combined

This is the second of a two-part series, both of which are excerpts from my upcoming book, The Endless Creative.

You can find the first one here:

Unexpected

To recap from last week: 

There are two common aspects of creativity I’d like you to keep your eyes peeled for, especially when looking for inspiration.

  1. Creativity is unexpected (yet understandable)

  2. Creativity combines (the unrelated)

Now the second point, creativity combines. It’s about juxtaposition—two different things placed together. Imagine a life-sized sculpture of a man walking his dog made entirely of discarded coffee cups. Common trash has been used to make a piece of art.

This juxtaposition is a hallmark of creativity. It’s unmistakable and easy to identify. It’s one of the qualities that makes the work of the famous UK street artist Banksy so popular (besides their controversial nature, of course). 

Images such as trees growing out of a barcode, a man who appears to be throwing a bomb but is actually holding flowers, the Mona Lisa with a rocket launcher or the painting of a grim reaper in a boat painted over an actual dirty old canal—they all stand out because of their unusual combinations.

But don’t think for a nanosecond this only applies to art. For example, my brother-law, Jonny, needed to find a place to teach his students how to read maps. He found a local frisbee golf course (one with a fairly confusing layout) and printed out a satellite view from Google Maps, with a few discovery points he’d included for the students to chart. Mapping and frisbee aren’t two activities often found together, but it turns out the event was a big success (and I’d wager that the people who owned the course didn’t mind the extra business).

It’s remarkable what you’ll find when you start to look for unusual combinations. I heard about a board game being featured at a convention where the board itself is actually created during the game by a programable sewing machine. The way the game is played determines what sort of board the machine ultimately prints out. Such a game might not have mass appeal, but it’s a clever idea.

You can even find such things during your regular old day-to-day activities. During a visit to the dentist, I noticed an informational poster about gum disease and tooth loss. It had a large picture of a perl necklace with one pearl missing beneath the words, “Each one matters.” The tooth of their message was not lost on me.

Like Banksy’s work, some combinations are more to prove a point. Some, however, are simply made for the novelty. Take the shoebike—a bike where the wheels are made of shoes. It sounds fun at first, but when I saw it in use, it looked like a very uneven ride and I can’t imagine tying all those laces is a pleasure.

Other combinations are actually useful, like a backpack that becomes a tent or a bracelet that’s also a paracord, compass, whistle, and lighter. Yes, I just went on a hike. Why do you ask?

When you stop and gander (but please don’t goose), you’ll find creativity is all around. Whether it’s the unexpected, the combined, or some other aspect of creativity—you will soon have more source material than you know what to do with.

So next time you’re out on the streets (or on the trail), look out for the unexpected and combined—you won’t be disappointed.

unexpected

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This is the first of a two-part series, both of which are excerpts from my upcoming book, The Endless Creative.

There are two common aspects of creativity I’d like you to keep your eyes peeled for, especially when looking for inspiration. When you do, you’ll notice they show up all the time, like flies at a picnic.

  1. Creativity is unexpected (yet understandable)

  2. Creativity combines (the unrelated)

Let’s start with the first: creativity is unexpected. If you’ve seen the sci-fi show, Firefly, you may remember this line from one of the early episodes, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” 

It’s an unusual line and comes during an unusual scene (the titular spaceship’s pilot is playing with toy dinosaurs on the dashboard). It’s comically melodramatic and a great character moment. I believe its memorability comes from a truth it contains—something we inherently understand about storytelling and creativity—the need for the unexpected, yet understandable.

How often have you heard of a movie receiving criticism for being too predictable? There is something about predictability we can’t stand—it’s uninteresting, unexciting, unimpressive, and unfulfilling.

The predictable is dull.

When we were young, the world was fresh and new, everything was a surprise. But as we age and experience more, we become harder to impress, especially in this age of information over-saturation. We’re hard to impress because we already know it all and have seen it all. 

Predictability is not a bad thing—we’d be in big trouble if mathematic equations didn’t yield predictable results. Without predictability, we’d never get a grasp on how the world works. 

The problem with predictable is that it fails to grab our attention, to make our brains think in different ways. Besides, it’s not all the entertaining. 

The unpredictable, however, leads to discovery and learning. We love stories with unexpected elements like plot-twists and surprise endings because we didn’t see them coming—they challenge our expectations. While we might not like our expectations to be wrong in real life, it can be very rewarding in someone else’s story.

