How to Salvage Your Sagging Creative Work with Spontaneous Absurdity

“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous, unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.”

 —Henry Miller

file4391309901763.jpgSometimes a project droops like one of Dali’s clocks. Can you salvage the painting, the scene, or the children’s activity?

When your creative work slumps, do something spontaneously absurd to it.

No. Don’t throw or destroy your work. Ask, “With my creativity still intact, but my internal editor turned off, what would I like to do right now to this work?” Then do it.

You may be surprised that your work improves three-fold.

See what I mean in these fictitious examples of Spontaneous Absurdity.

Example 1

id-1004940.jpgThe work: Wade paints a jade-green rubber tree houseplant. He’s eager to add the pièce de résistance: the new yellow shoot.

Sinking Realization: Wade paints the yellow budding leaf and steps back. Humpf. It’s still a rubber tree houseplant. Even he can resist this pièce.

Spontaneous Absurdity: How about a plant from another planet? While the paint is wet, Wade recreates the shoot into a corkscrew that ends in a burst of fuchsia.

§§§

Example 2

Ending of Jeanne’s Novel:

Arthur took Megan into his arms, lowered his head, and kissed her. Her heart pounded. She’d spend her life with this handsome man.

Jeanne’s Critique Partner’s Note: Something’s missing. Actually, a lot.

Spontaneous Absurdity: Okay. How about this for something!

id-10075211.jpgArthur led Meghan through the downpour into the summerhouse. He drew her to him and cupped her head, a drop of water threatening to fall from the curl hanging over his forehead.

Goosebumps prickled Meghan’s arms. Would he finally kiss her?

As he lowered his lips toward hers, she placed her fingertips to his pursed lips. “I’ve called you Arthur from the beginning. The name is so formal, don’t you think? Now that you seem about to press your lips to mine, may I call you Art?”

He grinned and rubbed his nose against hers. “Only if I may call you Meg.” The drop fell from his curl and ran down her cheek like a tear. “Don’t cry, Meghan. I won’t call you Meg.”

She fluttered her lashes. “You see, Meg is the name of our neighbor’s pet skunk. But you may shorten my name to Han.”

He brushed her lips with his, sending tingles up her neck.

“Okay. Then you may shorten Arthur to Hur. I like that better than Art.”

She giggled. “How delightful. Hur and Han. What an interesting beginning to our relationship, Hur.”

“No, lovely Han. This is an interesting beginning to our relationship.” He sank his lips onto hers.

§§§ 

Example 3

file000608292008.jpgAngela’s Preschool Activity: “Cut lips like this example and paste them to your Valentine for a kiss.”

Preschoolers: “Mommy says I’m left-handed. I can’t use these scissors.” “I need help. I can’t cut around the bumps.” “I have only one lip. Sniff. By accident.”

Spontaneous Absurdity: Angela extracts her Red Rumba lipstick from her purse and a tissue. She zips from child to child, smoothing on lipstick to their puckered lips, and then wipes the lipstick clean for the next child. “Kiss your valentine as many times as you wish.”

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You Can Squeeze By-Products from Your Creative Works

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.” —Marcel Proust

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’ve worked hard on your creative work.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get more mileage from each project?

I assure you, valuable hidden by-products wait to be discovered in the projects you’ve finished.

Discovering a by-product from one creative endeavor to use in another is a creative exercise in itself.

Here are 2 examples that show how I’ve squeezed by-products from my creative endeavors.

By-products

Example 1.

by MrMagic
by MrMagic

My first grandson spent almost every Sunday afternoon and some weekends with my husband and I. We came up with adventures for our times together. Walks in the woods, pretending we were the characters in the stories we read to him. Airshows, treasure hunts, building cities with blocks and plastic roads. Finding the perfect walking sticks to keep the lions away. Even a trip to Florida.

Then, during the years I was learning to write fiction, my grandson turned seven. I wrote a novel about a young American woman who travels to a mountain mission in Costa Rica. She ends up on an adventure with a seven-year-old American girl, whom she protects from thugs hunting for the child.

