The ideas are all around, floating away...
September 17, 2008 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I feel the need to be creative, but can't figure out what sort of outlet is the best to get my ideas out. How do I figure out what sort of creativity I have?

All my life, I've had lots of ideas, but I've never found an appropriate way to bring them to life.

I tried to write and got a novel done in NaNoWriMo last year, but I can never get the motivation to actually write a story. I've tried poetry, but it all comes out as maudlin and ridiculous. I established early on in my life that I can't draw. I feel like I have a lot of ideas, but nowhere to go with them.

My question is: How can I figure out what type of creativity most suits me? Any websites, books, or personal anecdotes would be much appreciated.
posted by reenum to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It may be that you have already found a creative pursuit that suits your needs, but can't get past the initial hump where you're not producing good work. There is no art form you will be good at from the get-go. It seems from your post that you are giving up fairly quickly. Are you attempting to create on your own, or have you tried taking classes or reading books? Perhaps you would have more luck sticking with it if you were part of a group of beginners struggling together, so that you could see where you were relative to your peers rather than Shakespeare and Matisse.

As for discovering what suits you, I don't know that anyone can answer that question for you. It may not be what you are best at. Are you drawn to any art form more than to others? Do you read poetry more often than you look at photographs, for example? How much time do you have to devote to this pursuit? Some arts are more labor-intensive. How much can you afford to spend? Paint is more expensive than a pencil and a writing journal, for example.
posted by prefpara at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2008

Could you give a few examples of your ideas?

I think experimenting helps - sure, you're got three misses mentioned here (or at least three forms that haven't worked in the way you've tried them), but the more you try, the easier it becomes to tell the difference between "I like it when someone else does this", "I like the thought of this but not the process", "I like the process of this maybe even more than the thought of it". I'm coming from a different perspective, of having a lot of ideas but also a lot of media/outlets, and being scuppered by reality making it impossible to pursue them all.
posted by carbide at 1:55 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, please take a look at this video in which Ira Glass (of This American Life) talks about how hard it is to have good taste and know that the work you're producing is not up to your standards, and how important it is to keep going when that happens.
posted by prefpara at 1:58 PM on September 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Allow yourself to screw up. Don't worry about if you are good.

I write poetry when I get really drunk. Or sometimes I get drunk to write poetry. Or something. Regardless, I don't seem to be able to do it sober. I'm not that good at it either way! (Some argue I am, but they're just silly).

But I like to take things further than just the initial poem or story. So I think about the final project. Make it into a chapbook? An audio production? Build a website around it? digital chapbook? etc.

I know nothing about pottery. Yet I make masks. I don't even try to learn anything about this, since I like what I am producing and am afraid getting technical skill might kill the outsiderness of it. Also, since I don't have any standards to compare to I am able to do these without having the internal critic shut me down.

But even here I decided to take them further, so took a woodworking class to learn to build wooden shadow boxes for them.

Some of my creative stuff. (some NSFW).

And if you like the poetry, who cares? Even if you don't, but enjoy writing it, who cares? And write enough of it and you will get better (or in my case less sucky).

I have too many ideas and not enough time.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:59 PM on September 17, 2008

Best answer: I urge you to delve deeper. Most artists that I know don't want to "be creative." And in my experience, people who try to be creative (or "original") create crap. The desire to be creative is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of more specific desires. Many of them are less "noble" than "being creative," but I believe these "base" desires are natural, human and good. If you face yours honestly and directly, you may learn something to your advantage.

For instance, many "creative" people seek praise. That's their real motive (and there's nothing wrong with it). Ask yourself this: would you be happy writing a novel, knowing in advance that no one would ever read it? There are some people who would be happy doing this. Sure, they'd like their work to be read. That would make them happier, but they're so into the actual mechanics of writing, they'd get at least some pleasure by just writing for themselves.

Do you want to connect with other people? The same question applies? Would you be happy if no one read or saw your art?

Do you need to expel a demon or work through an issue? Did you have some sort of childhood trauma or joy that you're seeking a way to express?

Do you want to be seen as a creative person? Do you want other people to think of you as a creative person? Why? Because you wait attention? Because you want to attract a certain sort of mate? Because you want respect? because you want people to be proud of you?

