How to Recognize Problems in Your Creative Work Before Seeking Critiques.

“If you don’t understand a problem, then explain it to an audience and listen to yourself.” —Tom Hirshfield

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Your creative work isn’t where you want it to be. You’ve done your checklists, and it’s still lacking. You want to improve your baby so your teacher, critique partner, or coach doesn’t end up doing your work.

So, before you ask for someone else’s feedback, try this simple method and add zest to your creative work every time.

Recognize You in Your Audience

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aren’t you a reader, a viewer of art, a listener in an audience? You qualify as the one who knows what’s missing in your creation. And who cares more about your work than you do?

Step Away and Come Back as Someone Else

In order to switch roles, let your work sit so time lessens your memory and emotions as its creator. Then when you come back to the work, come back as a person in your audience.

Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re a novelist like I am, return as a reader. You’re no longer the writer. You’re a reader who paid $12.95 for this book. Surely, you wouldn’t sit in the writer’s chair. Instead, sit where you usually read books. And most likely, you read from an e-reader or the printed page, not from writing software. So ahead of time, you might want to transfer the problem section to your e-reader or print it.

Do whatever you need to do to become a member of your audience. 

Give a Piece of Your Mind

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re a reader, re-read the novel, chapter, scene, paragraph, or sentence and ask: When do I first sense something is bitter or bland?

Here are some possibilities:

  • I yawned. If I were the writer, I’d create some action right here that brought out my emotions. Something to keep me awake.
                • I’m disgusted. I dislike the heroine. If I were the writer, I’d either show her nice side or   get another heroine.

Finish reading the selection and tell that author what you’d do to fix each problem area. Then take her for tea and chocolate scones.

If you’re an artist, it might go like this:

  • My eyes keep going to the clump of dirt on the path. If I were the artist, I wouldn’t let that clump distract from the couple kissing in the garden. I’d tone the clump down.
  • It’s the woman. Her cheek is one-dimensional. If I were the artist, I’d add shading to transform her from a paper doll into vibrant woman.
Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I think we forget to put ourselves in our audience. Readers, viewers, and listeners always see what they don’t like and usually have an opinion of how to fix it. We can too.

How have you corrected problem areas in your work before getting others’ feedback?

5 Steps to Recharge Your Creativity

“The wise learn from the experience of others, and the creative know how to make a crumb of experience go a long way.” — Eric Hoffer

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you ever feel your creativity is at an all time low? Everything you do is a rehash of what you did when your creativity burst like fireworks on the Fourth of July? Your bucket comes up dry from your fresh-ideas well?

Try this method and feel your creative juices start to rumble and bubble deep within you.

Step 1 – Observe

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grab your laptop or a sheet of paper and a pen and sit in three different places for 5 minutes. Make sure:

  • one is a favorite room inside,
  • one is a less favorite setting like a laundry room or bathroom,
  • and one is outside.

During your 5 minutes in each place inspect items around you and list 3 things that delight you.

Example:

In a favorite nook, I enjoy the hand-carved leaves and flowers of a table from India. The details on the fireplace iron insert surprise me in how the designer combined art, simplicity, and function. Studying the ends of the magazine rack shaped like a musician’s lyre, I recall why I bought it at an antique mall.

In the laundry room, I like the convenience of the hand-wash function on the washing machine. The curved sides of the stacked washer and dryer. And the sunny wall color someone named Cloudy Sunset.

Outside, I delight in the bright yellow and black goldfinches on our feeder. The furry bunny licking the dew from the earthy slate on our back porch. Today’s sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains. And the new red Gerbera daisy that opened this morning.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Step 2 – Imagine

Now imagine the creator of each thing you listed, the artisan, designer, or inventor. Picture his excitement about his idea, his enjoyment at each stroke of his hand, and his reluctance to leave his creation at lunchtime. Imagine another’s mental pictures as she considered how you would receive her handiwork. Her hope you’d delight in a particular aspect.

 

Step 3 – Thank

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Take a moment and mentally thank each creator for his gift, his willingness to learn his craft, his work, his perseverance, and his desire to make life a little better for you. I’m thanking the woodcarver, the iron inset designer, the paint colorist, and God for their creations.

