When Inspiration Is Lost

Every artist faces it. That elusive idea disappears, even for the most disciplined, practiced creative. Then what?

It’s impossible to think that a human being can sit everyday and create, pushing beyond the day before, every single day.

I have seasons – we all do. Seasons of writing, seasons of exploring and experimenting, seasons of making and refining, and seasons of letting ideas fester and pester.

If you were too look through conversations with my critique partner, you’d see surges of messages with process photos and questions and “Can you focus on XYZ while critiquing? I am really thinking that my (fill in the skill) is improving/needs work/help because I don’t know what the heck is going on and I think I might be the worst artist ever!” Followed by, “AM I EVEN AN ARTIST?” (You’ve thought it too – I know you have!) And then, you’d see stretches of time where nothing seems to be happening. Maybe we share some photos of art we like from other people, or that we are feeling a bit jealous of. Maybe we are just talking about our day or our kids, or work, or whatever – but it’s guaranteed that these conversations flip into something to do with art, and then we’re back on the hamster wheel again, chasing our dreams of working full time as artists. Of course, we work our butts off, but there are always going to be seasons of rest, reflection, and idea gathering.

I don’t like to get very comfortable in that. 

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Isn’t this true, for Creatives especially?

In fact, if it’s been a week and I haven’t drawn, painted or written, I start to panic. Lately, if I don’t do one of those things every day (sometimes twice a day), I start to panic. This is the addiction of creativity. Can you relate?

So when I feel I’m out of ideas, lately I’ve been heading to Pinterest. 

I do a search for something simple. It’s usually: “Faces.” Or, “Kid’s Faces.” If there’s something I want to be working on, but I can’t seem to figure out, I’ll search for something about that. For example, “Gypsy Kids.”

And then I am blasted with gorgeous photographs, so filled up with character that I set right to work sketching. I aim to fill a page with faces, not spending too long on any of them. I do my best to work directly from the screen into my sketchbook, filtering it into my preferred illustration style.

There are times I look through photos from my Facebook friends, too. Some of their kids are too hilarious and the perfect jumping off point for my sketch practice.

My end game here is to just be drawing. To be in the art. To not sit and stare and feel like an unproductive failure. Of course, there are times when sitting and staring is perfectly acceptable. But lately, I need a product to push me forward.

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This is the digital sketch, after the sketchbook playing based on some Pinterest searches. After this, I painted it. I love this character. But this is just the start for her. This process – this work – has led me to a place of inspiration, and I will be able to work away on who she is and what her story is, now that I have a fully realized portrait of her. Inspiration doesn’t have to come at the start.

In progress …

The final render of Library Girl (as I am currently calling her).

The best part of this quick sketching is that there are the odd sketches which make their way into my subconscious, and I find myself thinking about them throughout the day. This turns into wonders, which turns into more sketching, and often times writing.

Really, this turns into inspiration.

I can’t remember when or where I heard it, but the essence of what somebody said stuck with me. Not so much in these words, although these words may be close: Inspiration is fleeting. You have to work even when the muse isn’t showing up.

Library Girl

You can find me in the studio most mornings, from 5-6am, with a coffee and a candle and a hand toiling away on something that is just for me – my passion projects. And then, you can usually find me here at night, working on something for a client or for a big project or for my passion projects, when they just won’t let one hour a day be enough. (Side note: If you don’t know me, or anything about me, then you should know that I am a full time elementary school teacher and dad of 2! Read about my work habits here.)

This is discipline. This is practice, habit and routine.

What do you do when inspiration is lost? You keep going. (But … what do YOU do?)

 

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Create To Create

Note to self: you’ve got to create in order to create more; in order to create better. 

They say you’ve got to spend money to make money.

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My journals and sketchbooks sit open and available every day. 

Well.
I think you’ve got to spend creativity to make creativity.

Friends, there is no end to the creating and ideas and amazing possibilities that you can make. Creativity doesn’t run dry, it doesn’t go away, it doesn’t stop – unless you do.

Don’t make time to paint? It will be harder the next time you get to it.

