Why It’s So Important To Develop Personal Projects

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Find out more about my exhibit Antarctica here.

As a fine artist, I advance my career with personal projects. Personal projects also create a clearer direction for and develop greater meaning in my life. My life would be unfulfilled without them.
You don’t need to have a fine art career to benefit from personal projects. Many commercial photographers find that personal projects re-energize them, add purpose to their lives and quite often lead to new assignments or whole new streams of income. Many amateurs, making images purely for the love of doing it, find greater satisfaction and personal growth through their personal projects.

As an artist who mentors other artists in workshops and seminars, I’ve often been called to speak about the importance of personal projects; how to find them, start them, develop them, complete them, present them, and promote them.

Here’s an overview of what I share.

Define a personal project.

Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.
Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Create a mission and set goals.

Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.

Make a plan to achieve your goals.

A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.

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Read more on creating goals, projects, and next actions here.

Set a timeline.

A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.
Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.

While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.
Stay focused and follow through.

You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts on related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.

What’s your project?

A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to creating a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

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Find extended versions of this content here.

Now, let me speak in more specific and personal terms, as a way of sharing a few more of the insights I’ve found over the many years I’ve developed personal projects.

Plan to plan.

Many people refuse to plan, especially in creative fields where discovery is desired. They say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Everyone needs a plan. Often, when you start a project, knowing you need to learn more as you go forward, you feel like you don’t have enough of the pieces to make a plan or you don’t have all of the pieces to make a complete plan. My recommendation is to start with a rough plan and continue to refine it as you go.

Find my collection of quotes on planning here.

Stay flexible.

The best plans aren’t written in stone. The best plans remain flexible. Flexible plans allow you to make course corrections along the way as you learn more about your subject, your medium, yourself, and your audience. Expect to update your plan. I find that, if I don’t update my plan during the development of a project, this a clear indicator that I haven’t found the insight(s) necessary to complete it. I expect to be changed, for the better, by the projects I engage in. I expect to grow.

It helps to have a mission.

You have so many options before you, and so many more will soon present themselves to you, that you’ll find it challenging to choose which project(s) to move forward on or which path(s) to choose during project development. Defining a mission for your creative efforts, in general, will help ensure that you stay on track. I don’t take on a project unless it contributes to my mission (what’s achieved), reinforces my brand (how it’s communicated), or makes a lot of money (how it’s supported).
My mission is to “encourage conscientious creative interaction with our environment.”

The first time I went to Antarctica in 2005, I planned to make altered images. I was surprised that I had enough finished images by the end of the trip to exhibit a small body of images, that were comparatively unaltered. This represented a significant challenge to my brand. I found the challenge created to the public perception of my work, in general, was useful; rather than creating confusion, it clarified many things about my vision and my purpose, especially how I create images that are unaltered and altered in parallel with one another.

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Be prepared to be surprised.

You don’t have to know all the answers before you begin to work. You just have to know the most important questions. Creating is a matter of solving mysteries, of finding answers. You don’t have to solve a mystery completely; you just have to find a few answers that you can stand by. If you’re lucky, you’ll find new questions and new mysteries along the way.

The second time I went to Antarctica in 2007, I had a lot of questions about how to complete an unaltered body of work. How journalistic or cinematic should I be? Should I photograph everything I saw? Ultimately, I found a balance between my personal concerns and passions. I focused on climate. I returned with enough material to produce a book.

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Find the most current version of this ebook here.

Find your groove. Find your message.

Doing things consciously, repeatedly, and consistently brings mastery. Repeat your successes … and find meaningful variations on them. When you do this you give your work a theme and style, which communicate a message. When does a groove become a rut? Don’t worry about the rut too soon, most people don’t stick with one thing long enough to find a groove. They go off-road, traveling anywhere and everywhere, by any and all means, and ultimately don’t end up anywhere in particular, much less a place to return to, a place they can call their own.
The third time I went to Antarctica in 2009, I expanded my body of work further adding relevant variety to the material. I searched the work I had produced to date and listed the missing pieces, as well as the ones I wanted to reinforce. Each voyage was significantly more productive than the previous one. I created a website to support and extend the project, which includes blog posts made live during the voyage and details my creative process.