But there is a balance. It can’t only be unexpected, it still has to make sense. Just as we complain about movies being too predictable, we’ll also complain when we leave the theater scratching our heads, often due to an ending unwarranted by the rest of the movie. In a way, we feel cheated or tricked.

Granted, there is more to it than all that—there are other things to consider, like the viewer’s expectations going in, the films intended audience, and whether it’s supposed to be an absurdist film. But, on the surface, a good story should surprise the audience with an outcome that also makes sense—one the narrative naturally leads to with foreshadowing and the repetition of theme.

They say every story has already been told, or that there are really only a few types of stories (something like five to seven). Despite that, new and interesting stories are coming out all the time, some with massive success. Some element of the familiar is necessary, otherwise the story will be unrelatable, but there is always an opportunity to add something fresh and surprising to the mix.

Keep this in mind while you’re on the lookout for creative examples. When you discover something that surprises you and also resonates with you, take note of it.

You can find the second of this two-parter here:

Combined

success secrets

It’s not hard to find a ten-step list leading to almost guaranteed success in just about any field. While these lists don’t always have exactly ten steps, they’re pretty common nowadays.

I’ll admit, they can be helpful in breaking down an otherwise complicated process to its bare essentials, but such guides often do not lead to the success they promise—at least not immediately.

Here’s the problem: there usually isn’t just one formula that works all the time for everyone. Otherwise we’d all be rich, famous, bestselling authors with amazing six-pack abs.

There are just too many factors and too many complications to know for sure that the same course of action will yield predictable results for everyone.

Like it or not, most of our long-term goals will take a good amount of time and dedicated effort. Those promised shortcuts may exist, but they’re few and far between.

That said, I got a lot out of this article from Paul Kilduff-Taylor on The 10 Secrets to Indie Game Success (and Why They Do Not Exist)

Even though I’m not an indie game designer, I discovered some great insights that could be applied to creative design in general.

To entice you, here are a couple quotes from the article that I quite liked:

Your sojourn on this plane of reality is incredibly short and your perception of time accelerates as you get older — you will not have the hours, or the mental space, to work on everything that matters to you in your lifetime. If you can, spend your time creating a legacy that you will be proud of. 

 

Confidence, rather than arrogance, comes from being able to see the true value in yourself and in your work. You can be polite and humble but still have high self-confidence: in fact, these traits often go hand in hand. You do not have to become an all-singing all-dancing extrovert, but if you have issues in this area then you do owe it to yourself and others to work on them: the rewards will extend well beyond game development.

seasons

One thing particular to life in LA is the lack of seasons. Sure, it gets a little chilly in the winter and hot in the summer, but, most of the time, it’s a nice day outside. It’s one of the reasons so many people live there.

I didn’t realize I missed seasons until I moved away. There’s something special and important about changes in weather patterns and how they mark the passage of time. For me, it creates a mental expectation of change. Without that, I had a vague sense that time was passing, but most days felt just like the one before. There was an ongoing sameness that dulled me.

Seasons bring their own challenges, and also their own moods. Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring each have a different feel to them—a special uniqueness.

Much like the annual seasons, there are also seasons of creativity. There are times of newness and discovery, times of repetition and improvement, times of rest, and even times of loss and failure. Each one is an important part in the cycle. 

Currently, I’m entering a time of trying new things and also bringing old projects to a close. I’m learning to allow and plan for the time each creative undertaking requires, rather than trying to rush through it. I’m also learning which investments yield too little results to continue.

After having been through some big life changes, and a time in which I didn’t accomplish much in the pursuit of a creative career, I’m now returning to routine practice, goal setting, and measured growth.

I’m still figuring out what is most important and how I should best manage my time, while also experimenting. As I hear someone describe: when you’re getting started, you just throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. Though I’ve done all that before, I’m rearing up for another round of spaghetti chucking.

How about you, have you thought much about what season you’ve come from and which one you’re entering?

Warfare

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What sort of act is creativity? Is it an act of love, of defiance, of expression?

Were this a multiple choice, I’d say all the above. Honestly though, I hate when they put that as one of the options in multiple choice tests—it’s seems kinda cheap and non-committal.

Anyways, authors like Steven Pressfield and K.M. Weiland claim creativity is an act of war.

Weiland wrote a nice little post about the subject based on this quote from Twyla Tharp,

“Creativity is an act of defiance.”