Don’t have time to write? That novel will remain a slight idea in your head until it shrivels up and dies a sad, slow, painful death. When you decide to write again, it’s not going to be easier than it was before.

No time to practice an instrument? You get the point.

You’ve got to create if you want to create. You’ve got to pump the well.

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A solid reminder – JUST create!

Creativity shows up when you do.

So show up. 

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This is where I show up.

 

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When Your Writing Doesn’t Seem Like Writing

I’ve been writing for many years. I always loved it in school, but in University I started taking it more seriously. You know, by writing picture books. I also wanted to write kid’s novels a la Roald Dahl, but the Roald Dahl “ness” never flowed. This is important – I am not RD, I am PG.

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Roald Dahl in his writing hut. Click the photo for an awesome article on this hut!

So my novels, yet unpublished and so far, and most of them highly unpublishable (as Neil Gaiman might say, they are packed away in the attic where no other eyes will see them), have been dark, fairytale-esque stories with kid heroes. I generally tend to believe that adults are the worst. These books take so much work and I love it, even when it’s not flowing well.

I am currently working on one that I am VERY excited about. I have been balancing my teaching life and parenting and husbanding life with being a visual artist, some picture book manuscripts and the illustration plans, with this novel. I am moving slowly on it in order to fit everything else in, but more importantly, to give myself the time to reflect on where it is.

This morning I promised myself I would write, from 5-6am, and that I would wrap up a chapter I started on Monday.

But on Monday, I wrote myself into a corner.

You see, I have a loose plan for the story. I have a tight plan for the next 2 chapters. And I know my characters and I know my plot and I have the setting nailed down. The voice is flowing and the plot twists are juicy.

But … I wrote myself into a corner.

Because, writing from point A to point B doesn’t always make for good reading. One of the key ideas I have garnered from Emma Coats’ 22 Rules of Storytelling, according to Pixar, is to never hand anything to your characters; coincidence can only lead to another problem. (Today, I was thinking a lot about rules #2, 12 and 19.)

While I knew where I needed to go in the story, I didn’t know how to get there.

That means this morning, my writing didn’t look like writing.

14976578_1015516775226335_6882984473210170025_oIt looked like me, sitting in the almost-dark, with a sad baby (he was gassy and couldn’t sleep), thinking.

It looked like me, in silence, with no music or TV or computer. No words in front of me. Nothing.

I ran through the scene in my head. Changing anything to date would mean making it too easy on those characters. That would mean a boring story.

So I started thinking of every possibility. There was a piece missing somewhere, to bridge the scenes. I played through the scene again, like a movie in my head, and I thought and thought and thought. I played many different versions.

And yet, my writing still looked like I was hanging out on the couch, cuddling a sad baby.

Finally, a simple line of dialogue came to me. It was four words.

There were plot holes still, but there was at least something to work with.

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Wise words from Neil Gaiman. The man’s a genius. Sometimes, writing as only you can includes playing it all out on the couch or in the car. It still counts!

So I finally took out my phone, and opened my notes app and jotted down the dialogue. I made some notes on what to do with it – where to go in and fill a plot hole in a prior scene; listing some wonders about things I had written that maybe meant something other than what I first thought.

I can now move to the rest of the scene, that was planned and ready to be written. It’s an intense, crazy, juicy one. It is going to throw off the readers and pick up the pace. And I knew I could get there, but I couldn’t get there by writing down the words yet.

Writing is a messy business. I firmly believe that if it isn’t messy and challenging and hard and sometimes even frustrating and other times joy-filled – if it isn’t those things, then the writing isn’t being done properly, or well.

When your writing looks like everything other than words on a page, it is okay.

When it looks like sitting on the couch, or cutting the grass, or drawing some pictures, or going for a run (yeah, I don’t do that) – it can still be writing.

We can’t work out every issue, flaw, plot-hole or scene-problem with words right away.

Writing doesn’t need to be writing every time: thinking is a part of writing. 

 

Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website – you can even sign up for my newsletter there! You can email me at patrick@patrickg.ca. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!