How to Win at Creative Adult – Finding Inspiration

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“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Hard Work
I know you might be saying to yourself, “But one time, I got the best idea ever while driving in the car!”

I’m not saying that inspiration won’t randomly strike, it can, so can lightening. But we want to bottle the lightning and use it when we need it, right? This is where hard work, determination, and routine come into play. The more you create, the more your brain is in a creative state, the more ideas you’ll generate.

Essentially, it works like this. Just start working consistently. That’s it. Work everyday. I recently wrote a book, my first one. I had a basic outline but everyday when I sat down to write, I had literally no idea how I was going to fill out each chapter. I simply starting writing. Maybe I wrote the third paragraph first because I thought of it first or maybe I started with the first paragraph. The key is, I had started the act of writing, once I did that it started to flow. The exact same thing happens with the drawing. Just start drawing and see what happens.

snail-1249053_1920Most of the time, the ideas flowed like this, so don’t get discouraged!

Remember, you never run out of creativity. The more you create, the more creative you become.

I’ve already written a good deal about productivity, schedules, and good drawing habits, but if you’d like me to expand upon any of those, just let me know!

My challenge to you is this: Try drawing five out of seven days for one month. Draw in two sessions – fifteen minutes each, with a break in-between. After the month, look over everything you’ve done and try to think of a new direction to take it. Then come back and tell me about it!

Or tell your friends about it on Twitter by click the button that says “Tweet” below.

If you do take the challenge let me know! – @sarahdahlinger or @seenunseenbook

Life Experiences
It’s equally important to go out and actually have a life. I’m not suggested a road trip to the opposite coast or a one way ticket to Mongolia, but I AM suggesting that you go out and experience life somewhere else. A life without experiences is like trying to breathe in a sealed room. Eventually your air will run out. The same goes for your ideas.

I used to discredit this, the idea of getting out to explore. Then one day, the company I worked for sent me to CA on a red eye flight in the morning and sent me back to MA on a red eye flight that night. I was one trip, lasting almost exactly 24 hours.

…and I had dozens of stories to tell from that trip.

It got me thinking, “If I spent only one day traveling this year, and returned home with dozens of stories, what would it be like if I got out a bit more?”

I used to cite money being an issue, but it really isn’t. Even getting out to the next city or, next state, or next few states would be beneficial.

For larger plans, make sacrifices. I never buy coffee. A small iced coffee from Dunks is $2.00, multiple that by 252 (working days per year) and that’s $504 dollars saved for a trip.

I take it further too, since there’s tons of things I don’t really need. I don’t buy clothes or shoes unless mine are broken. I never buy DVDs; I watch Netflix or Youtube. I don’t buy in-app purchases for games. I never buy cosmetics (buy deodorant – that one is important). I started making most of my meals; it’s way cheaper than eating out. I never buy junk food when I grocery shop – no chips, cookies, or soda. All those things add up.

Check these out!
Tripnary– find cheap flights

Road trip ideas

College Cheap Road Trip Ideas

Cheap travel to Paris, Hong Kong, and NYC

My challenge to you is this: Don’t buy any extra stuff for six months to a year, and take that money to go anywhere else. Don’t go looking for inspiration and stories. Go looking for anything new. Go looking for anything you’ve never seen before.

Then come back and tell me your new stories.

Then go and draw or write about them.

A word of warning…
Sometimes, those new ideas can be excessively disruptive and distracting, so I write them down in the small notebook I keep with me. This allows me to acknowledge the idea, save it for later, and not distract from my current project.

I’m not saying this is easy, since Wisps, are damned shiny, but it’s important to try.

One finished project is worth 1,000 half finished projects.

But enough with the lecture, lets have some actionable items!

1) Read The War of Art – It’s written like a smack in the face, but it’s fantastic at the same time. (Using this link will send me a small commission)

2) Read a lot of other books – Sometimes just read for fun and see if anything resonates with you. Or, read a book with a purpose -ie. “How would I change this to make it mine?”

Reading is hard for me to enjoy, so I prefer Audible. There’s a little ad on the side of this post where you can sign up for a free trial too.

3) Take this course – This class is literally addressing inspiration and routine in the lecture series linked here. It’s also crazy cheap and comes with an active online community.

4) Play nerdy games AND go outside
– for a long while, I only sculpted characters from our Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It was a huge campaign with dozens of cool characters to chose from. Video games can be inspiring too.

*Don’t play games to avoid making your art. I don’t know the right time limit for you, but one day a week seems about right to me. *gasp!*..I know, I know – but you’re an artist, not a professional gamer, right? Unless you are a professional gamer, and then you should probably go back to playing games.

