I’ve never thought of myself as an artist. Artists have innate abilities that leave the rest of us looking on in wonder.
Wonder how they did that?
Wonder where they find the time?
Wonder if I should have paid more attention in kindergarten when they were passing out the paintbrushes? I was mesmerized by those jars of bright, bold colors. I can still smell the paint.
My lack of artistic ability didn’t preclude me from becoming a graphic designer. Don’t blame me…blame the guy who hired me. But as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. When my boss handed me an assignment, I’d jot notes furiously, nodding my head. This makes you look like you have a grasp of the project and leaves your boss thinking you’re already brimming with inspiration. So what if my notes said things like:
- Do t-shirt design for next event
- Google “How to design a t-shirt”
- Call Vickie and schedule a haircut for next week
With notes in hand I’d trudge back to my office, sit at my desk, and open a new canvas in Photoshop. Then I’d stare at the canvas and wait for inspiration. And I’d pray, “Lord, please give me something.” There were rare moments when an idea would form while staring at that blank canvas. I was always thankful for those gems. But over time I learned to be thankful when the idea, the art, didn’t come so easily. The answer to my prayer on those days wasn’t “Here you go.” It was “Come and get it.”
You can’t count on “Here you go” each time you sit at your desk to start a creative project but “Come and get it” delivers. Every time. In a world of looming deadlines, creative pressure, and an expectation for excellence, I learned how to go and get it. I learned how to dig wells of inspiration when all I could see was a blank canvas. And when my career shifted from blank canvases to blank pages, my well-digging muscles went to work and put words on the page.
No matter what type of creative work you do learning the art of digging wells will crush the terror of the “blank page” and loose the flow of creative juices residing faithfully (and abundantly!) below the surface.
How to Dig Your Own Wells
Here are two ways you can start digging your own wells.
- Start with FUN. Creating can be stressful, especially when you have the pressure of deadlines or a depleted bank account that depends on your creative brilliance. Stress will shut you down before you begin. There is something childlike about letting your imagination run. The adult part of your mind will tell you you’re being irresponsible and selfish. It will tell you to do some real work. However, if we are to create we must have the time to freely dream—a time where we shut out the pressure of the world and enter the realm of possibilities. For me, the most effective solution involves a compromise. I SCHEDULE creative time. This puts “Adult Me” on notice and lends legitimacy to my imaginative “play time.” Some of us need to give ourselves permission to have FUN, to enjoy the creative process.
- Start SIMPLE. When I feel the first inklings of a story coming on I start as simply as I can. Sometimes technology is an impediment because we focus on the tools instead of the art. Don’t use a computer, which engages your more rational, linear left brain. Keep it analog and artistic. When that creative pressure builds and you have an idea forming, grab a sketchbook and a pencil (and maybe a cup of coffee). Instead of using a notebook with lines, try a sketchbook with space to dream outside the lines. Start with what you have. Write the words or impressions as they come. You have five senses; use them all. Sketch ideas, use arrows to follow possible plot progressions. Get visual. However you have to do it, get these story seeds (or marketing ideas, etc.) onto the page. (See image of my sketchpad story idea.)
Let your imagination flow. You may not use all of what you sketch, and that’s okay. Right now it’s only important to
- Start where you are (uncap the well!)
- Keep it simple
- Follow the path of least resistance
At some point you’ll need to rein in your imagination and put it into story form. But right now there are no lines on the page and no boundaries for our work.
You don’t have to use my suggestions, but find a way to steep your soul in the story – in the art. Keep it fun. Keep it simple. And listen to your senses. Sit at the well and soak it in.
When you’re ready, get to your desk and wring that inspiration onto the pages of your story.