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Past projects lead to new projects.

Often the seeds of future work lie in present work. Themes that were unclear or latent, at the beginning of a personal project, once developed, lead to new lines of inquiry and more work. A creative life is never truly over. The best creative lives evolve; growing deeper, more complex, and more sophisticated.
Now as I plan to return to Antarctica (Find out about my next Antarctica workshop here.), I’m developing my original idea of producing a body of altered images from a new perspective. As I recently sketched out this plan, once again, I realized much of the work is already done. I’ve been producing altered images with material from the region all along, but not presenting them in this way. Now my challenge is to develop them in a way that makes this collection cohesive and contrasts the collection of unaltered images in a useful way – or to move in an entirely new direction.

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Having developed an Antarctic body of work, I’ve also been developing an Arctic body of work, to create a useful comparison and contrast. I’d have gone to these regions sooner, but the opportunities came later. I learned I had to make the opportunity rather than wait for it – and that took another kind of planning, so did getting there at the right times of year. Now, like Antarctica, my Iceland and Greenland photography workshops are semi-annual traditions for me.

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Find a way to monetize your project.

Projects take time. Time is money. Don’t fall prey to the cliche that art and commerce are and should remain separate. If artists can’t make money with the fruits of their labors, then they need grants or patrons. Projects need funding. You often can’t do the work unless you can afford to do it. There are many expenses to consider – equipment, travel, production, collaboration, presentation, promotion, etc. You need to think about these things early in the development of a personal project or you may later find yourself without the necessary resources to finish it. So empower yourself with good business practices. You can be just as creative in business as you are in other arenas.

Prepare to make your work effective.

Even the best images will go unnoticed if they’re not presented and promoted properly. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time and resources to develop a personal project, you own it to yourself to see it presented well. This may be as simple as presenting your images well to yourself or as complex as promoting a publication and or exhibit, physically and/or virtually.

I’ve created my own exhibition/publication workflow. Framed exhibits are ready to ship with supporting biographies, statements, and press releases online. Complete bodies of work are supported by a portfolio of matted prints, also ready to ship, and a print-on-demand catalog. This makes producing, shipping, and promoting exhibits much easier, so I can readily respond to new opportunities at a moment’s notice.

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You can preview my current catalogs here.

One project begets another.

What’s better than one project? Two – or more. Often, one project leads to another. While you’re developing a project you find more ideas than a single project can accommodate – and some of those ideas can become new projects. This continuity can give your work a discernable arc that communicates your visual voice even more strongly.

While my initial goal was to produce a book of one hundred straight images of Antarctica (Waking), I later decided to collect altered images with sources from Antarctica (Dreaming), and then to launch another multi-continent project Global Warning by first focusing on images from Antarctica.

Find each catalog here.

Make visible touchstones to guide your progress.

If you’ve got a personal project you want to complete, make a visible touchstone and keep it in one or more places where you can see it frequently. By doing this, you’ll be directing your conscious mind to focus on it and suggesting to your unconscious mind that this is a matter of importance – both will start to work on the challenge, even when you’re unaware of it. You will literally be sleeping on it. Many of the best ideas come during this period of gestation and incubation.

I print covers of unfinished book projects for developing series and display them in my studio.

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See the single ebook these two related projects produced.

Projects take time.

Projects can take hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to complete. Some projects can be completed very quickly, especially once you’re familiar with the concepts and skills necessary to finish them. Projects get easier with practice. Some projects are ongoing and never end, producing many milestones along the way (publications, exhibitions, commissions, etc. Some projects lie dormant for a period of time and then suddenly come to life again. Some projects change over time. Projects have lives of their own. Projects require commitment, but the depth of your commitment will be reflected in your work and in the achievements you make with it.

I can’t recommend more highly that you start your own personal project – now.

Learn more in my Storytelling resources.

Learn more in my creativity and digital photography workshops.

4 Reasons To Take More Notes & 3 Ways To Make The Most Of Them

Alignment XVI

There are so many reasons to write! You don’t have to write professionally to experience the many benefits writing can offer you. Remember, while few people write professionally, everyone writes, most often to help them do their work. While you may not consider yourself a writer, you already write. So write more! Even if it’s just a little you’ll find it will help a lot.

