[This is part 6 in the ongoing Fuck the Muse mini-series.]
It’s always useful to remember where you are in the overall creative process. Here’s a refresher:
- 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.
We’re still following up on Step 2, which we started last week by compiling our curiosity shopping lists. We need to push out from our seed in every direction, and the list is there to help guide us.
Now it’s time to go shopping.
Surround Yourself with Material
The goal of this phase is to collect all the material you might possibly need to create your piece. It doesn’t matter what genre or medium you will use at the end, right now you want everything. You are building your shitty pile of shit that will get organized into a draft down the road.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.
— Mark Twain
You need to fill your head (and your notebook) with possibilities. You need to start understanding the world you are creating — not by thinking about it, but by surrounding yourself with it. Your creative mind works by copying, transforming, & combining — so the more ideas you put into your head, the more you can get out when it’s time.
Research » Steal » Create
The first instinct of most artists is to sit down with a blank paper and stare at it until the muse strikes. Fuck the muse. Start with material that already exists. Use your shopping list as a guide and follow your curiosity. Explore your list of "things that will inspire you" — use Wikipedia and Google to follow one hyperlinked thought to the next, and add more inspirations to your list.
When you read/see/hear something you like, take it. Clip it out of an article, take a photo, make a playlist, or just take notes. When ideas start to merge and you are inspired to say something, then say it.
Ebb and flow with the cycles of research, theft, and creation. Let your inspiration drive you back and forth between exploring what’s there, and creating what isn’t. If research isn’t working, make shit up. If you can’t think of anything to make, find something to steal.
Following up on my list from last week, I spent time reading about Hermaphroditus & Mother Clapp. I started to see patterns around social gatherings, betrayal, and water. I copied and pasted large sections of pro-anorexia websites, wrote down important lines from Lou Reed songs, and wrote about my own memories of body and sexual experience. I even pulled from old email conversations that seemed relevant.
I used NaNoWriMo to get through this phase with a massive pile of 50,000 shitty words, along with a number of images and songs. Some are stolen, and some are my own, but all of them will be useful when I come back to start drafting.
Checking it Twice
Look back at your list. focus on researching the "things that will inspire you," and stealing or creating the "things that need to be gathered" so you can cross them off your list. Add to the list if you realize something is missing, but focus on exploring each item in extreme detail, and following where it takes you.
There are several interesting tools you can use to help push you along when you get stuck — both as a solo artist and in collaborative settings. I’ll go into more detail on some of those next week.
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"…
We think of creativity as sudden, sexy, inexplicable moments of inspiration — ignoring the hard work that makes those moments possible.