It got me stirred up and ready for battle—in a good way. Really, you should check it out and let me know what you think.

looking back

Have you ever looked back on something you made a long time ago and felt a sense of shame or disgust?

This just happened to me. But first—backstory.

The computer game Thief: The Dark Project came out back in 1998. Twas a good year. Though it’s aged a lot, Thief still remains my favorite video game of all time.

Besides the game itself (a sneaky medieval steampunk-ish game), one of the excellent things about it was the strong fan community. I learned a lot about proper (and improper) digital etiquette through the company’s online forums. 

 Even cooler, the developers released the level editor for the game, allowing fans to create and share their own missions. Many did, myself included.

Though I expect it had happened before, this is the first game I’m aware of to release a level editor to the public. And this wasn’t the polished user-friendly sort of fare you see today. It was clunky, technical and difficult with more commands you had to type in a prompt window than buttons—something clearly made more for the developers than the fans.

Anyhow, I made and finished two missions, as well as a handful of incomplete ones and some contributions to other’s missions. The experience was a valuable one, and partly the reason I have the full-time job I do today.

My mind has returned often to those old missions I’d designed so long ago, especially the half-done ones I wish I’d completed. But interests change and life requires one to move on.

When relating these experiences to a coworker, I got the idea of searching for images of my old creations. I found something even better: a play-through of my first mission on YouTube. I began viewing with a sense of trepidation and it didn’t get better as the video played.

Turns out the person playing it didn’t enjoy the mission very much at all. And I couldn’t blame them—it was bad, much worse than I’d remembered. It’s a wonder they bothered to play it at all, and even finish it. Truthfully, I could only watch in little five-minute spurts.

Looking back, I think of all the things I could have done differently, how I could have made it so much more awesome, wondering why I’d made some of the decisions I had back then. But that was then and this is now. I’ve come a long way, baby.

That was my first ever foray into game design and I’ve learned so much since then. That particular mission had quite a few challenges and barriers to completion, and yet, imperfect as it was, I still finished it and got it out to the public.

All this to say: when you look back on your old stuff, don’t judge it too harshly. It isn’t who you are now, but it was an important step to getting to this place. Even if you think it’s ugly, embarrassing, and amateur—you should consider it a trophy of accomplishment; it’s a  piece of the story, a necessary part of who you are today.

UX

User Experience (or UX as it is abbreviated) is something I’ve considered without thinking upon specifically.

What I mean is, I’ll ponder what makes one game more fun than another, what sort of teaching methods I find most helpful, or what assembly manuals I find the most clear and enjoyable to read. These are all cases of user experience.

Creativity is a tough thing. In one aspect, we want only to create in our own private world without having to bother about anyone else. But, really, if you want your work to be effective, you must consider your audience.

What will they think? How will they be affected by your work? Is your message easy to understand or veiled?

Engaging with creativity is as much a part of user experience as anything else. With a little forethought and planning, us creatives can make the “user’s” experience that much better. 

A friend of mine shared this article with me about the subject. Upon reading, I found it to be quite helpful. In short, it was a good experience. 

Check it out:

The 7 Factors that Influence User Experience

 

book update

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Hello friends and faithful readers. Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to these days. Wonder no more!

It’s been a while, but I have an exciting new update on the book I’m writing: The Endless Creative. I’ve finally completed a draft I am proud of and have sent it off to my editor. I may have overshot my planned deadline by over a month, but life happens and it feels good having finally reached this point.

The Endless Creative is about finding purpose through creativity. It follows the journey of the creative as it parallels the three-act story structure and the hero’s journey. It’s something I’m excited about and looking forward to sharing with you all.

For me, writing the book has been a journey in itself and I’m eager to discover what changes my editor suggests (beside the usual spelling and grammar fixes). Though I like it where it is, I know there are many ways it can be improved. I’m just not sure yet which improvements are the best. Really, I’m trying to prep myself for the many changes I expect it’s going to need, and to not become disappointed by it.

Oh yeah, I should mention that the image above is not the final-final cover, but the artwork you see there is about finished. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and had a great experience working with the artist, Robert Clear.

I just threw on that text for this post. To be honest, I’m no fan of choosing fonts, I prefer to leave that to the pros.

Having focused most of my creativity on getting the book ready for edit, I’m taking some time to celebrate. I often experience a little bit of a letdown after reaching a big milestone, but I’m also learning how important it is to recognize and celebrate big achievements for what they are. And then I need to figure out what’s next.