Here are four reasons to write.

1          Retention

Writing will help you remember things. Most people can only hold seven things in their minds at once. Many times, if you’re full up, new ideas won’t come, until you make space for them. Other times, when new information comes in, old information is lost. Either way, the solution is to write it down – and there are additional benefits to making notes. You’re 73% more likely to remember and act on something if you write it down. (If you type your notes, this number drops to 39%, which is still much better.) Part of this stickiness comes from finding the words that work best for you, so use the language that you’re most comfortable with and that means the most to you. You probably have a to-do list professionally, so why wouldn’t you use one to help you excel in your creative life too? And there are times when everyone needs a checklist. (Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto shows how doctors used checklists to reduce hospital deaths and complications by more than 33%.)

2          Clarity

Writing helps you see more and see more clearly. Like any creative discipline, writing encourages closer observation. You note more things – more information. Plus you’ll find patterns in the things you note – information about information. You’ll understand your experiences better and you’ll find more ideas. Unlike photography, which encourages observation of things you can see, writing can also help you observe things you can’t see like your thoughts and emotions, interactions within relationships, and processes unfolding in time. When you find the right words to describe something you understand it better.

3          Productivity

Once you see what you’ve written new ideas will come to you. You can accelerate this process by playing word games. Alex Osborne’s acronym SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put To Other Uses, Expand, Reverse) is a mnemonic device for a series of mental operations you can use, each of which is capable of leading to countless new ideas.

4          Organization

Organizing your writing helps you organize your thinking. Often the process of taking notes isn’t linear, you simply let it all out. When you revisit and reorganize your notes you make even more sense out of your observations. Lists help you identify steps in a process, set priorities, and identify more important items. Remember, you can also use size, color, or graphic symbols like underlines and stars to make some words stand out more than others.

It’s important to file your notes in an easily retrievable organized system that you trust, otherwise your mind will continue trying to remember everything, which no one can do, not even the gifted who have a photographic memory.

Audio

What about taking notes with audio? Many apps (like Notes) will turn what you say into text. This can be a fast way to take notes, especially when you’re multitasking.

Audio files that aren’t turned into text take more time to review as they’re played back, as much or more time than it took to make them, so they’re not the most efficient way to retrieve. However, if you are having a conversation with someone and you don’t want to interrupt the flow audio is very useful. Nothing records intonation and inflection as audio does. And there are occasions where you want to note the particular sound of something, which words can’t duplicate.

Take Notes With Images

Some things are better noted visually rather than verbally. If you can see what you want to make a record of then a photograph can very efficiently make a note, often one full of detail that would take more time than necessary to record. If you need to make a visual note and you can’t photograph it, make a doodle instead. Diagrams can be particularly useful for recording processes (vectors, paths, timelines, etc) and relationships (maps, graphs, Venn diagrams, etc).

Go Multi-Media

You can combine text and audio and images. Together they’re even richer and more powerful than they are alone.

Avoid Perfection

Perfect takes time, so for this purpose, it isn’t. Not only is it too much pressure, in the wrong way at the wrong time, it’s a distraction. So satisfice. And above all, enjoy the process. Think of your notes as a place to record and explore your observations – not the way you’ll present them to others. With this realization, you’ll be freer about what you record and how you record it and so you’ll do it more often. And that’s the point.

Make notes, lots of notes, and keep doing it. Developing this habit will help you see more, think more, feel more, do more. You’ll get more out of life.

(Want more on this subject? I recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.)

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

The Number 1 Reason Not To Should All Over Yourself – Or Anyone

We have so many choices in life. As a teacher I’m frequently asked questions like these.

“What should I do? Should I do this? Or, should I do that?”

I invariably reply, “What are you trying to do?”

Our choices imply our intents and we don’t all have the same goals, visions, or styles. (Thank goodness; our variety makes life so much more interesting.)

And then I recommend rephrasing those questions to get better results.

Here are questions that you can use instead.

How many ways can I do this?

This question is a creative challenge designed to open up many possibilities. Start here. Don’t skip it before rushing to the next question. (I recommend you write down all the answers you can think of and keep adding to your list over time.)

