen 100+ movies, and worked for over 700 hours in a years time. That’s not just some dreamer or hobbyist. This person means business.

Let’s try another one — what if you’re a photographer? You could change that system studying one photographer per week, watching two photography tutorials, creating 7 images (different than taking 7 pictures…), and working for 14 hours (2 hours per day) on turning your craft into a business. We’ll go into much more detail as the year (and this blog) progresses on the day to day aspects of running and growing your freelance business, but you get the idea — in order to be a creative, it takes at very least a part time commitment on your part. You can definitely start something on the side, as prescribed in The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, but it often takes much more time to grow a business into a full time gig.

This is great and all in theory, but how do we put it into practice? None of this makes a world of difference if we don’t actually do anything. And continuing on with the theme of systems over goals, here’s a few ideas:

First, determine your goals (so that we can create a system). Do you want to start making $1000 per month? Grow your business to $10,000 per month? Increase your creative output? Your system will vary greatly depending on what you’re trying to achieve, so spend some time thinking, i.e. writing down, what your short term goals are.

Second, break down that goal into some things that you can do on a daily or weekly basis. I would lean towards doing the creative things on a daily basis, and the organizational or business things on a more weekly basis if your goal is to increase your creative output or turn your hobby into a side business. Try to make this something you can do in an hour or less every day. We all can find a spare hour if it is something we truly love doing, or the goals are desirable enough. Some examples:

  • Write 1000 words per day if you’re a blogger, are writing a book, or working on a screenplay
  • Take a picture a day, post to Instagram or your blog.
  • Create a “daily doodle” with your medium of choice, share with your social networks
  • Spend an hour working on a painting
  • Write a verse and chorus of a song
  • Write down 10 ideas for creative projects
  • Shoot some video footage throughout the week and spend 2 hours on Saturday editing and posting to YouTube or Vimeo

Obviously the list could go on forever. You just need to cater your daily “to do” to what you’re trying to ultimately accomplish. I highly recommend making it the very first thing you do every day, whether it’s first thing in the morning or first thing when you get to the office. Doing it first gives it a better chance of getting done. It’s also okay to vary your time input based on what your day looks like. A daily doodle could take 1 minute or 45 depending on the day, but at least you’re creating something.

Third, create some stakes. Rewards are good, but negative stakes are even better. A great example is Diet Bet, a website where you can pledge an amount of money to reach your goal of losing a certain amount of body fat. If you lose, you forfeit the money, but if you reach your goal you split the pot with the other winners. I did this last year and won $80…

If you’ve got a blog or Instagram or any other social media profile, share your daily creative work with the world as often as you feel comfortable. After you’ve consistently been sharing with your network, you’ll feel a strong desire to keep going. It works the same way as the Commit app that I have used to keep track of my 1000 words per day system. It keeps a streak count going for you, and after a few days you want to write just so you don’t break your streak. It’s a small reinforcer, but it works.

I can personally attest to the power of daily creative output. Without consistent output, none of the business stuff matters. People don’t care about your business cards, your Twitter stream, or that you are an LLC. They care about what you create. If you only create once or twice a year, it’s unlikely you’ll ever succeed as a creative.

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