This article originally appeared in Inc.com.
Since July 1, I have taken a break from writing about trade wars and entrepreneurship to do something I’ve always wanted to do: Write a novel. Between July 1 and July 31, I drafted a 51,000-word book currently being reviewed by multiple publishers.
Unfortunately, I cannot give anyone advice on novel writing. All I can say is that if you’ve ever wanted to take a stab at writing fiction, go for it. Even if no one reads your book–even if your book is an unmitigated disaster–you will see the world differently after spending time in an imaginary character’s shoes.
But even if I can’t give anyone advice on novel writing other than what I shared above, I can give advice on tapping into creativity.
Here are a few things you can do to access the creative part of your brain, as well as dealing with your inevitable critics.
1. Surround yourself with inspiration.
What inspires you? Is it a specific song? A specific movie? A specific book? What creative work elevates your heart and mind to a completely different place?
Hold whatever gets its hooks in you–a book you can’t put down, a song you can’t skip, a painting you can’t look away from–close. Make your personal artistic inspiration a part of your creative journey. Surround yourself with whatever moves you.
You’re going to need it.
2. Create for the only audience you’ll ever really know: You.
You can focus group a book, a song, a film, a product, an app, or a new business idea all you want. And, it’s important to get feedback from your target market–but before you ask others what they think, ask yourself: Would I read this book? Would I download this song? Would I use this product? Would I buy this (fill in the blank)?
If the answer is no, stop what you’re doing.
I have seen smart people invest significant amounts of time and money in projects or startups they really don’t have enthusiasm for simply because they think there is a market they can reach. That approach to creativity almost never works. On the other hand, creativity you believe in is never a waste–because if nothing else, you will learn new things about yourself you might otherwise never have discovered.
3. Anything creative will have critics. That’s just how it is.
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
The ending monologue of the 2007 Pixar movie Ratatouille should be required viewing for every entrepreneur, artist, and creator. The film is one of my five favorite movies, ever. Of course, to others Ratatouille is just a dumb cartoon about a rat who knows how to cook.
That’s the point, though.
You will have critics. Not even truly great works of creativity were ever universally loved by everyone. Listen to thoughtful feedback from your target reader, listener, user, or customer. Constructive criticism will make your work stronger–but it won’t keep you from having critics.
When you get criticism, just remember:
The Shawshank Redemption was a box-office flop.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers.
Thomas Watson, the President of IBM, said in 1943 that “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
The moral(s) of this story?
Listen to the critics–up to a point, but don’t automatically assume they know more than you do.
And, get to it.