What happens when I do that?

This question provides clarity on the most likely consequences of your choices. It’s cause and effect, which can sometimes change in different contexts so add when and where into the equation.

Why am I doing this?

This question helps identify goals. (If you’re unsure of your goals ask “Why?” five times in a row. You may not find your final answer this quickly but you will develop a clearer picture.)

Should I do this or that?

It’s a question that limits your choices to two. This question is useful only after you’ve identified your goals, limited many possibilities to two, and you’ve asked the next question. So ask many other questions first.

Whenever possible, avoid using the word should. It’s limiting and in most situations, you have more choices. The word should often implies obligation. There are reasons you choose to do what you choose to do. You may not like all the choices you have and sometimes have to make the least objectionable rather than the most favorable. Still, you choose it. So own it.

Self-talk matters. Becoming more conscious of the language we use internally has many benefits including increased awareness of what’s going on outside and inside us as well as our reactions to these psychic events … and with that awareness comes choice. Once we’re aware of what’s going on inside us we can choose to let it flow uninterrupted or we can influence its speed, course, and tone. It’s not just stop or go, it’s also how and where would you like it to flow?

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Listen To Yourself

Glory I

You can learn a lot just by listening to yourself. Listen not only to the words you actually say, usually to others but also to the words you use in your inner dialog. When you speak about yourself, your creative life, and the works you produce, the words you use can be very revealing. They mean something to you. You choose them. Often you do this without realizing it and once you do new creative connections and opportunities will open to you.

Ask yourself …

Do you keep repeating specific words?

Do you use different words that all point to similar meanings, orientations, or attitudes?

Do the words you use share common concerns?

Do you tend to use more nouns (things), verbs (actions), or adjectives and adverbs (qualities)?

Do you tend to speak actively or passively?

Do you tend to speak in the past, present, or future tense?

Do you speak specifically and concretely or do you speak more generally and abstractly?

Do you finish your sentences or jump to new ones before you do?

It’s best if your observations about the words you use are made without judgment. Simply make observations. You can use this practice to savor the qualities of your everyday experiences that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. It can be helpful to expand your statements; say more to describe it better and find its connections to other things. After that, it can help to distill it all back down to what’s most important. If you do this you’ll feel freer, clearer, and more energized. 

Becoming more aware of your concerns and attitudes will ultimately help you make more considered choices about your actions, reactions, emotional responses, and even self-image.

Greater awareness of the words you choose and how you use them can inform the images you make in many important ways – how you make them, the images you select, how you sequence them, how you process them, what you title them, what you write about them, how you talk about them, how you present them. Your words can help you discover and shape identity, meaning, and purpose.

Thinking too much about the words you use while you’re using them can sometimes get in the way. When this happens, record yourself and listen to it later.

It can also help to talk with someone about a subject that’s important to you. They can help you get your tongue rolling and keep it going by asking you helpful questions and offering you useful reactions while you’re talking together. Again, make notes while this is happening, or better yet record it and make notes then so you can stay in the flow while it’s happening.

It only takes one important observation to make the practice of observing how you speak extremely worthwhile – give it time and it will lead to breakthroughs if that doesn’t happen instantly.

Read more in my Writing Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Talk With Yourself

Alignment XV

When was the last time you wished you had someone to listen to you? When was the last time you listened to yourself? We all want to be heard. Don’t wait for someone else to come along, do what only you can do for you. Listen – carefully.

Turn Your Inner Monolog Into A Dialog

Go ahead, talk to yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not crazy. We all do it. Don’t think so? Try not to do it. Monks spend years developing the ability to empty their minds so they can be here now instead of imagining what did, could have, or might happen.

We see things, we hear things, we feel things, we do things, we react, and all the while we interpret what we’re experiencing if we’re not stuck in our past or planning a future. That’s part of creating our story, the essential narrative we shape from too many facts.

We all have a running commentary provided by our minds and tuning into how it goes and flows can be very useful.