I have a life coach who has been helping me in that area, keeping me focused and goal-oriented. It’s a new experience for me, and it’s been a good one so far.

Looking to the horizon and what’s up ahead, I’ve been thinking more about this blog, my email list, and what I want to do with them in the future. More on that later. For now, we’ll leave things as they are. As always, I’m open to suggestions and advice.

I do have a short sci-fi story that a publisher is interested in and willing to work with me on. That may be the next big project right now. I’ve got some smaller things as well, but you’ll hear more about them when they’re finished.

Until next time, I hope you are excelling in and completing your creative projects, whatever they may be. If you need help in that area, you should grab my free e-book, Done! which is about that very thing.

And I’d love to hear what sort of creative things have you been working on lately. Feel free to share about them in the comments below.

Creatively yours,

A. P. Lambert

a journey of dreams

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I’ve been reading a lot of excerpts from Steven Pressfield’s blog lately. He’s become quite big when it comes to writing about creativity. And he has a lot to say on the subject.

I don’t quite agree with some of his conclusions, but, in many matters, I think he’s spot-on.

Here’s a passage I read recently that really jived with me. It’s a subject I’ve discovered leads to resistance when talking with people who don’t understand the importance or need for works of fiction:

THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS A JOURNEY OF DREAMS
I never wrote anything good until I stopped trying to write the truth. I never had any real fun either.
Truth is not the truth.
Fiction is the truth.
The artist’s medium is not reality, but dreams. I don’t mean “dreams” in the sense of made-up bullsh*t. I mean dreams as the X-ray of truth, truth seen through and seen for what it really is, truth boiled down to its essence.
The conventional truism is “Write what you know.” But something mysterious and wonderful happens when we write what we don’t know. The Muse enters the arena. Stuff comes out of us from a source we can neither name nor locate.
Where is it coming from? The “unconscious?” The “field of potentiality?”
I don’t know.
But I’ve had the same experience over and over. When I write something that really happened, people read it and say, “Sounds phony.”
When I pull something completely out of thin air, I hear, “Wow, that was so real!”

 

(FYI, I've edited the naughty word, you know, for the kids)

This is a portion of his serialized version of The Artist's Journey. You can find the full post here

 

tags off!

After moving to northern Arizona, I felt obligated to buy boots. 

I should preface this by telling you I am not a cowboy in any sense of the word. Were the boots to help me fit in? Sure, I’ll take some ownership there.

But really, they’re just good to have on when working outdoors. There are all sorts of foot enemies about in this country: snakes, cacti, other pokey plants, biting insects, biting children, that sort of thing. Boots are a great preventative to injury. Plus they make me taller, which is always fun.

After purchasing said boots, I kept the tags on and walked around the house in them for a while. This looked especially ridiculous because it’s the dead of summer and I’m wearing shorts. I know, highly unfashionable.

Boots are not the exception though, I do this for every article of footwear I purchase. You see, I’ve got a tenuous relationship with shoes of all varieties. It takes me a good while to trust them.

The thing is, I’ve got some very real (and completely undiagnosed) foot issues. This has been the case ever since I went on a week-long backpacking trip in Yosemite and then lost feeling in one of my toes for about half a year. I blame the hiking shoes for this.

My shoe problems have persisted since then to the point that even when shoes feel comfortable in the store, they’ll become pain-inducing by the end of the week. It took me three total trips to a New Balance store before I could find cross trainers that felt good on my feet. The clerks were rolling their eyes by my final return. The struggle is real, people.

Back to the boots. Yes it looks silly stomping around the house wearing shorts, high socks, and boots—but it’s completely necessary. The good news is, the boots have been feeling good and I’m about 90% sure I’ll keep them.

So, why the long story about boots? This realization came to me as I was clomping about: many people treat their creativity the same way. They try it out, maybe wear it around the house where its safe and free of judgement, but don’t really own it or take it out. They keep the tags on, so it can be returned if it turns out to not be so great a fit.

I can’t tell you how many highly creative (even artistically talented) people I’ve talked to who will not admit their own creativity. It’s truly shocking.

Creatives, it’s time to tear those tags off and own it! It’s time to have your “first rodeo” and show the folks what those puppies can do. There are puppies at the rodeo, right? Again, not a cowboy here.