It’s common for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs to start their businesses from a position of creative problem-solving; maybe they want to create something that they wished they had or something that they specifically want to offer to their community. For a lot of these businesses, there’s an element of a personal narrative imbued in the brand and its marketing. However, launching a business, monetizing your personality, and sharing so much of yourself with customers can often lead to burnout and detachment from the brand that you’ve built.

It can be difficult to stay innovative and creative when your sense of self is so connected to the  work you do, so it’s essential to protect your wellbeing. We spoke to LGBTQIA+ artists and creatives about how they rekindle their inspiration while staying grounded in the real world, giving you the tools to jumpstart your creativity and dream up your next big thing.

The experts

Elio Mercer (they/he) is a multidisciplinary artist living in Copenhagen. Most recently, he contributed to the show Tender & Masculine, an interrogation of different concepts of masculinity.

Marlee Grace (they/them) is a writer, dancer, teacher, and quilter living in Michigan. They’ve published a weekly newsletter on creativity called Monday Monday for several years.

Jack Reed (he/him) is an LA-based set designer, art director, and artist. He produces work for film, advertising, and commercial content, as well as his own art practice.

Starting your journey

Where to start on your creative journey

Whether you’re trying to launch a new business or rekindle your dwindling creativity, it can feel overwhelming. Jack Reed likens that inertia to athletics. “When you have to go for a jog, it’s putting the shoes on and getting out of your warm bed that’s the hardest part,” he explains. “Once you’re actually jogging down the street, you’re seeing things that are interesting, you’re engaged.” He says that sometimes it’s as simple as rejecting TV or scrolling on your phone after a long working day in favor of finding something to be curious about, whether it’s an art practice or something else that inspires you. For Reed, that can mean going to different grocery stores to take in the varied colors, merchandise, and objects. Whatever inspires you, go chase it.

1. Set parameters and stick to them

While many people believe that finding your creative spark is like waiting for lightning to strike, often those who commit to finding it are the ones who keep it. This search for structure can be arbitrary or self-imposed. Marlee Grace says that, for them, their weekly newsletter is the best accountability tactic. “I’m working on a new podcast right now that has a set season that’ll come out every Wednesday. Those parameters, or even constraints, let me be really creative and keep my spark flowing,” they say. “I believe that constraints and parameters can actually give us a lot more room to be creative.” Depending on your practice or business, that might mean committing to a set amount of time to play around with new ideas every week. Entrepreneurs are busy people, but everyone has an hour that they can commit to trying something new. Putting a deadline in place can work. Grace references a friend who was struggling to finish some of their artwork. “You need to have a painting show with a date that you invite people to, so you have to finish [the artwork]. I think especially for myself and other people who are neurodivergent, that’s the way to the finish line.” 

Takeaway: Set deadlines and time to play with new ideas and stick to them.

2. Protect your time

As a business owner, your time can often feel like it doesn’t belong to you. You’ve always got meetings, calls, and plans to make. It can be challenging to carve out space to do something that isn’t immediately profitable, but it’s often the only way to rekindle that creativity. “You need to protect your time. Sometimes I don’t protect my practice—I let my attention go to other places,” says Grace. As their different practices can feel like a “juggling act,” setting out time to dance or make a quilt can positively impact Grace’s other work. There’ll always be something that seems to be more important. It’s only by prioritizing your own creativity that you’ll be able to retain it as an essential element in your life.

Takeaway: Take your creativity seriously and reprioritize your to-do list.

3. Do things that feel impossible

When you’re getting a business off the ground, at times it can feel like you’re drowning. You might not feel like you’re an expert at anything, either. If you feel like you’re losing the creative spark that made you want to step out on your own in the first place, the best thing you can do, says Grace, is “anything that you feel like you can’t.” It’ll be fun, but it’ll also surprise you. Grace teaches a class called “A Quilt is Something Human” and, in the first week, many people are convinced that they’ll never even figure out how to work the sewing machine. “By the end of class, they’ve made a beautiful quilt masterpiece. That’s so satisfying to watch. I love watching people go through that becoming and blossoming of themselves,” says Grace. That process doesn’t have to be public, either: “I’m such a believer in keeping things private and working behind the scenes,” they add. But it’ll improve your confidence in your other work to realize that you’re capable of more than you thought.

Takeaway: Get used to being uncomfortable—you might just surprise yourself.

4. Give yourself space

Of course, the reality of being an entrepreneur or creator, and particularly an LGBTQIA+ one, is that it can be difficult to feel motivated and inspired when you don’t have a strong foundation. You might need to make negotiations in other parts of your life to make room for that stability and your creativity. Elio Mercer moved to Copenhagen after realizing that it wasn’t healthy “constantly trying to survive” in London, where they couldn’t afford to live and make art without a full-time job. Now, they do freelance graphic design jobs that they enjoy but aren’t so directly related to their art that it becomes draining. They work 3 days a week and create for the rest of the time—a system that works for them. “Money worries will destroy my brain, if it doesn’t feel vaguely under control. I wasn’t very good at dealing with unpredictability,” they say. Meanwhile, Jack Reed found that finding work as a set designer for the film and advertising industries made it easier to maintain balance with his own creative work.

