One of the most crippling aspects of a creative idea is not starting work on it right away. I know it seems obvious, but not beginning your project greatly lessons the chance that it will ever get done.
OK, Captain Obvious aside, there is a process by which to start your creative project. Say, for instance, you went through the rigorous torture that comes from seeking creativity to the point of despair. After despairing for a bit, possibly giving up on your search for a creative idea, and falling into the downward cycle of potato chips and television; you suddenly have a brilliant concept that will change the face of mankind forever. The problem is that you’ve let yourself slip, whether it be the despair or the chips you’ve stopped believing in your ability to create. The hard part about creating something new isn’t the actual work required to finish the project, but the momentum needed to start. For those of you in this momentum trap now, don’t despair.
Though it is much more difficult to start working on an idea from a dead stop, it is not impossible. Throw yourself at the idea, even if you have no clue whether you’re “doing it right” or not. Often ideas have to change dramatically along the way to make room for reality, so telling yourself at the start that you don’t know how your project is going to get done is kind of like telling the grocer not to scan that gallon of ice-cream because you can’t possibly finish it all yourself. OK, bad example, stop thinking about ice-cream and think about this: all things in life are possible if you have the faith to start.
Don’t know where to start? Answer this one question. When you think about your idea, what is the part of it you see most clearly? Focus on that part of the project and try your hardest to see it to completion. So you say you can’t do that thing without a whole bunch of other things happening first? Rough it out. Yup, just like your sixth grade book report, every creative idea can be roughly brainstormed and outlined to help you better understand the project and how to start it. I once outlined a paper, back in the physical cut and paste days, and while I was doing it I truly believed it would never get done. After the extensive note taking, brainstorming, and outlining I found there was more content there than I had originally perceived. Your idea is just like that paper.
In 2008 when I first moved back to the city (NYC) I was working in a range of freelance jobs and following the steampunk art community as it blossomed from dirigible designs into a variety of physical art forms. At the time I was working on some of my own art, sculpting an idea I had sketched while sitting in a meeting one day. The idea was a bit macabre and I wasn’t certain how to go about sculpting the various aspects of the skull. I started anyhow. It looked terrible, but I kept going. I took some pointers from a friend of mine as to the continuation of the project and soon enough had a roughed out version of that original sketch. After completing the initial sculpt it took me months to attempt the casting of the final piece as I was terrified that it couldn’t be done. I had sculpted in oil based clay and needed to create the final resin version, a process that required coating the sculpture in a latex mold and developing a way to extract the final piece after pouring in the resin. There were a multitude of problems in that the sculpture, as you can see, has many twisted spires and does not lend itself to an obvious extraction cut without damaging the final mold. However, I tried anyway. After finishing the cast and painting the final piece, I was still too embarrassed to show it to people for fear of their questioning its meaning or critiquing its quality. As far as I was concerned, it had no meaning, but was the embodiment of an idea, an image in my head that I had turned into a reality. The final piece which I named “Life in Death” doesn’t have gears glued to it or bits of Victorian themed brass, but I still felt it was “Steampunk” within my own variation of what that meant. I wish now that I had let people critique it. A piece of art is worth nothing, material or immaterial, if you keep it to yourself. It took me two years to ever post anything about “Life in Death” even on my own blog.
I still do not know who to show this to, but I would like to point out that the whole process was enlightening in regards to the formulation, creation, and completion of a project from nothing more than a vague idea. Am I satisfied with the outcome? Yes. Could I do it better if I did it again? Probably. The key for me now is to get on it. I have loads of sculpting, photographic, literary, musical, and crafty ideas sketched, recorded, outlined, and diagrammed but incomplete; so don’t think you’re alone. Those people that were just starting in the Steampunk art genre back when I moved to New York have gone on to great things and many have been recognized internationally for their part in the emergence of the genre as an influence in the art and literature scene today. Had I shown my sculpture back in 2008 and continued to work on the ideas that flowed forth while creating “Life in Death” who knows where I’d be right now. The lesson I learned from the experience is this: all projects are difficult to start from scratch, the important part is starting them anyhow.
Every impossible project has one thing in common, without perseverance it will never be accomplished. Take it a step at a time and remember the first step is just to start anywhere. That start can be sketching, outlining, free-associative mapping, calling a friend to chat, whatever gets you off the couch and back in the game. Had an idea recently? Don’t just sit there reading this article on how to start your project, get on that!