Step 4 – Ask

MP900289434From all the items you listed, ask yourself whether something in the observing, imagining, or appreciation experiences might spark a fresh idea for your audience. Using my observed items:

  • A time-saving idea for your blog
  • An historical romance about an iron fireplace inset maker
  • A painting to capture God’s awesome sunrise
  • An interesting shape to add to your pottery
  • A children’s story about a thirsty bunny
  • An article about perseverance in your art
  • Earrings in the shape of lyres

Paintbrush with Blue PaintStep 5 – Act

Even if an idea for your next creation fails to strike you immediately, do something that calls you to create. Think of those close to you who could use a boost.

  • A doll on a shelf inspires making paper dolls for your daughters.
  • A lyre magazine rack sparks writing a love song for your wife.
  • A cake on a magazine cover instigates decorating cupcakes for your kindergarten class to resemble each child’s face in skin, hair, and eye color and adding their initials.

The bigger ideas will come now that you’re back in action.

Please share an idea you had while stepping through this method.

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The Secret Ingredient to Engaging Your Audience

“Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.” —Nancy Duarte

Hot Dog and Chopsticks

You step back from your creative work and, no matter how hard you rationalize its appeal, you know in your heart something is missing. The ingredient that takes it from dull to fascinating.

Most of us know the secret ingredient already. Then why don’t we use it? I’ll address reasons why we overlook the secret ingredient after I give you some examples of how it’s been employed.

Secret Ingredient: CONTRAST.

Musical Instrument Keyboard KeysExample 1: My favorite rhythm activity with preschoolers is freeze dance. In Bible Study Fellowship and Sunday school, we danced to music pieces on the small keyboard I carried. Then I’d punch the stop button. The children froze arms, legs, and face expressions. I tried to catch them in a stumbling stop or moving when silence dropped. They enjoyed the dancing, the anticipation, and avoiding getting caught.

The freeze dance provides these contrasts:

  • freely moving bodies vs. rigid frozen bodies
  • doing our own thing vs. obeying the rule to stop
  • anticipation vs. fun result

When we solely put on music and let them dance with scarves, the children didn’t stay engaged very long. Unless they used their scarves as whips (creating their own contrast).

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Example 2: If you sat in a waiting room with a blue wall in front of you, how long would you stare at the wall with interest? Now, say the wall was white with a foot-by-foot blue square painted on it. Would your eye wander to that blue square now and then? Would you wonder why someone painted a blue square on the white wall? Might you imagine what you would have put on the wall instead of the blue square? Or what you’d add to the blue square?

The contrast of blue and white, big and small, and the why and why not of the blue square creates more interest than a solid blue wall. That’s why artists use light and dark, shadows and highlights.

  ←  →

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example 3: Would you sit through a movie or play where the actors constantly shouted? Or issued nonstop dramatic emotion—always whining or always blubbering or always laughing? Actors and storytellers know sprinkling subtle and dramatic emotions, shouts and whispers, and movement and stillness engages their audiences.

??????????????????????????Too much of anything gets old and audiences lose interest.

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Example 4: And for me, the greatest contrast of all: Creator and created. If the Bible were only about humans and their sinful natures and fleeting brief lives on earth, our future would be hopeless. But the Bible reveals the nature of the almighty Creator who sent His Son to earth to save us from our sins, give us eternal life in His kingdom, and make us whole.

←  →

Why doesn’t a writer, an artist, or presenter use contrasts? Here’s reasons that came to my mind:

  • He does, but uses less than polar contrasts. The contrasts fall short of appearing different to the audience. The actor reduces his screams to shouts.
  • He fails to put the contrasts he sees in his mind into his work. This is a common problem of novice writers. They imagine a scene and its emotions but fall short of transferring what they’ve created in their minds to the page.
  • He uses an experience in his personal life. His emotional struggles with the experience convince him to avoid one side of the contrast. Contrasting costs too much pain.
  • He thinks the one element that intrigues him is sufficient to attract his audience. He forgets his passion must be related to the audience. Contrasting that element to its opposite helps the audience see his viewpoint.

Can you share an example of how you’ve contrasted elements in your creative work?

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