Time and time again, I've noticed that I can have some odd reactions to different steps in the creative process. There are parts that come naturally to me and parts that don't. Then, there's a step that consistently brings me to a screeching halt. This is the transition from thinking and planning to doing and making.
I've faced this dilemma so many times that it has taken form in my mind as an endless gaping canyon in an otherwise gentle terrain. It doesn't make sense to me! I love to plan and design. I love to gather inspiration images, make sketches, put together scrapbooks, plot with friends and collaborators. I also love to make. So why is it that these two do not flow naturally into each other?
To try and solve this, I must go back some years ago to what I've snidely dubbed the Contemplative Years. I was completely absorbed in thought for the better part of my post-college years. Looking back, I would not have had it any other way, if for no other reason than that it taught me a huge lesson: Even thinking must be done in moderation. The truth is, if you are sensitive to it, you will know instantly when you have done all the thinking required of you. You will know when it is time for action. How? When you are over-thinking something, you begin to feel frustrated and conflicted. You have reigned in your energy for as long as you possibly could. You begin to feel an inner tug of war. One side pulls insistently towards action. Enough thinking, it screams. When can we act? The other side retorts: But I'm not ready yet! I don't have every detail figured out! I haven't troubleshot every anticipated obstacle! It's quite interesting to experience this inner conflict when you are even the slightest bit aware of what is happening. This is exactly what began happening to me quite recently. I was frustrated because I hadn't figured out exactly why I should design and what I should design. And so I did absolutely nothing.
The thing is, you will never figure everything out through contemplation because there are certain things that need to be discovered through action. I was taught this by a professor I had in the Design Studies program, a professor who would eventually become a close friend and mentor. She was adamant that her students constantly and consistently made samples. Even if there was no ultimate goal, no great final project in mind, she still wanted to see samples. It would become a design diary of sorts. This is not a new idea. Artists and designers in all genres are told to make a sketch a day to stay in practice. It's important! It's a completely different energy you expend on thought versus action, and it's an essential part of the process. It seems that our mind is capable of projecting only the smallest fraction of possibilities, and once you stop thinking and start doing, creative solutions arise from seemingly nowhere.
So how can you make this leap from thought to action? I cannot give you a guaranteed answer. I still struggle with this a lot, but I have found some ways to make this transition easier. One important thing to realize is that once you have spent time thinking, these thoughts will not go away. Sometimes I find myself almost hoarding my thoughts, gripping them tightly as if they would slip away and I would never think them again. That's not true. Your realizations and inspirations will stay with you and tend to pop up when you need them most. So the first thing I do is mentally wrap my thoughts in a nice little bundle and set them aside. I speak figuratively, but this can mean, quite literally, to set aside my sketch books, scribbled napkins, torn magazine pages, etc. There, I've done my thinking. Next, I gauge what action to take based on what I'm most excited about and what is possible to do right now. This is generally something for which I have all necessary supplies at this moment. I don't give myself any room for excuses. Then, I do it. Yes, I actually do something and always, a weight is lifted. Once this step is complete, then I can return to my little thought package and reassess. Is this something I can use? Add it to the bundle. Usually by this time, my excitement is building pretty rapidly, and it is obvious what I want to try next. In this way, momentum builds and builds and I am excited as hell and productive, beautifully and wonderfully productive.