This morning I thought I’d share a small victory with you — a short story in how I stopped overthinking a creative idea and finally took action.
What I’m about to share may not seem like a big deal on the surface.
Spoiler alert: OK – so she finally got some business cards after 10 years (or 20) of not having any.
In my experience, creative breakthroughs and a-ha moments aren’t that dramatic when they finally happen to me.
My big insights seem more like stating the obvious. More of a “yeah, duh!” moment than a lighting bolt of inspiration.
I’ll break this down for you into a couple of formulas you can use for your own creative breakthroughs.
But first, let me tell you a story of a little creative dream finally coming true.
Once upon a time…
I dreamed I’d have fun business cards to share with people I meet on my various travels and at workshops, speaking gigs and stuff.
I receive the most amazing business cards, especially from artists! I have a whole treasure box full of them.
But I never have any of my own to give back.
Since I’m about to go travel and teach for a couple of weeks in the USA, I decided: it’s finally time to make some business cards!
Knowing how I can professionally procrastinate when it comes to designing my own stuff, I thought: I’m going to keep this simple. Go to moo cards and pick a design, modify one of their templates, and just be done with it in less than an hour.
So that’s what I did.
I was so proud of myself.
So I thought I’d share my tiny victory on Facebook.
Here’s the post:
If for some reason you can’t see the Facebook post, it says:
“For oh, 10 years or so, I’ve wanted fun business cards – the kind you can get with 100 different images to showcase your art. Well. Clearly that is overwhelming.
So. I just made these on a whim, going for bold, sassy, and out of my comfort zone.
Dare I print them? Also – besides my own spelling of wonder-full – notice any typos? Just in case…”
Notice, the post has 33 comments!
It was the middle of the night even. At least here in Mexico.
Many came in right away, and I started having a real-time convo with folks answering them. I love it when people care about what I’m making, and being able to connect on creative ideas.
Someone recommended I not use punctuation on the design.
Which was funny, because that punctation is what got me the most excited.
So I quick made a version without punctuation, and posted those for feedback.
It reminded me of design meetings I went to back in San Francisco, when I was on the board of AIGA and was running my own agency. I got to be in on a meeting where designers for the Apple Store graphics had weeks of back and forth about whether or not to put a period after the price on the product signs. Which I found both hilarious and ridiculous at the same time.
Then someone said, wait – isn’t that phrase “art before breakfast” a title of a book?
Yeah, someone else replied. It’s Danny Gregory’s book, Art Before Breakfast.
Well that just totally burst my bubble.
I was trying to think of a phrase that describes how I work, without saying artist. Making art before breakfast is what I DO. I had no idea there was a book with that title.
Don’t you hate it when you have a brilliant idea, only to find out it’s already been done in some way?
It’s already been done = Hell
Bubble burst, I went to bed
kind of deflated in a total funk about my business cards.
For over a week, the project just lingered.
I felt defensive.
For example, I wrote a book, in 2007, with the title: The Creative Entrepreneur.
How many people have you heard of that use Creative Entrepreneur to describe their work or audience? I never heard those words put together until my publisher and editor recommended it as my title. It’s not a title I even liked, but that’s another story for another time.
I felt bummed out.
Once again stuck on the simple task of creative business cards.
I noodled around with some other designs and they just didn’t have the juice.
I felt whatever the opposite is of creative excitement.
She did it anyway.
She did it anyway was a theme for a conference I spoke at last year, and wove into my speech.
I really love she did it anyway as a kind of mantra, so that’s what happened next.
In my head, it actually sounds more like: F*** It! And then I swing into massive action.
Let me show you:
I decided to go with my first impulse – punctuation, the daring, edgy word for me (LOVER), the bright fuscia which has nothing to do with my brand. I don’t even have a brand.
But… these cards* make me happy.
Despite everyone’s well-considered caution and kind advice not to…
She did it anyway:
Danny Gregory, if you see this I hope you won’t be mad at me or feel I’m intruding on your territory in any way. I love your work.
If we’re ever in the same city, it would be a hoot to get together at a cafe and work in our sketchbooks. If you ever want to come to Mexico and visit, or do a workshop, I’ll host you and your people at my artist residency space here! Also – I’m going to get your book, Art Before Breakfast, and tell everyone about it.
I almost forgot, here’s what the back of the cards look like:
Creative Overthinking: Analysis Paralysis
If there were a formula for overthinking it might look like this:
Signs You Are Overthinking Something To Death
- Have an idea.
- Be aware of the almost immediate tendency to respond with any or all of the following:
that would be too much / too edgy / too controversial… too something
what if… it doesn’t turn out / it’s a waste of time / it doesn’t go anywhere
blah, blah, blah…
- No action is taken.
- To restate the obvious – your idea is stuck in your craw somewhere. It’s not taken any visible form in the world, or in your studio.
- Steps 1 through 4 play in repeat like a song you can’t get out of your head. Those ideas you’ve had to make something (even simple business cards) just get recycled through a million reasons why the idea is bad, and has no merit. This is a really painful place to be.
How to Have a Creative Breakthrough
- Have an idea.
- Take action: following the first thought, first impulse, however wild, crazy, inappropriate
- Commit to following the idea through to completion — whatever the outcome.
Notice the difference.
To ensure you follow through, it’s helpful to put a timeline on when you will complete it. Like when I first challenged myself to make my business cards using a template and spend no more than an hour on them.
To go from idea, to completion of a creative idea, I have to take action, while avoiding my innate tendency to second-guess and doubt myself.
Doesn’t that sound easy?
My small victory in overcoming overthinking (edgy business cards inside)
Well, as the old saw goes, it is simple. But not so easy.
If it were that easy to create, I’m sure no one would be here reading my blog or needing to learn about creative practice. Everyone would be too busy creating!
I Double Dare you to go take massive action on that idea that’s been stuck in your craw.
Tell me what you are daring to do.
Tell me what creative thing you are thinking of doing, even if you’re scared you might not take action.
Bring your idea to completion.
Then come back tell me what happened, if you like.
I want hear your creative breakthrough stories.
I still dream of a pack of business cards that have images of my art on them. So that’s my next creative challenge. Stay tuned! I have a feeling these are going to happen a lot quicker now that I’ve shared this story.
*If you want to make this same design for your own business cards, I got them at MOO, using the template, Plainly Fancy.
This link will get you 20% off your first order (and $15 for me). You know, for that order of arty business cards I’m going to do next.