Creative Advice From Creative People

We at Monsters Under The Bed think we know how best to spark that creative streak in kids, and how to nurture that spark into a full-blown flame that will lead to untold riches and fame from a creative career (specifically writing). We are doing it for a living, after all (the teaching, not so much the untold riches and fame). But once in a while, it helps to hear from people who are living that dream, and what advice they have for children who think this writing racket may be for them.

 

Arts and Crafts

If a cluttered desk suggests a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk suggest? – A. Einstein

 

I asked creative people all over the world what advice they wanted to give to primary students who were interested in a creative field. These people include writers, artists, editors, publishers, booksellers, teachers, journalists, designers, cartoonists, puppeteers and musicians, from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Europe, and the United States. I asked them all, and here’s what some of them had to say (in alphabetical order):

 

Persistence pays off. Pay your dues, take the hardship, work hard, be punctual, be pleasant to work with, get rid of your ego, be prepared to make sacrifices, and stay humble and grounded. Oh and one more: save your bloody money!
Boey Yinghao
Singapore
Drummer, Ootini
Drum Instructor

Read everything, not just the subjects in the field(s) you’re doing. I always tell aspiring cartoonists to not just read cartoons, but other material too. If you’re relying on one source, say MAD Magazine, for your wit and creativity, you’re painting yourself into a corner in the long run.
Cheah Sin Ann
Singapore/Brunei
Cartoonist, Billy & Saltie

Keep a journal – it doesn’t matter if it’s physical or digital, if the entries are short or long. Being able to put yourself in the minds of different people is a huge help for a creative person, and the thing is, you’re a different person each day… and your journal will allow you to remember all your “selves”.
Paolo Chikiamco
Philippines
Writer, Slammed!
Editor, Alternative Alamat
Webmaster, RocketKapre.com

 

Woman writing on river

There are no certainties to creativity. (Or our canals working, so don’t do this in Singapore).

 

Throw out all expectations of what you think you can get out of doing something creative (because there are no certainties to creativity) and just remember to do it because you love it.

There will be many distractions telling you to do all sorts of stuff and if you ever get lost, always come back to doing what you love and you’ll be fine. How do you know? – You’ll feel happy doing it even when it’s tough
Elvin Ching aka Zeropointfive
Singapore
Freelance Illustrator, many, many illustration projects, including t-shirt designs for Threadless

Making it in an artistic field in Singapore takes a lot of courage and sacrifice. Many go into it with a fantasy of success, but are not prepared for the tough road ahead. Practice your craft, nurture your passion, and unlearn the fantasy from your dream.
Koey Foo
Singapore
Theatre Actor, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Charlotte’s Web

Get obsessed about things. Read about them, keep a journal about them. You may outgrow whatever it is, but you’ll have learned to communicate ideas effectively, and that’s more important. Also, some people may tell you that the things you care about are unimportant. Don’t listen to them. Find people who love the same things you love, and befriend them. You’ll find those friendships to be a comfort when times are rough.
Phil Guie
US
Associate Editor, Adventure Publishing Group
Writer, The Toy Book

ALWAYS PRACTICE. AND PRACTICE MORE. If you like drawing, try not to be narrow-minded, and look for the good and bad in all art styles. If comics are your passion, learn to work with others and make yourself familiar with common working practices – writers and scripts, penciling, inking, toning/colouring, editors and editing. And if you do not understand anatomy, perspective, form and lighting (in that order), you cannot draw yet!

If you like writing, read as much as possible, and actually write a story! Many writers think about writing, but write nothing. And after they start, they don’t complete the work. It doesn’t matter what the standard of your writing might be; just get into the habit of completing stories!
Jerry Hinds
Singapore/UK
Publisher, Nice One Entertainment
President and Instructor, Association of Comic Artists (Singapore) (ACAS)

 

children

Keep your inner child alive, and hold on to your dreams.