Check out this podcast, where Paulo Coelho, writer of The Alchemist, speaks about life experiences and writing – plus a wealth of other great ideas.

5) Realize that inspiration isn’t always this epic, Godlike, thing – Just make something. Anything. Do you like chickens? Draw chickens. You don’t need to change the world with every chicken drawing you do. However, draw chickens while thinking this, “what could I add to make this totally unique and cool?”….then see steps 2 and 4.

6) Mix stuff up. – This is how I arrived at my current project.
a. Vacation in Panama in 2014
b. Have been a longtime fan of Gaiman, Pratchett, and all mythology and folklore
c. Have always wanted to make a book like the Spiderwick chronicles
d. Have been a longtime fan of history, animals, and science

So I mashed all that together into a Seen and Unseen, a historical fiction set in 1911 – during the digging of the Panama canal. I basically took the real life journey of a scientist in the Smithsonian Biological survey combined it with my own personal experiences and observations, and sprinkled elements of myth and magic on top. Bam! Everything I love in one little package.
If you would like to see some of my studies and sketches, from Seen and Unseen check out my Twitter. I post something daily.

If you would like to support the project, see full illustrations, read the copy early, and win prizes, check out my Patreon. You can even request tutorials on there too!

You can do this sort of thing too. Take a few things that you like a combine them into something cool.

I’m also not saying that this is easy and quick. It took months of thought and note scribbling to arrive to at this idea, but it was worth it and it’s fun!

What are two to four things you love that you can mash together to make something cool?

7) Mix it up: the quick version – Maybe you want to make a littler project, that’s totally cool and smart. Lots of little projects let you learn more then one big project. I like drawing monsters based on real animals, or just drawing animals. You could illustrate a book you love or draw the characters from a book you love. Try to pick the most obscure source material you can find. It’ll help you stand out.

8) Thumbnails are still, and always, your friend. – Maybe you’re designing something: characters, cars, armor, planes, whatever. Draw a ton of little thumbnail ideas first. They can look truly awful as long as you understand what they mean. Thumbs are your shorthand guide to yourself.

9) Let other people come up with the ideas – Contests and one-a-day idea groups are a great resource. Maybe take one of those ideas and run with it?
Sketch Dailies Website
Sketch Dailies -Twitter
Sketch Dailies – Facebook
Daily Drawing Challenge – Facebook
Inspiration Group – Facebook

10) Try to avoid cliche. – This one is hard and really only applies to people who are trying to get hired. Essentially, everyone has seen in:
-gender swapped
-as a real life person
-animals as humans
-humans as animals…etc

So if you really, really need to draw Ariel as a dude or Scar as a human or Belle as the Beast, do it….once. Get it out of your system and move on. If I get an idea, I always do a google search for a few mins to see how many other people have the same idea. If a lot of people are doing the same thing, I don’t do it. Also, don’t be sucked in by the allure of fan art. Yes, Simba or Calvin and Hobbes in space will get you hundreds or thousands of likes, but, in general, those people won’t hire you. Again, if you want to unwind on the weekends, go for it, but don’t base your portfolio on that stuff.

11) Learn to listen to yourself. – I saved this for last since it’s the most scary. Go away from technology and people. Find a place where you can think. I don’t live in a big city, so if you do, you’ll have to find a quiet place for yourself which I can’t describe to you. Just be alone with yourself and your thoughts without the comfort of distraction.

Like I’ve said, this might suck a bit, since there isn’t a phone, game, or computer between you and your mind. This is good. Now you can start to think about the important stuff.

If you’re like me, your thoughts will probably be a mix of kind of cool to excessively mean. Sometimes, my brain can be a real asshole. It usually tells me that I’m in some way not good enough or should be working harder. However, it wasn’t until I allowed myself to think away from the noise and convenient distractions of my life that I was able to figure out the theme and basic plot of my book while going on walks everyday. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time! I stopped counting at 60 miles. It was 100% worth it.

What was something that inspired you recently? Let me know in the comments section below!

If you liked this post, you might like these others.
How to Win at Creative Adult – The Two List Method

How to Win at Creative Adult – Mindfulness and Fighting Stress

How to Win at Creative Adult – Exercise

How to Win at Creative Adult – Drawing at Zoos and Aquariums

How to Win at Creative Adult – Dealing with Frustration and Fear

How to Win at Creative Adult – Focus

Here’s the info for Seen and Unseen again. Stop by and we can chat about animals, monsters, adventures, or any of those blog posts listed above. I’d love to see you there!

I post daily studies and sketches here Twitter.

If you like to ask for private tutoring, win prizes, or simply see my best studies, check out my Patreon.


Thanks so much for everything!

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