I finally got around to reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and I’ve been thinking about ideas. I’ve entertained this topic before on this blog. My updated stance on the matter is as follows:
My ability to generate ideas has improved significantly. Doing so isn’t even daunting anymore. I write down the ridiculous ones that I happen upon while eating in the dining hall or waiting for the subway, usually to find that they already exist. But that’s okay. I am realizing that whatever I create, no matter how strong the influence, will be distinctly me merely because the idea approached me and I was prepared to accept it. After all, an idea is no more than a catalyst. It does not represent the product. The execution of the idea is the bulk of the process and the idea is sure to change its original form repeatedly throughout this period.
Today, I drew 10 thumbnails for my visual thinking project in under one minute. I’m sure this is not very impressive to many creative individuals, but anyone who knows me can attest to this being quite a development. I struggled with generating ideas when I was in high school. Time after time, I was told that I had an idea even when it felt like I didn’t. I was also told that I was rejecting my ideas because I believed them to be “bad.” I had difficulty subscribing to this concept. These moments when it seemed as though I could not arrive at anything were so damn frustrating. I questioned how I could possibly be subconsciously suppressing ideas when I was so desperate to just have something. Anything. The shittier the better. I remember suggesting in a blog post I wrote last year that one individual can not know whether this experience is universal. After all, to quote my 17-year-old self, “we only exist within our own minds.”
Well, I was wrong. There is absolutely always an idea, and I can now acknowledge that there was an idea, or a multitude of ideas, each time I attempted to commence a creative project in high school. I do not remember the ideas, but the ideas were present, the only problem being that I did not recognize them as such.
Ideas to me had always been these sacred gifts. I was never actually concerned with whether they were “good” or “bad.” I was focused on them being complete and complex, even if they were lame. Big Magic has demystified my understanding of inspiration and ideas. Furthermore, I now realize that I was not really struggling because I believed that my ideas were “bad.” In reality, I was convinced that they were too simple and, therefore, not ideas at all. I understand now that my personal “Genius” is a simple guy. I have Joe Schmo for a Genius and that’s okay because I can do the rest of the work myself. Joe comes up with things like “railway” when I am instructed to create a design for the MTA’s subway walls. Really Joe? Is that all you’ve got? That’s not an idea. It’s not a good idea. It’s not a bad idea. It’s just not an idea. Go home, Joe.
But it is! I wish I could tell my high school self that it is very much an idea and it deserves to be written down or sketched out because nothing is implied when we hear “MTA’s subway walls” apart from MTA’s subway walls.
So today, after being given this subway prompt by my professor, Joe stopped by and graciously whispered “railway” in my ear. Then he left to go watch sports or grab a beer or something. And I was stuck with one word.
I drew the damn railway. A stray mark started to contain the railway within a rectangle in my thumbnail. I completed the rectangle. The railway was unrealistically curvy and seemed to be situated on a table of some sort. I thought of the train sets that children play with–the ones with the adjustable tracks. I drew in the kids. I turned the kids into conductors and erased the table, turning it into NYC.
It will do for now. I’m off to have a cold one with my Genius.