Personally, I never try to make art or be creative. When I create, I have four main motives:

1. I'm fascinated by the mechanics of my particular art form.
2. I have stories that I want to tell. Most of them aren't my stories (see below).
3. I love big projects that contain lots of detailed parts.
4. I like very directed social interactions (collaborations with deadlines in which each person has a role/task as opposed to just hanging out or partying).

I think "I want to write a play" or "I'm going to sit down and write a poem" are almost as useless as "I want to be creative." A play about what? A poem about what? For me, the impulse starts with the subject or story. I want to explore a particular subject because I think it's fascinating, because it poses complex creative problems, and/or because there's something about it I want to communicate to other people. THAT'S the starting point. From there I can decide what artmform best expresses it -- or what art form would be easiest (or most challenging) for me to use to express it.

Don't have a subject? No problem. ADAPT! That's what Shakespeare did. That's what thousands of painters do (all the ones that give us their own takes on Modanna and Child or whatever). That's what song writers do when they write about unrequited love. What stories do you like that have already been written? Take one and adapt it. Make it your own.
posted by grumblebee at 2:08 PM on September 17, 2008 [19 favorites]

How can I figure out what type of creativity most suits me?

I think this is backwards. Figure out what your ideas demand, and start the long hard slog towards developing the skills, then putting in the labour, to bring that to fruition.

That said, yes, it sounds like you just don't have enough of a library of experience in various media to figure out how to best work on your ideas, and so it may also be a case of you just don't know what you enjoy doing. So try lots of things at random. Sign up for the craft workshops at your local craft stores (I don't think the classes cost much/anything, since their aim is to show you how easy and awesome it to create stuff when you have the help of all these expensive doodads that the store sells, so they're really interactive infomercials, but you want to dabble a little bit in everything). Find similar ways to dabble in writing, music, movies, photography, photo-editing, collage, and all the rest of it.

In summary, it might be the case of you just haven't found an area that clicks with you yet, which a broader range of dabblings might help with, but I suspect otherwise. Most people find their groove by creating it - a mix of things unique to them that they combined in a personal way because various aspects of each appeals.

To that end, every time you see something creative online that really makes you think "wow - that's cool. I'd like to do things like that!", save a copy in a folder dedicated to this (call it "ideas and inspiration". This works best for images, then you get a personal gallery of stuff that appeals to you that you can browse.
Over months or years, you'll start to notice myriad but recurring techniques, styles, themes, and so fourth appearing in your gallery, and this will allow you to recognize and ponder what aspects of these things appeal to you and why. Learning about what techniques and approaches hit the spot for you will inform you of what skills you'd want to merge in your own work, and so skills you'll want to learn, in order to be able to merge them.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:18 PM on September 17, 2008

I established early on in my life that I can't draw.

This is a red flag (seconding Prepara), it is not possible to establish early on in your life that you can't draw. That you say this suggests you think creative skills like drawing are an innate talent that when attempted, either springs fourth or it doesn't.
You might as well give up now and save yourself the effort if you are not going to change this thinking, because everything will fail to spring fourth, and so by your thinking you can't do anything.
Early on your life you noticed that some kids naturally draw well, but (being a kid yourself) were too dumb to also notice that generally this was because they would draw more often, usually at home or otherwise out of your sight. You can't draw the same way you can't drive or play the violin - the more you do it, the better you get. There is no way around that, no shortcut. You have to earn it. If you're expecting to find something you're good at, I can save you the time by telling you now you fail at everything. :-)

As they say in photography, you have 10,000 bad photos in you that you need to get out of your system before you'll start taking good ones, so the sooner you start taking those bad photos, the sooner you'll get through them and start taking good photos.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:35 PM on September 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Forgot to explicitly link my points together:

Since it takes practice and work to learn how to (for example) draw, the natural advantage you see in others is whether you enjoy it. If you don't enjoy doing it, then you will never put in the time to get good. If you're that kid that loves to draw, you're naturally going to be good at it because you're spending your recreational hours doing it, and thus getting better at a far faster rate than those around you, and thus will always be a better at drawing than your peers.

So find something that you suck at, but enjoy doing anyway. Then enjoy it for a few years. Then you'll enjoy it, and be pretty good at it :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:41 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding much of the above.

First, commit yourself to making some bad art - of any kind. Do some just because it's fun, and do some more to learn some skills (for example, pick something you don't know how to do - write a song in 3/4 time, or draw a portrait) and do it until you do know how to do it - even if you don't do it especially well.