Speaking your mind can help you become clearer about what’s on it. Where did that come from? Pay closer attention to find out. Broken record? Skip a track. It’s your choice, whether you decide to speak your mind silently in your head or speak your mind out loud, either alone or in the presence of others under the right circumstances. No one ever has to know how much you talk to yourself; they rarely know how much they talk to themselves. Most of the time, we’ve become so accustomed to the familiar voices inside of us that we’re often unaware of what’s being said and who’s saying it. It seems natural to us. That’s just the way it is. But, in reality, that’s the way we are. If we actively listen to ourselves, we become more self-aware and realize we have many more choices available to us.

Be More Creative By Changing The Voices You Use

Do you ever get tired of the sound of your own voice? Same old same old? Try another. People often talk about how helpful it can be to hear another’s perspective, but they don’t talk often enough about how you can get other perspectives from yourself.

We all have many different voices within us – aspects of ourselves that can be seen as being distinct from one another – an optimist, a realist, a pessimist, an inner critic, a cheerleader – they all set different tones and offer different perspectives, which can be very useful when you’re looking for better ways to do things or ways to get more out of your life, with and without art Expand your mental wardrobe. You can wear many hats. Imagine your inner voice speaking to you at different ages – your inner child, your adult, your elder. Try on a few Jungian archetypes – a child, a lover, a parent, a warrior, a dreamer, a scientist, etc.

We can make the life of our inner community richer and more dynamic by encouraging these separate voices to speak in turn and even to speak to each other. Over time we may even discover that each voice has a consistent set of concerns and skills and knowing this can help us decide which voice to call on in a given situation. This is a more personal version of the very useful question, “What would (Add the name of a person with a potentially useful perspective.) do ?”

When you’re working with your personal advisory council, it can be helpful to put a neutral moderator in charge of conversations. His or her job is simply to listen and observe non-judgmentally and to make sure everyone is heard. At times your moderator may direct specific questions or make a motion to table one issue and move on to other subjects. Later, you can weigh the evidence, draw conclusions, and make decisions about what you’d like to do or not do.

This imaginative exploration can be extremely useful. We not only come to better understand ourselves, we also come in contact with vast sources of information and understanding that we often leave untapped. The best thing about listening to ourselves is that we come to realize we have many more perspectives to draw from and options to choose from than we had previously imagined.

Is your self-talk good talk? Is it useful? If not, change it. It’s your talk. While you’re at it ask “How many ways can talking to myself be useful?” Your imagination can offer you unlimited possibilities and the only thing limiting you is giving yourself permission to explore them.

So go ahead. Talk with yourselves. You’re sure to find surprises, delights, and many interesting perspectives.

Read more in my Writing Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

What’s Your Creative Process? 1 Habit That Will Change Your Life

Alignment IV

Do this one thing and you will transform your creative life.

Watch your process.

If you make this a habit, you’ll develop a better understanding of not only what but also where, when, how, and why do the things you do.

Noting what you don’t do can be an equally powerful practice.

You’ll quickly find yourself flooded with new information and ideas, which you can turn into a creative advantage by taking notes.

When you notice what when where how you do the things you do, after every observation ask, “Why?” Don’t think of the question as a challenge but rather as an opportunity to gain greater clarity about your motivations and what does and doesn’t drive you to action.

First, note what you do and don’t do.

When you watch your process carefully you become aware of every step in your process and everything involved in it. Actions and things that went unnoticed before will become clear to you. Find out if your habits are serving you well by doing what you do in a different order or by adding or subtracting one thing systematically. Make a little time to observe your process like a scientist might and find out what positive benefits that perspective has to offer you.

Second, note where you do and don’t do it.

Do you like quiet places to work without distractions or do you prefer a lot of external stimulation to get your juices flowing? Do you like clean orderly spaces to foster calm efficiency or do you like to spread out and use chaos creatively? Do you need a space away from home or work or do the other people and activities that take place there feed your creativity? Maybe your answer will change depending on a given project or a particular stage of any project you’re in. If you don’t know, mix it up and find out.

Third, note when you do and don’t do it.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? Are there times of the day you find it easier to be creative because you have fewer commitments? Do you work in bursts or do you prefer to do a little bit at a time? Do some things require bigger blocks of time to do? Can some other things be done in smaller chunks of time? Answering these questions will help you make the most of the time you have as well as plan to make the time you need.

