Fuck The Muse
The goal is simple:
Take control of your art by focusing on the process of creation.
I’ve been told that you can’t teach creativity, but I disagree. We think of creativity as sudden, sexy, inexplicable moments of inspiration — ignoring the hard work that makes those moments possible. You can’t learn to be inspired, but you can learn to hunt down inspiration, kill it, and tan the hide.
The Art of Control
Taking control of your art isn’t a matter of brute force. You have to let go, explore, take risks, and throw yourself off-balance. A good process will give you that freedom, while nudging you in the right direction.
- Ease the burden of originality. The pressure to be unique and interesting can paralyze you. Don’t try to be interesting. Set up the conditions, and make sure you capture the results.
- Do the unthinkable. The only way to create something beyond imagining is to explore outside your own imagination. Let the process take you there.
- Make informed decisions. Stepping back from the work allows you to see it more clearly. Once you have all the options in front of you, you can see what works and what doesn’t.
- Put your strengths (and weaknesses) to use. Measure your skills against each step of the process. Learn what you can count on, where you need training or practice, and how to turn your flaws into assets along the way.
I break the creative process down into five major steps. We’ll look at each one in it’s own post:
- Define the Seed: What’s the idea, question, or hypothesis?
- Explore: Reasearch, gather, and create the materials.
- Organize: Outline the structure, or impose one.
- Draft: Compile a complete first draft.
- Revise: Consider, critique, and edit as needed.
There’s more than one way to skin the walrus, and each project will call for unique adjustments, but the same basic tools are needed to create genre fiction, absurdest drama, lyric poetry, or conceptual installation art.
This isn’t paint-by-numbers — it’s a toolkit and a way of thinking. What you do with it is up to you.
Credit Where Due
My approach is influenced most heavily by Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, Chuck Mee’s (re)making project, The LIDA Project‘s "bucketing", Lean and Agile web development, standard graphic design processes, scientific method, Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, Don Fry’s Writing Your Way, queer theory, and many years of working with ensemble theatres and bands.
Related ‘fuck the muse’ Articles
Fuck the Muse pt.7: Sometimes you have a great idea for a project, or one aspect of a project, and you throw everything at it, but the idea turns out to be a dud. You can’t ditch the project after putting so much into it, but neither can you force it through. The only way forward is to take a step back.
Fuck the Muse pt.5: Now that you have a seed worth exploring, you are ready for step 2 of the creative process. The goal of this phase is explosive growth, following your curiosity out from the seed in every direction. What is the content? What materials will you need to build this artwork? What already exists, and what will you need to build? What will be your inspirations? What will be your constraints?
You can’t start working until you know what you are working towards. That doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, it means knowing the questions that will guide you. I refer to those guiding questions as the "seed" of a project.
Cycles have become the core of my creative process. Thinking in cycles means I always know where I am and where I’m going, even when I feel overwhelmed by the size of a project. If I’m stuck, it’s time for a new mindset. If my last move was to zig, my next move is to zag.
Kirby Ferguson argues that the three basic techniques of remixing (copy, transform, combine) form the foundation of all creative process. He refers to these techniques as the "Elements of Creativity"…