Turning the creative spark into a fire.
July 2, 2010 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Maintaining a train of thought in creative work.

I get ideas fairly often. My most recent was sparked by a certain set of influences and I was off! I immediately poured myself into creating it. 12 days later and 58 revisions in, it's an alllright product. Nothing brilliant and there's a trillion polishing things left to do (as always). But the problem is the fundamentals still need work but my inspiration has left me, I'm not perfectly sure in what direction I need to proceed.

Have I hit my education wall? Do I accept that the easy part is over and I have to trial and error my way to the end? Should I ask for input from peers? What do you do when you lose your plan?
posted by Submiqent to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Put it in a drawer, move on to the next project, and come back to it in six months to a year. You'll have a fresh perspective, and since you won't be so attached to the original idea anymore, you'll feel much more free to play around in what you've already made.
posted by interrobang at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2010

As with all creative endeavours, it's mostly about work. That wonderful initial part is the easy part. There's actually quite a bit of truth in that platitude about genius and 99% perspiration. How do you slog on when the inspired part is over and the work starts? Well, if you've studied a lot of the fundamentals of your craft, sometimes it's good to go back and start there (like my composition teachers told me - theory isn't for when your being creative and inspired and writing music, it's for when you get stuck and don't know which way to go next).

I always think about David Foster Wallace when it comes to this type of thing. He used to say that he wasn't that smart (which is obviously not true, but he was ever the humble midwesterner) and that he just worked really hard. He used to emphasize that a lot, in his self-conscious way, because it's so true, even for the greatest artists such as himself.

IME, when it gets really frustrating, just put it away for awhile (at least a day) and then go back to it. Ray Bradbury writes a draft of a novel and then sticks it in a drawer for a year before he goes back to it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

or, what interrobang said.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2010

Amplifying what was said above, I would also add that exposing a product to critique can re-light the creative fires. If you're lucky, your critic will have some genuinely helpful guidance, but that may matter less than you might think. I find that when someone picks apart my creative output, they awaken a strange, fiercely competitive creature in my brain, which opens a cold eye, slithers out and takes over production for a while. I'll show them, it thinks. Idiots. Just you wait. Eventually it gets bored and sleepy and goes back into hibernation, but while it's around it does pretty good work.
posted by itstheclamsname at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2010

Experiencing plateaus is a natural part - an an important part - of the creative process. George Leonard, in his book "Mastery" describes three basic types that we often fall into: the Dabbler, the Obsessive & the Hacker. Each one fades away from achieving their goals in different ways. The master, stays on the path via diligence and recognizing that climaxes in creative inspiration are only part of the story. The key to completing something is in practice and diligence during the plateaus or lulls of inspiration and in enjoying the practice of doing.
posted by rocco at 1:35 PM on July 2, 2010

12 days later and 58 revisions in, it's an alllright product.


Is that hyperbole? I hope it is! How are you counting the number of revisions?

It sounds like you're revising too much, too soon. It also sounds like you might need a second pair of eyes to give you some solid critique before you start revising. My creative process is something like:
  1. Draft, generally straight through without stopping, for however long it takes.
  2. Quick revision for sentence-level issues, taking notes for larger changes that need to be made.
  3. Make those pressing, larger changes.
  4. Send it to other people to read and don't touch it until I hear back from them. Start a new project in the interrim.
  5. Sit down with their feedback, read, absorb.
  6. Reread the MS, noting what changes you want to make.
  7. Final draft
Resist the urge to play with a manuscript constantly and endlessly. That kind of obsessive dickering really doesn't do your writing any favors, I've found.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:01 PM on July 2, 2010

I think controlling one's creative process is essentially the most difficult and most important thing, when aspiring for excellent pieces of arts.

1) That you notice the issue means that you are making progress to a new territory already

2) It's all about learning to play games with yourself. Different artists have different ways to get themselves back into a flow. Thus, give yourself some time to yourself. Changing oneself is always challenging.

3) Practice controlling your process better:

- Read about "flow" and how to control it. M. Csikszentmihalyi is the most important academic writer in that front.

- Test yourself while you work. Learn to know when you return to the flow by "working your way through the desert" and when it is better to have a fresh start. Are there any other tools for you to set you back into a creative state such as taking a nap or going for jogging, working with another project in between etc. When do you need strict 45 min. working sessions with 15 min. break, and when it is more beneficial to mess up your sleeping pattern for getting out of the loop.

- Read what other people suggest. There are tons of methods: Keith Johnstone, Zen, K. Werner...

- Face the fact that controlling a long creative process is like running a Marathon: It is always a difficult challenge, it's all about experience, it almost always contain some difficult spots, and you should start striving for it by first getting accustomed to shorter distances.

- Stay graceful, as it's only about your feelings. It does not tell anything about your potential skills or abilities as an artist.

posted by Doggiebreath at 4:24 PM on July 2, 2010

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