Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Creative Boundaries: A Way to Decide What to Make or Write Next


(See what I did with this frame here?)

I'm not sure how to begin this post, but that's my problem. I struggle with being indecisive about what to start and how to start it. I think there are two reasons people might get into this state: either being too picky or too open-minded. 

If you're too picky, you don't like any idea, or maybe you've internalized a feeling of judgment from other people, so you can shoot down any idea based on the certainty that it will be despised by the entire world, thus leading to your total ostracism from society, and the ruination of the entire rest of your life. Or something like that. This is a perfectionism issue that can be really damaging to you, so it's important to challenge these beliefs. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and there's no way to create something that everyone will like. If there's nothing that you like, there's a chance that your expectations are too high. There's also a chance that your mental state is edging into the territory where you should seek a medical professional to guide you back toward happiness.

If you're too open-minded, you like so many ideas, approaches, media, styles, topics, lengths, sizes, shapes, textures, moods, genres, and so on, forever, that it can be hard to even know what to expect from your own personality on a given day, let alone pick a damn project.

Believe it or not, I have the sort of super-fun mind that has experienced both of these ways to become indecisive, but it's almost always the second one for me. There are some things I definitely don't like and don't want to try, but I feel like there are more things I do like and do want to try. I waste a lot of energy on envying people who have more clarity and focus about what they want to create. People who wake up every day knowing that they only want to write far-future science fiction novels, or only want to do pop surrealist paintings on 20" x 20" slabs of concrete with acrylic paint, or only want to sew vintage-style dresses made entirely of food products to model in selfies on Instagram. 

I feel like I shouldn't complain about having a wide array of options (although I have to admit the "sewing with food" thing is not one of them), but I feel overwhelmed a lot. Especially when my mind-monkeys start in with their garbage about how little it matters one way or the other what I make, regardless of how much I like it, because of all the serious shit that needs to be addressed in the world. At least I have an answer to that nonsense, thanks to Chuck Wendig, who wrote the excellent "25 Reasons to Keep Making Stuff". HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

That leads me to this post, because I have remembered one method that's generally helpful with indecision: setting creative boundaries, as you might have guessed from the title. Setting some creative boundaries to work with involves a layer of decision-making up front, but somehow that becomes easier for me once I've made boundary-setting my mission. 

So what are creative boundaries? They're a set of guidelines for what you will work on for a certain period of time, as well as what you will not work on. A starting point can be what you know about your attention span and your need for variety. How long is your time period going to be? Do you like shorter projects that last a day, a weekend, a week, or a month? Or do you prefer thinking in terms of a quarter, a half-year, or a year? 

Then it's time to consider the possible options. If you're like me, maybe you'll need to write out a long list of ways you might like to create. Maybe you'll need subcategories like "art" and "writing" to start with, and then lists of appealing ideas and methods under each. Or maybe your indecision is not so much about the format, but the subject matter and/or genre to focus on. Or something else. Write down everything that's competing for your attention.

Then it's time to narrow down the possibilities. Which of these ideas can you reasonably-but-somewhat-ambitiously expect to achieve in the amount of time you're thinking of? Are some of the ideas starting to sound more appealing than the others? Do some of them seem closer to your heart and what you want to express? Is there any reason some should be finished before others? At this point you might be able to clarify what sounds most interesting for now, knowing that the other ideas are on the list and available to choose later.

The final step is to get really specific and write down what you want to make, what size or length it'll be, what materials or tools you'll use, how you want to go about it, and when you want to finish it. Ideally, get into whatever format of calendar or to-do list you use and schedule times when you're going to work on it. 

I've just started to create a possible framework for 2019, incorporating monthly themes for my subject matter, but I haven't made it specific enough yet. If I can sort it out, I'll post about it sometime in December!

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