When I was a kid, I loved to draw and paint and make things.
I drew pictures of candy factories with mixing machines and conveyor belts and candy wrapping contraptions.
For a brief time, I was obsessed with war: I drew pictures of Civil War battles and World War I-style biplanes with bullets streaming in the air and explosions and smoke.
I painted portraits of my vintage beer can collection.
When I got my first computer, an Apple II+, I taught myself how to code, and learned how to manipulate bits and bytes into colorful pixels on my cathode ray tube monitor. I learned how to move objects on the screen by erasing them in one place, and then redrawing them in a different place on the screen.
I wrote a rudimentary speech detection program that could interpret simple words spoken into the microphone connected to my modem and convert them into operating system commands.
Gradually, though, the burdens of school, work, and life got in the way: High school, then college, then grad school. And then my first taste of work and the "real world", then back for more grad school, and then...back to work.
And then came the responsibilities associated with getting married and raising a family (a supremely creative act that I've enjoyed like no other).
But somewhere along the way, I stopped creating art -- the kind of art I used to create with my mind and my hands, spontaneously and un-self-consciously.
I stopped making things.
Until I started to write.
I wrote about what I knew best: Digital marketing, social media, technology, professional development, writing.
People responded. They left comments. They clicked "like". They shared.
The feedback was overwhelming. I felt my thoughts and ideas -- locked up in my brain with nowhere to go for so many years -- were now being validated and appreciated by people from around the world.
Nearly two years ago, I launched a podcast that gave me an excuse to talk to successful writers of all stripes: Writers of non-fiction, traditionally published and self-published novelists, editors, bloggers, content marketers, and poets.
I've spoken to dozens of men and women who rely on the power of their words to convey ideas that paint pictures in people's minds and move them to act--a talent that puts bread on their tables.
Maybe all those years of nose-to-the-grindstone studying and clock-punching and child-rearing were the preparation I needed to start creating again. (Or, perhaps, I'm just rationalizing a chunk of "lost years" to soothe my feelings of regret.)
These are some of the steps that got me writing, but they're applicable to any creative endeavor:
1. Start small, then build.
Just three years ago, I had a small LinkedIn network, no email list, no Twitter followers, and not one blog post to my name. Today, I've published over 115 posts on LinkedIn; I have a growing audience of connections and followers who read, discuss, and share my writing; and I've gotten to know several amazing people from around the world.
Take whatever you've got right now -- your ideas, a blank screen, an empty notebook -- and just start writing. Then do it again. And again.
2. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
As we get older, we become the authority figures-- the leaders, the teachers, the parents-- that others rely on. We forget to lean on others, we forget to ask for help.
But I've learned that -- surprise, surprise -- I don't know everything. I've learned that there are others who know far more than I do about many things, and, if I ask, they usually help.
Sometimes, advice costs. Very often, it's free. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
3. Get your family involved.
Creative work is often a lonely enterprise. You need to draw from that mystical well of inspiration and ideas that are unique to you. This requires carving out precious chunks of time and space so you can reach a state of unbroken concentration -- a state of flow --and create.
If you've got a partner or kids who are vying for your time and attention, it can be tough. Try to find a way to get your family involved in your creative projects: they'll feel less excluded from your new projects, and you can even draw inspiration and useful feedback as well.
I sometimes ask my two kids for their opinions of my LinkedIn post headlines before I hit publish. My son and daughter have an uncanny ability to choose ones that do well.
In return, they get a glimpse into how their dad is spending his spare time during the weekend. Perhaps they even feel a small sense of co-ownership of my work.
4. Keep showing up.
My friend Sean McCabe, a hand lettering artist, podcaster, and entrepreneur, says you should keep showing up for at least two years before you can expect to see results from your creative work. And, if you see results before then -- which I believe you almost certainly will as long as you are consistent -- then consider it a bonus.
5. Enjoy the process.
And finally, enjoy the process of creating things that only you can make. Tune out the noise around you -- and try to turn down the noise inside your head-- so you can focus on just creating.
Forget about views and likes and downloads and email sign-ups. Just create for the sake of creating, and you'll be amply rewarded.