Turn Inspiration into Action to Work Creatively
Welcome to Week 3 of the Creativity Kick-Start! During the last two weeks, we did the prep work necessary to get working creatively and expressively. In week 1, find your creative flow, we established a clear physical workspace and a focused state of mind. In week 2, identify your artistic vision, we set goals in place that will keep us accountable as we work. This week we set our creativity in motion, by gathering inspiration and starting to create!
This week’s challenge to kickstart your creative flow:
Turn your inspiration into action
We all know the dreaded scenario: pen or paintbrush poised and…. nothing. You draw a blank. And then there’s that sudden compulsion to check your email and grab a quick snack. “Why not do this later?” you think, or “start fresh tomorrow?” The nagging tasks that have been sitting in your inbox seem more urgent than your creative work, but stay calm. We can work through this.
If you haven’t flexed your creative muscle in a while, it may be a bit flabby. But don’t worry, we’re going to whip it into shape. Like any form of training, the best method is to start immediately, go slowly, and build up your endurance. Baby steps.
Rather than going cold turkey and relying on willpower alone, we’re going to use inspiration as a springboard to action. Particularly if you work in a left-brain oriented job, or if you spend a lot of time working on analytic, practical projects, the easiest way to flip over to your right brain, creative and intuitive side, is to get inspired. And an easy way to do that, is to take inspiration from others. Look at what you love, at what gets you excited. Steep yourself in it.
The ‘secret’ to overcoming a “creative block” is uncovering the natural momentum that comes out of the work itself. Work comes out of work. Once you’re into a project, ideas flow freely and one project leads often seamlessly to the next. So the most important thing is just to get started. Take the very first step to get the ball rolling.
I’ve broken the process of moving through inspiration to action into 4 steps:
Turn Your Inspiration into Action in 4 Steps
- Step 1: Gather Inspiration
- Step 2: Evaluate your Ideas
- Step 3: Reconnect Mind and Body
- Step 4: Take Creative Action
Step 1: Gather Inspiration
This is the easy and fun part. You may already have sources of inspiration for your project or you may need to spend some time looking for them and gathering them together. Give yourself a clear time-frame for this task which is set out in advance. You know what you love. Think of things that make you say ‘wow, I wish I’d made that’. Or look at your favorite pieces, the ones you’re most proud of. Maybe you have a place where you keep your ideas like a bulletin board, scrapbook, or folder. Go to it.
Possible sources of inspiration include:
- your sketchbooks, journals, notes
- online: Instagram, Pinterest, artist websites
- books, magazines, art books or exhibition catalogues
If you don’t have one already, create a file folder or a book where you can keep cutouts, clippings, notes, sketches, color swatches, and other materials that are relevant to your project (postcards, photos). Make a pinboard or buy yourself a journal You may want an online board on platforms like Pinterest.
Danger alert: Many people get stuck in this first stage. It is essential to put strict limits on the time that you allot to searching and looking through sources of inspiration. Or else you may find yourself falling down an endless rabbit hole. I’m sure it has happened before, you’re browsing online or checking recent activity on social media, and the next thing you know, hours have gone by. You’ve forgotten what you were looking for in the first place.
The key is staying focused on the task at hand. Keep your project in the forefront so that you’ll be focused on finding the sources of inspiration that you need, while filtering out what you don’t. There will be plenty of shiny things that spark your interest, but let some of them fall away, and grasp onto the relevant pieces of information.
Try this exercise: Write down what you envision for the project. What got you excited about it in the first place? Write as much as possible, whatever comes into your mind, without censoring yourself. It may be words or phrases. Don’t be afraid to be intuitive. Be descriptive, make point form lists. If it’s a visual project: How should it look? What’s the feel or mood? If you’re a visual thinker, you may want to use thumbnail sketches to accompany your text.
Don’t skip this step! When you’ve generated as many ideas as you can, move on to step 2.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Ideas
Inspiration is nebulous, and expansive. It needs to be teased out. It’s time to shift from right-brain thinking, in which we generated sources of inspiration, to left-brain evaluation. This will require a pen and paper. First, go through your sources of inspiration and identify:
- the qualities you admire in each (be very specific)
- what about them attracted you (it may be style, color, concept, overall look-and-feel)
- how they relate to your project (either visually, structurally, or conceptually)
- what you want to take from them
This step is about gaining further clarity and precision. It will help you find your own footing, and determine where someone else’s idea ends and your project begins. Remember your own artistic vision (which we established last week) and determine how your inspiration feeds it. If your project starts to feel like a replica of someone else’s project, don’t be immediately discouraged. Take a step back, evaluate the differences between your project and theirs, and trust your gut if you feel that you urgently need to create this project. Just because two things appear similar, doesn’t mean they are, just remember to emulate rather than imitate. We learn a lot from exploring what we love. And we eventually find our own voice, no matter what.
Step 3: Reconnect mind and body
Sometimes you may feel like you need to physically remove yourself from your inspiration. Up until now you’ve been all in your head (constructing the ideas that will determine how you create) and it’s time to get reconnected with your body to link idea with action. Take a moment to reinforce that mind-body connection. Perhaps that means going for a walk (or better yet, a wander), doing some yoga, playing with pets, taking a shower, or taking a stretch break to release the tension between your eyes, your shoulder blades, and your vertebrae.
This doesn’t mean abandoning the methodical head space you’ve cultivated by plunging into a binge-watching Netflix break; instead, it means taking a lateral step into an activity that maintains your mindfulness and focus, and helps you get your thoughts in order.
Doing something different frees your mind and cultivates creative flow. Many of the greatest philosophers swore by their daily strolls. “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” wrote Nietzsche. When mind can wander, it makes unexpected connections, works through association, and processes new information. New ideas often spring up when we are doing something entirely unrelated.
Best of all, getting into your body means you’ll be more calm, centered, and grounded as we move onto step 4.
Step 4: Take Creative Action
It’s time to come back to your workspace.
Through this step-by-step process, you’ve built confidence in your creative capacities and you need to trust that you know what is needed for your project. You have the ability to carry it through to completion. Take a moment to tell yourself that you can do this. Connect with the freedom and joy of creation. No one is there to judge you.
You’ve immersed yourself in sources of inspiration, brainstormed and digested information, and generated ideas. You’re well-equipped. Now, it is time to stop. Turn off the computer, close your art books. What served as sources of inspiration can now act as noise. Tune it out. Focus on yourself and what matters to you. By this time you’ve absorbed what you need. Trust that it is in their somewhere. Looking at more images or reading more articles won’t get you any further, it will only help you procrastinate.
If you’re a perfectionist, or have perfectionist tendencies, this may be challenging. You’ll feel like there is still more information to cover, more to learn. The truth is, you’ll learn the most in action, by doing.
If there are ideas that you haven’t fully formed yet, trust that it will all come out in the wash. All you have to do is get the ball rolling, because it doesn’t matter how fully formed your idea is, it will change and flex throughout the creation process. You’ll never have it all figured out beforehand, so just get started! Think back to that same Henri Matisse quote I cited last week: “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”
I’m handing it over to you know. Commit to taking just a first step before you do anything else. Even if the conditions aren’t perfect or you don’t have much time. Just do something. It is a starting place and something to be proud of.