Maybe this is you: you want to draw (or write a story, any kind of creative thing, really) but you can’t get started because you have literally no ideas.
Or, that might sound totally crazy to you. You could start anywhere – and if you’re really struggling, you could always start with what’s right in front of you. In either case, talking to someone on the other side of this issue can feel a little surreal. Some people don’t understand this type of block at all, while others get paralyzed by it.
For what it’s worth, I’m in the get-completely-paralyzed camp. The best suggestion that I used to hear was to do the work anyway, and I promise I’ve tried that. If it works for you, great, but when I try it I tend to get pages and pages of uninspired doodling or notes about my grocery list. And that can be useful sometimes – I absolutely love doodling and freewriting on their own merits – but for me they don’t tend to lead directly to finished work.
So, I sit around waiting for lightning to strike, and occasionally it does.
Fully formed ideas interrupt my plans or even wake me up in the middle of the night. Something like this painting of the muses (cropped for detail above), which started with a feeling that maybe I should draw the muses as Greek statues in front of a rainbow wash of color. That’s what I expect an idea to feel like, and it’s exciting and I love it when it does – but it might only happen once or twice a year. In the meantime I get bored and frustrated and certainly don’t spend a lot of time developing my business and skills.
Recently, though, I got a tip that actually makes sense to me: watch out for half ideas.
You know, things that pass through your mind and grab your attention for no known reason, like a memory or a daydream, a bit of a night-time dream or even a sensation in your body. Even a quarter of an idea is better than nothing. They can be a bit hard to notice at first, and actually, this is a great thing to journal about because the more you practice watching for them, the more you’ll catch.
For me, most recently, it was a bit of color. I caught myself imagining a splash of bright pink ink, which reminded me that I’ve been curious about playing with spray inks. So I checked some out at the store, and there happened to be a pair of red and pink inks, which is a weird favorite pairing of mind. I was able to buy it, so that’s now on my desk, and next time I feel blocked I can pick it up and start with some experiments.
Of course, you don’t have to spend any money. I could have started with that half an idea and worked with a splash of watercolor, or even thrown some water at a marker sketch. Maybe my first experiments will turn into a finished piece, or maybe the shape of the blobs will inspire a drawing once I get over this initial resistance and actually engage in making something.
The magic of this process is that you have a place to start, but literally no idea where it might end up.