Fourth, note how you do it and don’t do it.

It’s likely that you have a choice to do the same thing in many different ways. You may be used to doing things in certain ways, without realizing it. Maybe you’ve made a few assumptions based on what other people do. Are those assumptions helping you? Maybe you’ve developed habits. Which good habits help you get consistent results efficiently? Which bad habits prevent you from getting the results you want? Are you taking shortcuts? Sometimes what works in one situation doesn’t work in another. Do your habits serve or hinder you when things change? Take stock of your habits and you’ll find areas for improvement but don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you do that works well along the way. You’ve worked long and hard, you deserve it. Keep going.

Fifth, ask why you do what you do.

Behind every action, there’s a goal. You eat, drink, breathe, sleep to stay alive. You photograph to … ? Your most basic motivations may be fairly simple. Some of your other motivations may be much more complex – and it’s likely you do many things for unconsciously for reasons that your conscious mind has a lot to learn about. Realizing this can often be the key to finding out what is most authentic about and fulfilling in your creative life. If you really want to get to the core motivations behind the things you do it can be helpful to ask “Why?” five times in a row. Ask the first question. Then ask “Why?” Respond to that answer with “Why?” and repeat this a few more times. Often our deepest motivations don’t reveal themselves until the third, fourth, or fifth time you ask “Why?” If you find asking “Why?” is getting in the way of your observations while you’re practicing your process, ask it when you’ve finished and while you’re reviewing your notes.

Watch your process. It seems simple. It is. But like meditation, it’s not easy. We quickly fall back into our habits, which is exactly what we’re trying to notice more carefully – and potentially change (whether a little or a lot or sometimes or always).

There are many more benefits to taking notes about your process. Because I write …

I constantly generate new ideas.
I’m rarely blocked.
I’m more productive.
I’ve streamlined my systems.
My technique is better.
I recognize the ideas and practices I’ve inherited from others.
I’m aware of what’s influencing me, when, for how long, and why.
I’m clearer about what works and what doesn’t, for me.
I’m aware of my self-talk.
I’ve identified my goals.
I understand more about the personal reasons behind the things I do and the ways I do them.
My work has more purpose.
I enjoy my process more.

I find I write the same things down time and time again. This has lead me to create a master process list, which I can add to or subtract. (I keep it in the Notes app on my iPhone. I make a lot of notes there about a lot of different things.) Because I’m so curious I rarely get bored. I find there are always new things to observe. Are there new things because I noticed more? Why? Are there new things because I’m in a new environment? Why? Are there new things because I decided to try something new? Why? Are there new things because I’m more emotionally receptive? Why? These are important questions that can unlock new ways of looking, thinking, and working, now and in the future. Keep asking them. Ask a lot of questions!

Watching your process is really a matter of becoming aware of your choices (what you choose to do and not to do) and what you may have missed. With greater awareness, you can choose to do the same things or make other choices. With more choices available to you, you can make better choices. Better according to who? You! Be mindful of your creative process. Make this a habit and you’ll transform your life.

I could write a book about the many benefits watching your process brings. But don’t take my word for it. Try it!

Read my Mindfulness resources here.
Read more in my Writing Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Turn Your Inner Critic Into An Ally

Your inner critic can be a terrible adversary or a powerful ally. Which one it becomes depends on how you relate to and use it. Like any animal, proper care and feeding can work wonders while neglect and abuse can produce monstrous results.

The inner critic’s powers of analysis and forethought are truly exceptional. Your inner critic is a protective mechanism. Its job is to help you avoid potential dangers. It’s excellent at identifying weaknesses or shortcomings that if left uncorrected and allowed to continue unchecked may have adverse effects. It can quickly identify potential areas for improvement. It can provide all sorts of extremely valuable feedback.
But, the inner critic has its limitations. The inner critic speaks from a point of fear. It motivates with fear too. It’s a pessimist. It’s often accurate, but never infallible. Because of this, it isn’t good at being supportive but instead may create doubt and insecurity. Its criticism may not be constructive if its feedback isn’t placed in a useful context. If it goes too far astray, its effects can produce negative results and even lead to paralysis.
So how can you turn this powerful voice from enemy into ally?

