observe

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What you are about to read is a continuation from my series, The Creative Approach.

As you may remember, the three steps to a creative approach are observe, question, and respond. Let’s tackle that first one: observe.

What does it mean to observe? 

Open your eyes. Seeing those words, I can’t help but think of the opening lines in the song, “Always,” by Erasure, which is obviously about the endless struggle to be creative amidst a contrary society. Alright, it’s open to interpretation. 

Where were we … oh yes, observation! So, where exactly should you begin? Why not start at your own front door? Step outside and take in the world. Take off your headphones for a minute and look up from whatever mobile device you’ve been glued to. This is more than a brief glance—let it all in.

While you’re in observation mode, don’t worry too much about trying to get something out of it. Just let things come to you as you discover them. Notice all your senses: what are the sounds, smells and even tastes? Don’t go licking light poles though, people might call the authorities on you—trust me on this one. 

Consider, how do you feel when you first step outside? Refreshed by the first breath of a new day, reluctant to be shoved around in a tight crowd like cattle, dread for an oncoming storm? Is it hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm? What sorts of people or animals are nearby and what are they doing? What do nearby buildings or landscape features look like? All these things may seem mundane at first, but when you really stop to take notice and record, you will begin to see things you haven’t seen before.

One common struggle is to look outside oneself. We spend the vast majority of our time thinking internal thoughts about our own wants and needs and, because of it, our surroundings go unnoticed. 

To be creative, you first have to appreciate your environment. Your environment is where you can draw inspiration. To be stuck inside your head all the time is to miss out. As you begin to look around, you’ll be surprised how a shift of focus will change the way you see the world.

A friend of mine recently published his first children’s book, What Do You Notice, Otis? I love how it encourages kids to pause, observe, and interact with the world around them. Sadly, this has become a neglected practice for many a person (regardless of age) today.

Observation isn’t hard, most of us have just gotten out of practice. But anyone—even a distracted, oblivious guy like myself—can do it. 

For example, on my drive to work I’ve noticed many things I found peculiar: a man wearing blue latex gloves while driving his beat-up silver Honda, another guy holding his leaf blower upright and swinging it as if he were playing a guitar, a girl with a large brace on her leg following her friends who were all in fancy dresses, and a young man who didn’t appear to be homeless with a sign asking for college money. Each of those could be the makings of a good story.

Now it’s your turn; take a moment to pause and observe in the world around you, or, even better, schedule some time and find a place to so do. You might even want to take a journal along for recording purposes. 

When you stop to look around, you’ll discover a world which was previously hidden to you, though it may have been right under your nose (it also helps you avoid stepping into anything … unpleasant). This will set off the sparks to ignite your creative drive and get those wheels in your head turning right round. Besides all that, you’ll find observing can be very fun (I myself am an avid people-watcher).

 

Here’s looking at you kid,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you make it a point to stop and take in your surroundings? If so, what have you noticed lately? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach

Observe (current)

Question

Respond

story from a word - part 2

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It’s been a while since I offered up one of these. Based on a writing assignment from my class with David Farland, the goal is to write a brief narrative paragraph based on one word. You may recall my last one, Horse.

Without further ado, here it is, story from a word, Part Deux.

House

To say the building was dilapidated would be a gross understatement. Unlivable would be closer to the truth. Dangerous, now that was a fine word. Its moss-covered roof sagged so low on one side that it could be reached from the ground without the aid of a ladder or step-stool. The glass in its windows had been punched out like decayed teeth long ago. Even the boards once nailed over the windows had now fallen off, leaving the building with an eerie, vacant expression. Most of the steps leading to the entrance were either broken in half or missing altogether. A pathetic pile of bricks now slouched where a chimney once stood. Tangled vines criss-crossed up the rotted-out paneled siding of the house, pulling it down into the swampy earth. Long ago, the building had been constructed from the trees of the bayou and now, it seemed, the bayou wanted its lumber back. And to think, a family once called it home.

 

Give it a try: write your own narrative paragraph based on the word, "house," then share it here. I'd love to see what you come up with.

codenames

Back before he was married, a friend of mine liked to come up with operational names whenever he was in pursuit of a female's interest. He’d even go so far as to name my own prospects (whether or not I was in active pursuit). He came up with long, complicated names like Operation: Justice is Blind and Her Sister is Blind Too, or short, inside joke names, such as Operation: Citi Bank (based on a line from the Short Skirt/Long Jacket song).

He taught me how fun and useful codenames can be. They can make something serious feel more light and approachable (like asking someone out on a date), or they can help you take something you’ve been avoiding more seriously (homework for example). They also bring others in on the fun, while keeping information secret from those who shouldn’t be in the know. 

Codenames are excellent when it comes to creative projects you should be doing but aren’t ready yet to share with the world. At my work, nearly every project we work on has a codename, usually to protect proprietary information about an upcoming game. It allows us to talk about the project outside of work without worrying about letting info on a certain IP slip out to the public. While some of the names are rather confusing, others give me a good chuckle.

So, whether you need to enact Eagle Has Landed to get your grocery shopping done or Operation Penny-loafer to finish those taxes, try giving your tasks and projects code names: it's fun and, if nothing else, makes them feel more official.

 

Hey Creatives, have you come up with any exceptional codenames? Let us know in the comments below.

cardinal

 [original photo by  Snufkin ]

[original photo by Snufkin]

It was late winter, a chilly gray day after a weekend of sleet and rain. We hit the road again, not quite ready to return to the traffic and business of life in Los Angeles. 

It can be hard sometimes to leave a place of beauty, to say goodbye to friends and family in order to return to the place you live and work—the place you call home. We had a long drive ahead of us, one in which to contemplate our current state and our future.

Such trips can feel like going backwards, away from the things you want out of life, back to a more difficult place. Are we where we should be? Are we doing the right thing? The mood was dark—heavy—like those weekend clouds full of water and ice. But the sun broke through and clouds began to disperse.

On a winding mountain road
We zoom past bright patches of snow: white quilt-work against the dark, clean gravel
Just then, I’m surprised—an unexpected shift
A flit of red
A cardinal takes to the air
My spirit lifts
I look up and see the bright winter sky
I breathe deeply, my head clears
I’m ready for whatever comes next
At least for now

 

There is something cathartic about a poem, healing even. I don’t write them often (nor do I consider myself an accomplished poet by any measure) but I do enjoy reading a good one. There is a freedom which comes from a figurative, non-standard choice and arrangement of words. It is surprising, unexpected, beautiful.

Today, it’s time for our first Creactivity (a creative activity, in case you found that portmanteau confuddling). I’d like you to write a poem (or share one you’ve written). It doesn’t have to be long or complicated. I certainly doesn’t have to be perfect (I think I've proved that to you already). Just think of the last time (or any time) you were taken by a strong emotion. How did you feel and did something cause the feeling to change?

 

Hey Creatives, have you ever written a poem during an emotional time? If not, how about you give it a try now? Please share it with us in the comments below (if you really don’t want to write one, you could share a favorite poem you’ve read).