 

Never fully grow up. Keep a little bit of that inner child with you through life. Always remember the hopes and dreams that you carry with you now and never stop learning. It doesn’t matter how old you are today, remember you were once five.
Nikole Horkin
US/Singapore
Puppeteer, Once Upon a Puppet Theater

Always be humble, no matter what you’re doing, and especially if you’re good at it.
Shafiq Iskandar
Singapore/Malaysia
Lead Vocalist, The Sallys

If you’re interested in creating art, go to the library, take out books about the art form you like, and study them. There are books on painting and sculpting, but also on game design, comic books, guitar playing, writing, acting, etc. If this is more than you are willing to do, a career in art is probably not for you.
Iskander
Singapore/The Netherlands
C(art)oon(ist), The Year in Singapore in Cartoons and web comic Lily Chili
Founder, The Singapore Cartooning Institute
Director, SGCartoons.com

Much of your success as a creator will come from knowing people in the industry, so you should immediately make friends in your field of choice, and if possible work towards getting a job in that field as well. This will help you be successful, but it won’t necessarily help you be any good. The only way to get good is to start off copying the artists or writers you like, and then stop copying them while still keeping your eye on them, and then look away. And then practice a lot.
Hal Johnson
US
Writer, Immortal Lycanthropes

Strive for clarity, not only in storytelling but also in drawing techniques. It is very hard to achieve ‘less is more’, as there’s always the urge to ‘over-draw’. I hope to remind myself of that when working on my next project.
Koh Hong Teng
Singapore
Artist, Ten Sticks and One Rice and Gone Case

Just continue reading and writing. Talk about the books you love to read. Join writing activities, school magazines, writing contests, etc. Write to your family and friends. Write serious cards and funny cards… The rest will fall into place later on.
Jocelyn Lau
Singapore
Editor, Math Paper Press
Writer, Hello, Baby (pub: October 2013)

 

Stopwatch

Don’t waste time! Creativity doesn’t mean being unproductive…

 

Don’t waste time. Don’t do something simply because you think it is worth trying to do. Instead, do it because you only have 1UP.
Kenny Leck
Singapore
Bookseller, BooksActually
Publisher, Math Paper Press

It’s okay not to know exactly where you’re headed, if you work hard on what is exciting to you and say “yes,” surprising things you never imagined can happen.

Whenever you start to make/build/create anything it will likely fall short of your vision at first. It is part of the process and a lot of the learning and creativity can grow from finding the problems and fixing them. Learning to fail productively and being resilient are incredibly valuable.
Kari Love
US
Spacesuit Fabricator, Final Frontier Design
Costumer, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Puppet Artist, Puppet Festival (r)Evolution 2013

Learn as much as you can about the industry that you want to break into. When you’re just starting out, never think that any task is too menial or not important enough for you — that’s how you learn. This applies to all the writers out there too. Don’t underestimate the importance of a lowly comma!
Felicia Low-Jimenez
Singapore
Bookseller
Writer, Sherlock Sam series

If you love writing, do it! A million things are going to get in the way—academic studies, sports competitions, project work, family obligations—but the important thing to remember is to take the time to do the thing you love.
Jason Erik Lundberg
Singapore/US
Editor, Fish Eats Lion and Epigram Books
Writer, Bo Bo and Cha Cha children’s picture book series and Strange Mammals
Webmaster, jasonlundberg.wordpress.com

My simple advice is this – be true to yourself. Do something you love and enjoy. Once that is in place, then all the hard work and commitment should come naturally. Without the love and passion (and obsession), the creative pursuit becomes meaningless.
Kevin Mathews
Singapore
Singer/Songwriter, Emo FASCISM
Writer, PowerOfPop.com

 

Angel statue

Trust your inner talent. Everyone has a muse of some kind.

 

I have several pieces of advice. For one, stay devoted to whatever your passion is. If you’re a writer, write every day–which can include editing, sketching out ideas, even reading good writing. Also, believe in yourself. Trust your talent, and when writing, listen to what your inner voices tell you. Finally have fun and remember that if it’s boring to write something, it likely will be boring for others to read.
John Mutter
US
Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder, Shelf Awareness

When I was in primary school and my English teachers told me I was a talented writer, I always figured writing was just a useful skill, not something I could pursue as a career in itself; I could have saved myself a lot of time if I’d taken them seriously and started working at it. You’re already ahead of where I was at your age, so my advice is to keep developing your abilities by reading as much and as widely as you can — both the kinds of books you already love and those you wouldn’t normally pick up, fiction and nonfiction. In fact, expose yourself to all kinds of stories in every form possible: watch plays, movies, documentaries, and television programs; play video games and Dungeons & Dragons; pick up comics, short stories, newspapers, magazines, and novels. Inspiration can come from anywhere. To be creative, you need a steady stream of ideas, and to write well, you need to know how stories work. Study the fiction of other writers and learn the rules of grammar so you know when it’s okay to break them, and try to write lots of different things to find your strengths and weaknesses.
E.C. Myers
US
Development Writer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Writer, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin

Do something that makes you happy, something that makes you proud , something that you won’t be shy to talk to other people about. People will say you’ll need to take this course or that course, do this job or that job–and sometimes you might have to. But don’t think that it’s a step away from what you really want to do. Everything you will do–whether it’s something you like or not–will enrich you and give you the skills, the kindness, and the insight to do what you really want to do.
Katz Navarro
Philippines
Publishing Manager,  Flipside Publishing
Mommy, Lucia

Remember your work/life balance! Don’t forget to take a break once in a while and your passions will burn much longer!
KC Ng
Singapore
General Manager, Collateral Damage Studios

Math may not make you creative, but it does stretch your mental visualisation skills, which are handy when doing many creative works. See it as mental yoga. If you can visualise pi to the power of the square root of a negative number, you can pretty much visualise anything else.
Oh Yong Hwee
Singapore
Writer, Ten Sticks and One Rice
CEO, Patroids Creative Works Pte Ltd

 

Reading

Read, and absorb ideas from others. Creativity doesn’t just mean individual genius.

 

Know why you like the things you like. Knowing your favorite game is easy, sure: but WHY is it your favorite? If you made a sequel, what would be the most important thing about it? Knowing this will help make the things you create be good… at least for you! And as soon as you can, show what you create to other people. This is really, really important for games since making games is about helping other people have fun, but other creative people need to do it too.
Scott Price
US
Project and Product Manager, BrainPOP
Game Designer, Gamestar Mechanic

There is no one right way to be a writer, so don’t worry about it if the way you work feels like it’s different from everybody else. Some people need to write everyday. Some people just write on weekends. Some people plan out the entire story before they start writing. Some people write without a plan and let the story develop organically. Some people write with workshops and get feedback on works in progress. Some people keep their work private until they get a first draft done.

This is all okay. Everybody’s different, so you just need to figure out what works best for you. Just because you really respect a writer or any other creative person doesn’t mean you have to approach your creative work the same way. Whatever process helps you create is the right way for you.
Evonne Tsang
US
Writer, My Boyfriend is a Monster #1: I Love Him to Pieces, Twisted Journeys #12: Kung Fu Masters, and Twisted Journeys #22: Hero City

Dare to be different, and always be good to yourself, your family and society.
Wong Jing Cherng aka JC Wong
Singapore/Malaysia
Senior Storyboard Artist, Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Never let others limit the scope of your dreams; they’re YOUR dreams – you decide how far it goes.
Shawn Yap
Singapore
Writer and Artist, Jack Doe: Anonymous and Closets
Game Designer, Crisis!

Start writing as though you are sharing a secret with someone you love and admire–tell your story in a way that will interest, entertain and impress this person. Then think of someone you really hate… and go through your story checking and correcting all the things this person might criticise, right down to spelling, grammar and presentation.
Ovidia Yu
Singapore/US
Writer, The Mudskipper and Aunty Lee’s Delights

 

We hope this advice helps creative children (and indeed, creative adults), and I’ll leave you with one last bit of advice from someone I admire a great deal: me.

A healthy ego is important. After all, you’re creating something that you think the world should experience and love, and you need a certain amount of chutzpah for that. But never let that ego tell you that you are perfect just the way you are. Almost every great writer, artist, editor, publisher, teacher, journalist, cartoonist, puppeteer, designer, and musician (and any other creative job you can think of) in the history of the world were once told they weren’t as good as they thought they were, and had to change something to get better, and you are no different. Change what needs to be changed, and know you will be putting out an even more awesome work of art. And when the prizes and accolades come in, maintain your healthy ego. Don’t let it get bigger or smaller.
Adan Jimenez
Singapore/US
Writer, Sherlock Sam series and Twisted Journeys #22: Hero City
Editor,  Hannah and the Kingdom of Bugbears
Instructor, Monsters Under The Bed

 

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Image Credits:
The HUB Network, juliejordanscott, kodomut, wwarby, Dominic’s Pics, moriza

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