First, consider the inner critic a trusted ally – one with limitations. Whenever you hear the voice of the inner critic, ask if what it has to offer is helpful. If it is, use its feedback to improve your results. If it’s not, calmly acknowledge it, tell it you value it as an ally both in the past and in the future, and clearly state the reason(s) you’ve decided to make the choice you’re making. Tell it you will continue to consult with it in the future.  Your inner critic will believe you if you make a regular habit of consulting it – and even respect you for doing it. You might even give your inner critic an alternate project to work on in the background while you’re busy with other things. Stay calm; your inner critic can feed on negative emotions. Once you’ve made your decision, be firm. Remember, like a child having a tantrum, there may be times it needs to be silenced. But don’t silence it for too long. Many of the things it has to say can be extremely useful if you remember its strengths and limitations.

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Coach Yourself

A voice inside my head was grousing, “There’s nothing here. It’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. Someone else has done this before. You’ve done this before. You’re uncomfortable. You’ll have better luck next time.” I’d heard it all before. So I changed my inner dialog, “There’s something here; you just have to find it. You know how much you like the surprise when you do. You have a unique sensibility. You’ll bring something new to the situation. You can do it. It will be great. You’re enjoying this.” If I hadn’t shifted the tone of my self-talk I would have given up before I got started, instead, I stuck with it, for hours, and succeeded, many times. Refraction LX was just one of that morning’s successes.

You’ve heard it all before too. “You’re just like … you always … you never … you’ll never … why try …” As Carla Gordon said, “If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago.” We’re told that to improve and reach our full potential that we have to be our own worst critics. It’s true that there is a time and a place for this – but it’s limited. Don’t make it a full-time occupation. If you do, you may never get where you need or want to go.

Professional athletes and performing artists have coaches and directors who not only train them but also encourage and inspire them as well. So do many CEOs and salesmen. So do many people from many walks of life at different times in their lives and stages in their careers. They may even engage different types of coaches at different times for different needs. When was the last time someone coached you? When was the last time you coached yourself?  Even if you’re lucky enough to find the right creative coach who can help guide you to perfect practice, they can’t do all the work for you; you have to do the work too; after all, in the end, they’re training you to do it yourself. You can’t afford to wait and find your perfect creative coach. Instead, become that person.

Energize yourself. Affirm your abilities. Take note of your previous accomplishments. Set tangible goals for the future. Chart your progress along the way. Provide yourself incentives. Reward yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments – both verbally and visually, privately and publicly. Be specific using precise language. Give yourself pep talks. Frequently use positive affirmations. Don’t think you can do it? Tell yourself you can. And then do it. Watch your self-talk – and change it for the better. It’s a mindset. If you want better results create a better mindset.

When you talk about yourself or your work, do you use positive or negative words? The words we use can be very revealing about our orientations, attitudes, and beliefs. Many times, when we speak about ourselves, if we speak about ourselves, we downplay our abilities and accomplishments. It’s true that no one likes a raving egomaniac. But, there’s a real difference between arrogance and confidence. Confidence is attractive and inspiring; arrogance isn’t; neither is insecurity. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you. Be careful not to talk yourself down, cut yourself off short, or fall completely silent. Instead, learn to speak simply and directly about yourself and your work and above all share your enthusiasm. Not feeling it? Act as if you do. With just a little practice you will begin to feel it. It’s true we should all beware of overconfidence. And, critical feedback, the right kind and the right amount, is useful for improving performance too. Peak performance and growth take the right balance of positive and negative feedback. But ask yourself, “How balanced are you?” If you’re like most people, you’re not very balanced at all. Change this and you’ll tip the scales in your favor. This takes constant monitoring and recalibration but you’ll soon see substantial changes that make it not just worthwhile but invaluable.

How important is this? Consider how much money is spent every year on motivational resources like books, videos, lectures, workshops, and more. The figures are enormous. That’s how important it is to other people. Ask yourself, “What’s the price of not doing it?” That’s far greater. Don’t pay it. Just do it.

Questions

What is the state of your current self-talk?
How many ways can you improve your self-talk?
How many ways can you make your self-talk more energized?
How many ways can you make your self-talk more meaningful?
How many ways can you measure the results of improved self-talk?