From our adventures with my seven-year-old grandson, I knew just how a seven-year-old talked and thought. I knew how silly or sad or wise a seven-year-old could be. For my by-product novel, I milked his mannerisms, things he said, how he moved, his facial expressions, his emotions and fears, and his jokes for my story. All from the creative play and adventures with my grandson.

I didn’t sell the novel, but the one thing the editor commented on in her rejection was her interest in the relationship and interactions between the woman and the child.

Example 2.

Prayer Beads
Prayer Beads

Some years ago, I self-published two books of contemporary Christian short stories. After giving dramatic readings of some of the stories in several venues, an idea hit me for a by-product of my stories.

The theme of two of the stories was prayer. Using those two stories, I developed a workshop on prayer. Interspersed between dramatic readings of the stories, we broke into discussion groups, and ended the workshop with a fun craft. I was invited to give the workshop several times. This by-product from my short stories was the springboard to other types of speaking engagements.

To squeeze by-products from creative works, get into the habit of looking for elements within them that can be used in a new project.

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How to Answer: What Is the Essence of Your Creative Career?

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” —Thales

ID-10089420
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re asked to share about yourself and your creative work. You start to write a blurb for a proposal or prepare for an interview. You realize you don’t understand yourself and what you do as well as you thought.

Answer these 5 questions as honestly as you can. Hopefully, you’ll understand yourself and your creative work better. And perhaps, you’ll recognize changes you need to make.

5 Questions: 

1. What are your motives in pursuing your creative work?

Image courtesy of Keattikorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Keattikorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Check all the motives that apply and then rank them:

  • Express yourself
  • Entertain others
  • Shock people
  • Teach principles
  • Gain notoriety
  • Help others
  • Offer audiences better than what’s on the market
  • Make a statement
  • Share truths
  • Make lots of money
  • Provide for your/family needs
  • Obey a call
  • Please someone other than a normal fan
  • Provide yourself a hobby
  • Show off your knowledge or talent
  • Enhance your non-creative work
  • Relate with others
  • Keep your job
  • Impress others
  • Other

Look at your top few and understand why you do what you do.

Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2. What are you doing, and what do you really want to do? 

  • Be on the cutting edge. Fads. (Chicklit, black-velvet paintings, Disco dances)
  • Perform short-term creative activities (decorated cakes, Sunday school activities, magazine articles)
  • Perform long-term creative activities (books, gallery work, speaking tours)
  • Reach local market
  • Reach National/worldwide market
  • Reach a small niche
  • Obtain successful sales
  • Obtain bestselling status
  • Produce Classics/masterpieces (over centuries)
  • Other

Understand where you are and where you’re headed, considering the work and sacrifices.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3. What do you envision someone in your audience doing MOST of the time while they experience your work?

  • Crying
  • Choking up
  • Laughing
  • Smiling
  • Sighing
  • Stewing
  • Steaming
  • Judging
  • Reminiscing
  • Imagining
  • Dreaming
  • Hoping
  • Agreeing/Disagreeing
  • Thinking
  • Ah-ha-ing
  • Thrilling
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Fearing
  • Trembling
  • Worrying
  • Learning
  • Growing
  • Envisioning
  • Relaxing
  • Delighting
  • Stopping the experience
  • Other

Understand what it is you’re trying to do for your audience.

4. What have others said about your creative work? Recall what you’ve heard formally or casually from:

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Family and friends
  • Reviewers
  • Supervisors
  • Classmates in creative workshops
  • Social Media
  • Contest Judges
  • Creative colleagues in your field
  • Other

Understand how others see you and your work.

5. How would you describe improvements in you and your work? Also, are your answers to the above questions different today than they would’ve been five years ago?

  • Your work is more about what your audience’s wants than what you want.
  • Your work leads your audience to what you wish to convey rather than being simply a creation.
  • Your work receives positive comments that come in sentences, instead of single words, such as “Nice” or “Awesome!”
  • Your work shows you know the principles of good craft.
  • You want to rework, hide, or retract your first works.
  • You enjoy seeking ways to make your work better.
  • You study the works of others in your field.
  • Other

When you understand how you and your work have improved, you realize you’re the artist you think you are.

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