Although this is an article about perhaps the most important skill that any artist or writer should have, I’m going to have to start by talking about old technology for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will become apparent later in the article.
A while before I wrote this article, I watched this wonderfully nostalgic Youtube video about indestructible old mobile phones.
Although I could easily get side-tracked and talk about how – in 2004/5- I once saw someone quite literally hurl a 3310 into a wall (it bounced off and the only damage was a slight crack to the screen covering). Or I could talk about how – back when I still liked mobile phones- I once owned what was once the most popular phone in the world (the 1100), and how it survived getting lost once and being used for over five years. But, that would be a distraction.
No, the reason, I mentioned old phones from the early-mid ’00s is because they had a reputation for durability, simplicity, reliablity and practicality. They were, like a lot of old technology, built to work and built to last.
I mean, a DVD doesn’t stop working when the internet slows down. Windows XP crashes extremely rarely compared to Windows 98 (and what I’ve seen of Windows 7 computers too!). My Playstation 2 seems to have died from disuse (the last time it worked was in 2011, but I bought it in early 2002!). My Game Boy Advance and original Game Boy still work though. My old MP3 players use easily-replacable batteries. The computer I wrote this article on is a low-end machine – even by the standards of 2006 (which was when I got it). Old technology isn’t fancy, but it was made to work and made to last!
This is something that has shaped my own philosophy towards technology… and creativity too.
Back before I used to practice art daily, I used to consider myself to be more of a writer (in fact, I actually studed creative writing). But, one skill that never seemed to be explicitly taught was how to deal with uninspired times. When I had weekly writing assignments, I used to spend hours or days frantically racking my brain for story ideas and, although I always eventually found one, my imagination didn’t always seem like the most reliable thing in the world.
But, now that I make art instead, I know that I’ll always make something – even on my most uninspired days. How did I learn this? Simple, I started practicing art daily and – a bit later – writing these daily articles. This tight schedule changed my attitude towards creativity, even after I’d built up a fairly decent “buffer” of things that I’d made in advance.
Gone are the days when I thought of coming up with creative ideas as nervously “waiting for inspiration” and now I see uninspiration as more of a puzzle to solve – but a puzzle that I know that I will always solve. These days, my overriding attitude is a confident “make something! Something is better than nothing!” or “I’m going to make something, I wonder what it will be?”
Best of all, this constant daily practice has given me so many backup strategies to use when I can’t find an idea or the enthusiasm to make something. Whether it’s making still life paintings, looking for something to take inspiration from, remaking my old art, making studies of 19th century paintings, using a focused distration (eg: playing old computer games) that allows me to daydream etc… I’ve gained a vast toolbox of techniques to use whenever my imagination throws up an error message.
For example, the day before I wrote this article – I’d just woken up and realised that I was about to be behind on my art practice schedule. I had maybe an hour or two to make some art. When I started sketching, my imagination quickly failed me. I felt like making art was a chore. But, I still made some art! Yes, I eventually had to quite literally doodle randomly in my sketchbook and then scan it and try to turn it into art using an image editing program. But, I managed it! Here’s a preview:
No matter how great you are at writing, drawing, painting etc… all of that skill means nothing if you don’t have a reliable way to keep creating. Even if you can only create crappy stuff when you aren’t feeling inspired, the fact that you’re still creating makes you better than a genius who gives up in frustration.
So, yes, the most important skill that any artist or writer can learn is how to make their imagination more reliable. Because, if you’re able to make something any time you want to, they you’re still in a better position than more “skilled” people who can’t do this.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