Takeaway: Consider a different creative outlet aside from your main focus.

5. Find how you work best

Everyone’s learning and working styles are different, especially when you’re trying to conjure joy, productivity, and creativity all at once. Grace finds that a balance of stimulation and deprivation provokes the best results. While they’re quilting, they listen to a podcast or audiobook so they’re learning at the same time, which kicks different parts of their brain into gear. But when they’re looking to organize their thoughts, dancing and swimming take away the opportunity to multitask. “I have to do only those things—I can’t be on my phone at the same time, I’m not also doing something else. I try to remind myself that that’s soothing to my nervous system and myself.”

Takeaway: There’s no one way to be more creative—it may take a bit of trial and error to find your ideal way of working.

Location matters

Where do you create best?

The physical location of where you make and create can make all the difference. But remember, everyone has their own ways of working.

1. Separating work and play

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know that everything you do contributes to your business, directly or otherwise. But if you’re trying to reignite your creativity, you need to find spaces away from your day-to-day work to get inspired. Mercer has a separate space for painting—his art studio in Copenhagen—where he never does his graphic design work. “It makes such a difference, because you’re making a commitment to yourself that you’re going to take it seriously. It’s important to me to have a space I can go to that’s solely for making art,” he says. Even if you don’t have an art practice, making sure that your work takes place in a separate space could be key to helping you truly unwind when you get home.

Takeaway: Being able to switch off and be physically distant from your work can help give your mind the space it needs to be more creative.

2. Integrating work and play

Everyone is different—the best way to ignite your creativity might be to make inspiration readily available when you’re off the clock. Reed used to have a studio for his personal practice but, after realizing that he never went because he was so tired after work, he cleared out space in his living room. “Ultimately, I think you always have to be making, no matter what,” he says. You can still have separate spaces in your home for your creative projects, but having them at hand might make it harder to ignore them.

Takeaway: Some people like having space nearby to dabble when the mood strikes.

Sharing creativity

Creativity doesn’t need to be a solo act

If you’re a solopreneur or an artist, creativity can often feel lonely. Plus, you might lack accountability to anyone else to create or come up with new ideas. Grace finds teaching and sharing their craft to be inspiring for themself, too. “I share it with people because I need to teach what I want to learn,” they say. 

They just finished teaching a 3-week class on how to shape your offering and make it public, and they’ve loved “seeing the students, from week 1 to week 3, become so confident and so excited and want to share their work with the world.” Most of their students, they say, are queer, and they sometimes feel like the world is against them. By putting more queer art in the world together, Grace feels motivated to carry on. 

They also advocate for co-working spaces, both online and IRL, and body-doubling (doing tasks in the presence of someone else) with a friend to be held accountable. “I try not to do things alone that don’t make sense to do alone. I tell people to ask for help,” they say. Stepping outside and joining with other business owners, artists, and queer people can help you feel connected to something bigger, too. Mercer says that, when they’re feeling uninspired or lonely, it helps to feel connected to a wider tradition of queer art. “If I don’t feel connected to the art world, I can at least feel connected to people who’ve been creating art—whether it’s reading a book by a trans author or looking at trans art. We’ve always been creating in one way or another. I’ve come to the point where I’m not going to be doing anything else with my life, so I should take this seriously.”

Putting this into practice can be as simple as engaging with your friends, business partners, or other colleagues. “I like to invite people over for collage parties or to make greeting cards for Valentine’s Day and just talk about ideas,” says Reed. When you talk about ideas, he adds, they become real. 

“I think that the idea of sharing is so important—you don’t have to finish the idea. I don’t think anyone should ever feel pressure to finish anything but, when you say something out loud to other people, it takes its own shape, and then it exists between you two, and the other person can help refine it. So much of the success involved in creativity is sharing constantly.”

Three tips to implement today

Here’s a quick toolkit to help inject more creativity into your daily routines.

Write it down. Whether or not you’re a natural writer, starting every day with morning pages (stream-of-consciousness journaling done the first thing every morning) or writing a set amount of pages can be a way to get your creativity flowing. Grace says that they do morning pages and also share a daily gratitude list with a friend. “We don’t just write the good things. It’s like gratitude for being stuck in traffic or something much sadder than that. I really feel like pen to paper is how my ideas come to me.”

Find inspiration offline. No matter what field you’re in, if you let it, social media can negatively impact your creative spark, forcing you to compare your journey to everyone else’s. It has the potential to crush your creativity rather than inspire it, and Mercer says that’s when he digs into books and archives. “I deep dive, and suddenly I’ll feel super inspired and want to go do sketches.” He also finds it inspiring to go to exhibitions and look at every stage of an artist’s career: “You need to carry on because that’s what they were doing. Research the subject matter you’re interested in. I look at queer archives and old photographs.”

Put your work out before you’re ready. If you’re creating art or going in a new direction with your business, you might feel nervous about showcasing your attempts. The bad news, says Grace, is that you might never feel ready; the good news is that you can share it anyway. “My biggest tip is just to keep putting your work out into the world. I think sometimes we think we’re going to feel courageous and ready to hit Send on the newsletter, announce the thing, or put it out into the world. Do it before you feel completely ready, because it’s doing it that builds the confidence to keep doing it.