I used to under-estimate the power of the draft. I do not mean the NFL kind of draft. I mean the first-start-of-a-project-but-nothing-like-the-finished-product-draft.
Over the past month and a half, I have completed a lot of writing projects. Some were writing video scripts. Others involved a complete revamp of procedures and processes for Communications/Media. Somewhere in all my writing, I figured out that if I just got something down on paper, I could worry about making it better later. All I needed was something with which to start.
Shortly after that realization, I started to speed through my project list! The amazing tool enabling this jump in production? The simple draft.
When I was younger, I thought drafting was a waste of time and creative-juice. Why write, sew, paint, draw, etc., multiple times when I could do it once and be finished? This assumption followed me into college where I spent hours in front of the computer, writing my papers. After staring a blank page, a moment of inspiration would hit and carry me for a spell. And so it would go, until my paper was finished. But honestly, they all needed editing anyway, so how much time did I really save?
A draft is simply that. A draft. It is the embryonic stage of an idea. It is the part where you start fleshing out what works and what does not. What you really want to communicate. Then, it becomes the start of a blueprint for the finished piece. You always make the draft better.
You always make the draft better. That is key. What is an idea, but a tenuous thought? A draft makes that thought tangible and malleable. Because it can be “touched,” it can be molded. It can be reshaped. From there, it can be birthed into completion and perfection.
Do not underestimate the power of the draft. Remember, the only thing that cannot be improved is nothing.
Every artist must answer the question: “Why?”
Why do you create what you create? Why do you do what you do?
Every successful artist has answered this question: Jonathan Adler creates his unique home décor with the adage of “happy chic.” Thomas Kinkade sought to “share the light” with his paintings and his faith. So why do you create?
I had to re-answer this question last week. In the middle of a routine project, the announcement of another change in our department and organization shook me to the core. It was all I could do to show up at work the following morning—and the morning after that, and that. After spending a half hour ranting about the situation, I had to rediscover the reason behind the “why’s” I was asking myself. Doing so has given me the incentive to push through the changes in my life and workplace, and to keep creating.
Your answer to “why” does not need to be a world-changing stunner (re: Jonathan Adler’s reason). But it does need to satisfy you. If you never answer “why,” you’ll never create art makes a difference.
This past Friday, I finished the last installment of the Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I promise, no spoilers. That said, throughout the whole story I had this peevish sense that something was…off. Robo noticed it first. He said my whole mood turned when I started reading the series. Perhaps it had something to do with the violent atmosphere of the story?
All great storytellers ask a question in their story. It’s the question that you, the listener, must answer for yourself if you’re to move on after finishing the tale. In my previous post, I argued that the same is true for great art. If great art gives us the framework to understand and appreciate the struggle of life, then stories give us questions about how to apply that framework.
Orson Scott Card does this beautifully throughout his Ender Quartet. The ethical dilemmas are enough to make your head spin with wonder. Clifford Simak asks what it means to be human in his tantalizing short-story collection, Skirmish. Even stories within the biblical account demand we question our own character when faced with similar circumstances: would we murder a man after also committing adultery? Would we defy government in favor of obeying only God?
Jeff Goins made this point in a powerful post about the thin line between art and entertainment:
“Entertainment makes us feel good…art, on the other hand, transforms us.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good piece of entertainment. There are days when I just want to escape and feel good. But in my own work, I desire to produce art that transforms, not only entertains.
When I finished the last word of the epilogue to “Mockingjay” on Friday, I finally figured out what had bugged me throughout all three books: out of all the violence, corruption, and betrayal throughout the series, never once did I feel like I was asked a question to shape my life.
What questions does your art ask? How does your work shape another’s life?
A month ago, I was in Las Vegas, NV, for NAB 2012. The video-geek in me was tickled. Camera rigs from Jag35. New EOS cinema cameras from Canon (*dies*). That incredible presentation at the Adobe booth from the guys at Cantina Creative on the special effects they created for the then-yet-released Avengers movie (*dies again*). Yet of all the goodies and new toys, the thing that impact me the most was from the NAB Bookstore.
When I picked up “So You’re a Creative Genius; Now What?” by Carl King, I knew I needed to read the book. It was the same feeling when I first picked up “What They Don’t Teach You In Film School,” by Camilla Landau. I bought a copy, and proceeded to stay up the entire red-eye home. Carl’s wisdom can be basically summed up like this: It’s okay to be brilliant, and here’s how to stay out of your own way. I won’t go into the details here, because Carl said it much better. But I do want to camp out on one point: It’s okay to be brilliant.
I say this because I have to remind myself of this. When I was a kid, I was the smart one. I had no problem lecturing adults on the adverse effects of non-organic peanut butter. At age eight, I played my parents and my uncles and aunts at Trivial Pursuit and held my own. I became a prolific writer and soon my bookshelf was lined with spiral bound notebooks filled with ideas and stories. But somewhere along the way, after hearing too many variations of the phrases, “You need to let others answer questions first” and “Don’t show off,” I began to shut up. And in the process I stopped trusting my ability.
I hit rock bottom at the age of twenty-one, unsure of what I wanted in life, not knowing what I liked or who I wanted to be. I was depressed for a year, the brunt of it culminating around Christmas when I dove headfirst into a world of 1930’s jazz music, Star Wars marathons (for the record, I can’t stand Star Wars) and no socializing. I know, weird mix.
The way out was slow. Over the past 6 years, I rediscovered who I was, and what I liked, and what I wanted to do with my life. But that rediscovery was not without learning to trust myself again. And regaining the confidence to be brilliant, just as God made me to be.
In his book, Carl talks about four archetypes: The Artist, The Businessman, The Magician and The Fool. We all start as The Fool. Somewhere, we may end up as The Artist or The Businessman. Both have their pros and cons. Both have bad habits and good habits. When most people arrive at either The Artist or The Businessman, they tend to stay put. But the real one to try to be is The Magician. These are the people who truly do something amazing.
Adobe just released the results of the “State of Create” Study, and the results are shocking. Paraphrased from the opening paragraph on Adobe’s release page:
Eight out of ten people believe that unlocking creative potential is critical to economic growth. Two thirds say creativity is valuable to society. Yet only one in four people believe they’re living up to their creative potential.
Did you read that? One in FOUR people feel like they’re creative enough.
How many times have you been told, “Give it a rest”? It’s okay to be brilliant. Ever been told, “You’ll just overshadow everybody else”? It’s okay to be brilliant. What about that line you whisper to yourself as you hover the results of your latest creative endeavor over the trash bin, “I’m not good enough”? It’s okay to be brilliant.
Everybody else may not know you’re brilliant. That’s okay. Believe it about yourself. Because one in four people in this world aren’t living up to their creative potential. Because we need more Magicians.
The first piece of handmade work I ever sold was a crochet beret. Friends of my parents owned a bed and breakfast. One weekend, they intended to have a mini-craft fair. Knowing my family was full of creative ideas, they asked us to submit some of our work. Mom sent in a couple of her braided rugs. My sister offered her needlepoint cases. I made some crochet hats based off of one I created for myself.
But…I didn’t have a lot of time to make them, so I hurried. It’s not that I cut corners on purpose. I just didn’t pay attention to detail like I did when I made mine. So my stitching wasn’t even. The band didn’t stretch properly. Still, I didn’t think too much of it. Until I saw my first buyer place his hat on his head. He thought it was great. But to my regret, I thought it looked like a limp pancake, barely covering his hair. I had eight bucks in my hand, and rock in my stomach.
Lesson learned: paying attention to your work, no matter what you create, is important. Craftsmanship is not just something valued by the new owner of your work. It’s also required by you.