Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My creative process

I'm always fascinated to read about how other people do creative work. Everyone seems to have their own unique process; oftentimes, a person's work style is highly evident in their creative output, or it reflects their personality, or both.
My work style is almost more an expression of my personality than the things I produce are. It's simple and difficult, just like me.

My creative process can be summed up fairly easily:

1. Work
2. Do not think about any of the things on the forbidden thoughts list.

1. Work
In order to accomplish step one, I have to do things.
This is frequently a lot harder than it sounds. I often dread getting started on new projects for some reason, especially new choreographies. I also have trouble maintaining creative inertia with projects after the initial phase, especially with craft projects.
However, if I force myself to work, it works. There isn't a whole lot else I can say about it. I essentially agree with Yoda; there is no try.
I don't usually do any planning for creative projects unless planning is absolutely and completely necessary. When doing choreography, all I do to prepare is listen to the music over and over again. When making a new costume, I only think about the structural elements ahead of time; none of the decoration is preconsidered. I only outlined plot elements for maybe ten percent of my novel.
Whenever I can, I improvise everything. If I start to think ahead, I get mired in the thoughts from my forbidden thoughts list. I have to start working and let things emerge unfiltered, even if they are really, really horrible and worthless, and then slowly work on cultivating them into something I actually like.
Moreover, I can't understand what I want to do until I actually start doing it. If I attach myself to a preconceived notion of how I want a project to go, it does not work. I can never accurately predict what I will encounter over the course of a creative project; if I tried to force myself to stick to a plan, I'd have to ignore all the factors I didn't anticipate. The few times I've tried to work this way, the final result has seemed contrived and mechanical.

I recently read Daniel Raeburn's interview with Chris Ware (which you can read for free at Raeburn's website) and found out that Ware works pretty much the same way I do:
"Most cartoonists plan their strips ahead of time by preparing thumbnail sketches or a script. Chris, however, insists on ignorance. Every week he takes a white sheet of Bristol board, a blue pencil, and begins drawing in the upper left-hand corner of the page with no real idea how he will end the strip. Basically he makes up everything as he goes. Although Chris is careful to add that he usually has a vague idea of what is going to happen in each week’s strip—and that he knows how he will end the entire novel—unknowing is still the basic way he works.
'Just start writing,' he said by way of explaining his output. 'That’s what writing is. Writing and drawing are thinking. We’re told in school that they’re skills but that’s wrong. Drawing is a way of thinking. It’s a way of seeing. That’s why my way is improvisatory for the most part. I may have a vague idea for the week’s strip, but I personally couldn’t write out a script ahead of time and then illustrate it. If I did that, I’d just be illustrating a vaguely-imagined and quickly thought-out thing. When I draw a picture it always suggests a number of possibilities that I never would have thought of if I was merely writing out a script.'"

For those of you who have never read Ware's work, he is known (among other things) for his extremely clean, precise drawing style; his illustrations are perfectly balanced, providing enough detail to convey subtle nuances but never so much detail as to distract the reader from the story. Apparently these economical, spare illustrations begin their lives as intuitive scribbles on bristol board.
(OMG SOOO AMAZING! I can barely stand it.)

The only other aspect of my process involves what I do not allow myself to do; more specifically, what I do not allow myself to think.

2. Forbidden Thoughts Which Must Be Avoided (You Will Think Them But When You Hear The Thoughts Don't Listen)

"Is this good?"
"Will anyone like this?"
"I suck at this"
"Actually I suck at everything"
"yeah omg I really suck at life in general"
"This is probably too weird/obscure/personal/normal/cliche/overdone/pedestrian/intellectual/..."
"No one is ever going to read this shit anyway."
"I'm probably wasting my time"
"What is the point?"
"Ugh, no, this sucks, I better throw everything out and start over"
"Oh man, really, this sucks so bad I should probably just give up entirely"
"No one is going to think this is interesting"
"Oh shit, what would my parents think if they saw this?"
"I don't have any right to be doing this. Who do I think I am?"
"I'm not a dancer/writer/artist/whatever. I am really not anything except a loser, because I suck so bad at everything."
"I'll never make money doing this"
"Everyone is going to think I'm a freak"

and finally
"What could I do that would make people think I'm cool?"
NO ONE SHOULD EVER ASK THEMSELVES THIS. Trying to be cool is not cool. Trying to be cool just makes you anxious and sweaty, and that is the opposite of cool. Do whatever you can to stop caring about being cool. It's a losing battle.

In any case, the bottom line for me is do, don't think. I try to think as little as possible about my projects until I am done with the first draft or version. Even during the revision process I try to avoid value judgments and thinking about coolness or lack thereof at all costs-- instead, I try to ask myself questions along the following lines:

Am I interested in this?
Do I feel like it "works"?
What could I do to make this more of what it wants to be or to make it work better?
What parts are unnecessary?
What parts are missing?

Then I have to resist the urge to hide everything that I do or make because it might not be awesome and make people think that I'm cool.

That is all.

It works pretty well for me.

1 comment:

  1. You just basically described my dissertation process. You can't think about it, ironically; you just have to do it.