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March 8, 2008

the process of development

by sven at 3:38 pm

I've been doing huge amounts of work on story development for "Let Sleeping Gods Lie" lately. It has me thinking about the process of artistic development in more general terms. I wrote this reminder list last Friday (2/29).


1. Make art you love.
Why make art? To sell something? To get it "right"? (By whose standards?) Whatever it is that you're working on, aim at making something that you yourself love. Give yourself the room and resources it takes to make that happen.

2. You will discover your solution by accident... But not your first accident.
The art pieces you'll truly love are things that you haven't even met yet. It's not going to be through pure design that you find something that moves you -- you're going to stumble on it. But it's also not going to be the first thing that you stumble on... You're going to need to make lots and lots of discoveries.

3. Make copious explorations.
Don't wait for inspiration to find you -- go out looking for the "Ah-ha!" moment. If the vision for an art piece you love is a discovery, then go and search everywhere for it.

4. Find your vision using cheap/fast methods.
The fastest tools an artist has tend to be the pen and pencil. If you're making sculptures or paintings, sketch hundreds of thumbnail drawings. If you're an author or filmmaker, write pages of stream-of-consciousness and brainstorming lists. (If you can type, then by all means...)

5. Set goals for quantity of development work.
I hate rush and compromise and flailing about, feeling like I'm making crap because I don't really know what I'm doing. But the opposite of this is not to be leisurely, letting inspiration wander in on its own time. Work hard. Decide to write 50 pages of story development in a week, or draw 24 pages of sketches over three days.

6. You can't know what you're going to get out of the process -- it's a risk.
Quantify success in terms of the number of pages you'll produce or hours you'll put in writing/drawing -- not in terms of whether or not you've found the final answer that you can love. When you commit to investing time in a development process, the point is to stumble upon discoveries. Even after 50 pages, you may well find that you need to apply the exercise again in order to get where you're going.

7. Give yourself freedom to go on digressions.
If you feel like you have to go directly from point A (problem) to point B (solution), you're going to feel stressed out. Allow yourself the freedom to go on digressions, trusting that they will ultimately loop back around to the main cause. Beautiful solutions are almost always surprises... You're most likely to find them off the beaten path -- not on the road you thought you needed to travel.

8. Trust that your solution will come to you.
There's a fear of wasting time. When you decide to employ a development technique like writing or sketching, you can't know whether or not it will actually yield a solution you love... So in committing to the process, you're taking a risk. The way to get rid of that nagging fear is to acknowledge that what you're doing is an experiment that may fail. But it's a worthwhile gamble. Trust that the process is worthwhile, and that if you apply your intelligence and imagination long enough (possibly much longer than you initially anticipate) then you WILL inevitably find possibilities -- interesting possibilities -- that you had not initially conceived of.

9. Every dead end you discover narrows down the options.
You're going to find one unusable idea after another... But these are not worthless ideas -- they are immensely valuable. Every one you find helps narrow down your options.

10. Ultimately only one perfect / possible solution will remain.
Art pieces are solutions to problems. How do I express this emotion? How do I tell this story? How do I convey this thought visually? Finding the art that you truly want to make, a vision that you want to take to your final medium, is a matter of finding as many possible solutions as you can and then selecting the one you like best. ...Execution of the idea in the final medium will have it's own challenges -- but if you love the idea, even a flawed end product will be meaningful.

11. Make bad art too.
There is a reason to make art that you DON'T love, too. Sometimes there is an externally imposed deadline that you want to meet -- a challenge. The job in this case is to make the most impressive, technically advanced, creatively outrageous solution you can, given the time available. In this case, set out with the idea in mind that you are making "bad art"; it'll free you up to live happily with experiments that don't live up to the standard of "art you love." You'll grow through engaging with the challenge -- and that's enough... That's a success.

posted by sven | March 8, 2008 3:38 PM | categories: writing