This month we’ve looked at being resourceful by taking the time to think about alternative solutions or different ways to do something. Practicing resourcefulness in the creation process builds the kind of brain that can make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas to produce unique outcomes. We all want that kind of brain because it’s better at creating things that have a greater likelihood of being different and interesting.
I’ve looked at graphite as a medium that encourages resourcefulness in artists because of it’s versatility. But the medium could be anything from a musical instrument to a ball of dough because the need for resourcefulness isn’t limited to fine art. Practicing resourcefulness is a mindset that benefits all kinds of creators.
Let’s think about this for a minute. What makes us good at creating is the ability to come up with new ideas or new ways of putting ideas together. This is just like a cook who can throw a few things together in a pot and come up with a delicious soup without following a recipe.
How can I practice resourcefulness?
One way to practice is to give ourselves self-imposed limits, guidelines or “rules”, for what we use to make something. This works because it forces the brain into thinking about alternatives instead of jumping onto an easy solution.
For example, saying “I can only use one pencil, this paper, and an eraser” is a rule that provides a simple structure for my brain. To work within that structure, my brain has to figure out how to get the tones and shapes it wants without reaching for other pencils or shape templates. It’s forced to practice resourcefulness to get what it wants.
But can these “rules” get in the way of being resourceful? In other words, is there a time when having structural guidelines is more of an impediment to creating than a help? Let’s do a thought experiment to figure out the answer.
In this experiment, I want to write a short story. There are a couple of ways I can do it. Since I don’t write very often, the first way I think of is to research the methods other authors have written short stories. Then I use those guidelines to write it. The guidelines are my “rules” for writing, such as begin with exposition, end with a climax, etc.
That’s one way to accomplish my goal.
Now let’s say that I don’t research any guidelines. I feel like I already have a good idea of what I want in my story, so I open my laptop and type it out exactly as the thoughts come to me.
That’s a second way to get my story done. Which way do you think is going to produce a more interesting story?
The answer will probably depend on a lot of other considerations. But lets say that I learned the basics of how to write in a class a few years ago, so my brain has some experience with putting words together for homework assignments and such. The only variable in this experiment is whether or not I stick to a structure.
I’d say the second way is going to be more interesting, and here’s why.
When I’m using “rules”, I’m using someone else’s idea of what my story should be like. Since the rules are available to many writers, all of the writers who follow them are churning out very similar stories, even though they might have different settings, characters or plots. What we get is a lot of very predictable stories. This is sometimes called “rendering”.
When I don’t use the rules, there’s a good possibility that my story will be unlike anyone else’s story. I’ll have relied on my own unique set of experiences and knowledge to write it. The world will get something more interesting and perhaps unexpected. When this is successful, we say the artist is “inspired”.
Resourcefulness, then, appears to be related to how much structure is involved in creativity, how many “rules” a creator follows. Someone who feels comfortable with a lot of structure tends to prefer rendering, while someone who likes to throw out the rulebook relies on inspiration. In general, the inspired creator relies more on resourcefulness than the renderer.
Therefore, using “rules” or having a structure doesn’t impede resourcefulness if they are used discriminately. The old adage “follow the rules but know when to break them” is actually a good one.
Are rules good or bad?
Both rendered work and inspired work can be successful. I don’t want to confuse things by labeling one as good and the other as bad. Think of a knitter who makes hats to sell, for example. If he uses a pattern that most people like, he has a better chance of selling his products. Therefore, he knits the same kind of hat over and over, only varying it slightly with color or the type of yarn he’s using. It’s rendering, but it’s successful in terms of his goal, which is to make money.
But let’s compare this knitter to his neighbor, who’s a fiber artist.
The fiber artist knows how to knit, but doesn’t follow any one particular pattern. Instead, she imagines a result and tries to make the yarn into that form. There is a lot of experimentation involved, but eventually she produces something that doesn’t resemble anything anyone has seen before. Many people say it’s beautiful. In fact, it’s so beautiful that lots of people want it and they’re willing to compete to pay for it. Because her product is so unique, the buyer ends up paying more for her creation than they would’ve paid for one of her neighbor’s hats. The result is that she makes an equal amount of money in a period of time as her neighbor does, even though she used a different route to get to that goal.
