Starting from a Seed
[This is part 4 in the ongoing Fuck the Muse mini-series.]
"What’s the driving force behind this project?"
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.
A Range of Specimen
- Formulate a question
- Do background research
- Construct a hypothesis
Simon Sinek starts his projects with "why" then "how" and finally "what" - statements of belief, values, and finally product.
Anne Bogart covers similar territory with her three-part seed:
- What is the question that motivates the piece?
- Who or what is the anchor through which we explore the question?
- What is the structure of our exploration?
These are all variations on finding a seed. It doesn’t have to be a formal process, but it helps to know more-or-less what you need in order to move forward.
My seeds usually start with a single idea floating around in my mind until other ideas attach themselves. Once the parts begin to gel, I know it’s time to pay closer attention. In the end, I have a list similar to Anne’s before I move to the next step.
A Seed of My Own
One of my current projects-in-development started with a quote I found on the internet (from The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz):
We name and speak of a troublesome ‘transsexualism,’ the feeling of being the other sex… We do not name and talk much about the feeling of being the same sex—the sex we think we are, the sex most of us desire to stay. But does not our feeling relatively comfortable with our sex, and our intense desire to maintain the integrity of our sex, indicate something that needs to be explained?
I combined that with an article describing the science of out-of-body experience. It raised some questions for me:
- How do we relate to these bodies we live in?
- What does it mean to identify with a body, let alone a sex or gender?
- How are trauma and memory involved?
The fragmented & unreliable nature of memory inspired a structure: note cards, each written as a fragment of memory, and then shuffled before reading.
The anchor is a mashup of several existing characters and places taken from history, mythology and song: The transformation of Hermaphroditus, Mother Clap‘s 18th-century Molly Houses, and the songs of Tom Waits & Lou Reed.
The goal isn’t to do it exactly the way I do it, or the way LIDA, Anne Bogart, or Simon Sinek do it. The goal is to know what you need, and then pay attention to how you get there.
De-mystify the process, then learn to repeat it.
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?
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"…
We think of creativity as sudden, sexy, inexplicable moments of inspiration — ignoring the hard work that makes those moments possible.