The thing about bad art is that a lot of doing art is simply doing it. Even if you're skilled and brilliant, a lot of what you create isn't going to be great.

I write songs. I got into a slump where I wasn't writing. I decided I was going to write a song no matter what - no matter how bad it was - just to get going again. I started writing about my poor dusty guitar that never gets played. I ended up with one of my all-time favorite songs I've ever written.

Also, seconding those above who noticed and questioned your "I established early on in my life that I can't draw." -

I, too, established early on in my life that I can't draw. Then one day I picked up a used copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I started working my way through the exercises. Turns out, I can draw. I consider my drawings far, far from good, but if I do a quick sketch of the Ferry Building while I'm waiting for the bus, then show it to someone who knows what the Ferry Building looks like, they can actually recognize it. And I just like knowing that I can, in fact, draw, however badly.

So, do something that's fun and do something to learn, and commit yourself to not worrying about whether it's any good for at least a year. By then, you'll know what's fun, and you'll have some experience with how rewarding it is to learn creative skills, whether or not they're the "right" ones for your current muse.
posted by kristi at 4:12 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron.

The spiritual stuff in the book gives me the willies, but the course (which you put yourself through via the book) is stellar.
posted by lottie at 5:11 PM on September 17, 2008

Response by poster: @carbide: Here are a few of my unfinished story ideas:

1. A slacker college student decides to go to a fictional Third World country to instigate a coup and become the president.

2. A senator hires a political consultant to help him with his dating life.

3. Two men are on a train. One is dying, the other is immortal.

I've got these ideas for stories, but they never turn out well.

I appreciate the feedback in this thread. I think maybe I'll just write these stories, no matter how crappy they turn out.
posted by reenum at 3:54 AM on September 18, 2008

Best answer: just a couple of ideas:

your question seemed to focus on the arts, but there are lot's of other ways to be creative, and I've been finding them more motivating and focusing in some ways. I've recently been enjoying applying creativity to improving my life , self help therapies and learning to think. There's also things like product design, starting a small business etc.

Maybe instead of an 'art form' you need a project that can pull together various skills, like having an idea for a business/self help group/play, testing and evaluating it, marketing and doing the website. Or something entirely different.

I like Edward de Bono's books on creativity. Have read some of "How to be more interesting, which is actually about becoming more creative in discussing ideas with people. Serious creativity is according to wikipedia a good summary of his ideas on creativity.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:16 AM on September 18, 2008

I wasn't going to respond at first, because finding what outlet one "should" use for creativity boils simply down to "just try stuff," and some people already said that. But then it looked like your question really was "well, I tried writing, and it's what I want to do, but it don't seem to be working, so now what?"

And I got to this:

I've got these ideas for stories, but they never turn out well.

I appreciate the feedback in this thread. I think maybe I'll just write these stories, no matter how crappy they turn out.

Writing these stories is indeed exactly what you need to do. Every writer has a ton of ideas for stories that they start and then about five pages in they think "well, this is crap" and they shove it in a drawer. But that doesn't mean their creativity is stunted or that they should be doing metalwork instead or something. it just means either the idea isn't finished cooking yet, or it was just some crap you had to put down on paper to get it out of the way so you could go on to the next idea.

Another writer came up with an observation once -- that these half-finished and maybe never-finished ideas were like leaf litter on the forest floor. You need a lot of decaying organic matter on the forest floor to nuture and nourish the new plants coming up, and even some of those new seedlings that sprout don't make it and they also join the leaf litter on the forest floor and nurture the seedlings that do make it. The more crap you've got on the forest floor, the stronger the trees that actually do make it. If you vacuumed up all the dead leaves out of the forest, next year's seedlings would be pretty sickly because the soil wouldn't be as rich. Maybe, she proposed, the half-baked stories you start but never finish are like that -- they're compost for the good ideas.

And also -- who knows, if you write those stories now and they're crap, and you hang onto them anyway, and you keep trying to write, maybe five years from now after you've been writing and playing around with things and learning and reading and practicing your craft, maybe you'll stumble upon one of those "crap" stories and read it and suddenly think, "...Oh, wait, I know how to fix this now" and then you can rewrite it and do it better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on September 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

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