Neither route is objectively “good” or “bad” and I think it’s important to point out that there are times in our lives when we feel forced to choose one route over another regardless of what we really want to do. For example, we have to do a lot of rendering whenever we’re acquiring a new skill. Rendering ingrains a process into our brains and is an important factor in learning.
But, for me, constant rendering stifles creativity. I think there are a lot of other creatives who feel this, as well. We want to break the rules and create something that no one else has seen before.
Maybe it’s a way we think we can make a difference in the world or maybe we want to consciously add a little bit of ourselves to this grand thing called The Universe. Maybe it stems from a feeling of gratitude. The point is that, eventually, there’s a desire to stop rendering and find inspiration.
I’m practicing resourcefulness, but I still can’t find inspiration. What’s stopping me?
The person who’s been practicing resourcefulness is going to have an easier time with finding inspiration, even if it doesn’t seem easy at times. In the case of our knitter friend, if they’ve already been working in multiple colors and trying out different combinations of yarn while following a pattern, the chances are good that it will be easier to put that pattern away and try something unique. They’ve got some level of confidence that their changes have produced success.
But he still doesn’t throw away the pattern! Why? Fear. Fear of getting it wrong, of making something no one will like, and of using up his materials without making any money. So instead of putting the pattern aside, he finds a new pattern to follow and tells himself that he has no inspiration.
It’s like standing at the edge of the deep end of the pool. He knows he can swim because he’s been playing around in the shallow end and trying it out. But he’s still afraid to make that dive.
Following rules, relying on someone else’s structure in the creation process, makes us more comfortable because we believe that structure will give us more success. Our confidence is in the rules, not in ourselves. Yet we’ve just agreed that it’s possible to not follow the rules and still have success. The only factor separating one route from the other is fear.
So what do you do if you want to be a more inspired artist and fear is stopping you? How do you overcome this fear of making mistakes so that you can experiment without guilt and build confidence in yourself?
The answer lies with practicing resourcefulness!
The first step towards releasing fear is to plan and prepare your creative activity. Visualize what you want to create, work backward to figure out the steps needed to do it and then follow those steps. This type of visualization skill comes from being resourceful.
The more you think about alternatives or using supplies in a different way or putting A with M instead of with Z, the more practice you’re getting in resourcefulness. The more mistakes you make when you follow these steps, the more practice you get in finding the path back to where you want to be. And the more practice you get, the more confidence you’ll have, so your brain focuses less on fear.
The second step is to consciously curb the tendency to self-doubt. Stop criticizing yourself. Someone who has not built up resourcefulness skills and doesn’t practice visualization is likely to have a lot of self-doubt.
When the brain is focused on doubt, it’s using energy in formulating “second guesses” instead of using the energy for creating. It wants to reach out and compare what it’s doing to what others are doing, then make judgment.
This makes the brain more comfortable because, by comparing, it will use someone else’s “rules” to judge whether or not the creation is worthy. If the judgment goes poorly, the brain can go back to the “safe” route of rendering. Or it could stop creating altogether! In either case, it won’t have to suffer the guilt that comes from making a mistake.
It’s helpful to be mindful of this when we start to doubt what we’re doing. Instead of second-guessing, take the time to actively visualize the outcome. What do we want this to look like when it’s finished? If it isn’t going right, try visualizing alternatives. This is being resourceful, and this is how inspiration works.
Don’t be afraid. Plan and experiment. Realize that, to follow the path of our imagined fiber artist, we have to have a lot of mistakes before we have a success. Be prepared to chuck the whole thing in the bin and start over, if it takes that. That’s the way life goes. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow we’ll have what we want today.
The only way to even have a shot at getting what we want in life is to be prepared to fail, then learn from the experience when we do. This is how life becomes your art. It’s not about living the same day over and over again. When life is your art, when you make your life your “creation”, you allow yourself the leeway to make mistakes and use your resourcefulness to set things right again.
This is living an artist’s life. If that’s the kind of life you want, then practice resourcefulness!