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

The Big Differences Between Vision & Style – And How They’re Related

Many people think vision and style are the same. They’re not. What’s the difference?

Vision is what you have to say; style is how you say it.

Confusing one for the other or focusing on one and not the other can be disastrous.

Just because your images look different doesn’t mean you’ve said anything or said it well. No matter how dazzling something may look, when style becomes a substitute for vision ultimately the viewer leaves unsatisfied – though they don’t always know why. If you confuse style for vision it confuses your viewers. And when you use a style that’s inappropriate for your vision it distorts the way your work is seen and it’s likely that you’ll be misunderstood. A style without a vision is a gimmick; visual cleverness. A style that supports a vision is a vessel for deep authentic expression.

You don’t have to make your images look different to say meaningful things and say them in your own authentic way. Sometimes less is more. Less style, more vision. Stronger styles make the viewer work harder to see past the surface of an image and find the deeper meaning within it. Strong styles work only if they complement a vision – then both become stronger.

Vision and style are related. Hopefully, vision drives style. Vision gives style meaning and purpose. When style reflects purpose it deepens the whole experience, making statements more deeply felt. Style can create meaningful connections between the subject and the way an image looks and even between multiple images. Subtle shifts in style throughout a body of work and even an artist’s lifetime have the potential to communicate even more meaning.

Style is easy to identify because all you need to do is make formal statements about what you see. You simply describe how the things in an image look. When describing style you focus less on the things you see and more on how they look. You state what your eyes actually see, the visual building blocks of an image not the content those elements are used to represent. To do this well, you need to learn a little vocabulary to formally describe images in ways that others will understand, but there’s an added benefit, learning that vocabulary will help you look more carefully and see more things and relationships between them. Each one of those relationships is a creative opportunity. Line, shape, volume, color, texture, scale, proportion, range, and compositional patterns are the fundamentals – and you can make finer distinctions in each of these categories. Some aspects of style describe relationships that are visible between multiple images such as the number of images used, their sequence, its pace and rhythm. Style can be extended to anything you do in a particular way, not your actual practice (she used a camera) but the way you practice it (she always moved in close). The ways you do things communicate the kinds of connections you like to make and the relationships you like to cultivate and so they imbue what you make with meaning.

Vision is harder to identify than style. Vision is the mystery you (and your viewers) are trying to solve; style offers the clues to figuring it out. It takes some guess work and repeated confirmation to figure out where your images are going. But vision is where you move beyond taking pictures of things (subjects) and start making pictures about things (themes). It’s part plot; your subject, events that happen to it, actions it takes, reactions, and consequences. It’s part theme. The theme is the big (or main) idea and subthemes are smaller (or subordinate) related ideas. It’s what the work says about a subject. It’s the overall message and the underlying messages. This is the least literal often least visible aspect of work and it’s often where the most soul can be found.

It’s part you … the patterns you see and create, your relationship to your subject and the images you create of and possibly about it, all the associations and connections you make between it and other things, the things you choose to show and not to show, your emotional reactions to things and events and even their appearances, the reasons why you care and why we should care. All these things say a lot about you, so vision is also about self-discovery and expression.

If the style of your images is appropriate it will help us see your vision … in a very particular meaningful way.

You don’t have to figure out your vision or your style before you start making meaningful images. Whether you start with no idea or a good idea, it’s likely that you won’t know the full meaning of your work until you make it. An essential part of the process of creating images is figuring things out. Show your process, not all of it, just the interesting parts, the ones you decide are meaningful. What you finally make doesn’t have to be perfect, finished, or even fully resolved; you just have to do it well enough to create a compelling experience. And to do that, you have to figure out a few things, perhaps only the most important things, about your vision (what you have to say) and style (how you say it). Then make more images and figure out a little more. Keep repeating this process enough times and you’ll find your way, your vision and your style, If you hold nothing back and give it everything you’ve got, you will be amazed by what you discover.

Download my Vision worksheet here. (Coming Soon)

Download my Style worksheet here.

Read more in my Storytelling resources.

Learn more in my Creativity & Photography workshops.