Each of my creative outlets draw from a central source, a creative pool of stimuli, experiences, curiosity, and research. Julia Cameron calls it the “artists’ well”; a term I used for a long time because it fit, but eventually it became more of a warehouse, a continuously stocked library of information I could rely on, become inspired by, have my interest or curiosity piqued, or a lexicon of sensory and emotional language and resonant anchors.
Formally trained actors and performers call this the “actor’s toolbox”. Isn’t it interesting that the language crossovers are not dissimilar from one craft to the next? This is because so many creative crafts are tied together through this central place of human experience, the story of humanity that we share and explore through creative outlets are all intimately rooted in having experienced something, whether positive, negative, or other–then transformed that experience into an artform, an output, an equation or a scientific explanation. What we learn through this tool, becomes the output in our theater performance, music, theorem, child rearing, community building, and consistently evolving cultural evolution.
Because my warehouse is fundamental to all my creative crafts and forms; writing, storytelling, photography, sculpting, and so on…it’s the tool I focus on the most, and the place I always return to when I’m stuck.
How do I prepare my warehouse and keep it stocked?
This requires continuous upkeep and maintenance. It’s harder at first, when you’re getting the hang of it, but over time, it becomes habit and it happens naturally. Information goes in, and is cataloged and stored for later.
I keep several folders and notebooks of questions I need answers to, things I’m curious about, adventures I’d like to have, places I’d like to go, people I’d love to meet and so on. I call these drivers. Piqued my curiosity? Drop it in the drivers bucket in the warehouse—I guarantee it will come up later, or I’ll stumble into a situation that allows me to experience the answer. Someone hands me a book on a topic I was thinking about, a friend posts link on my wall, a piece of information connects while watching a random movie, or I have time to spare and can surf the Wikipedia wonders of interconnected topics.
Drivers are my key to staying in fresh energy of information and experiences. This has led me to a personal understanding that to be a diverse artist, I need to live an interesting life. If I’m going to tell stories about adventures, I need to live adventures. If I’m going to tell stories about love, I need to live love, and have it in my warehouse of experiences to draw upon.
Creation is never stagnant. Stagnation is death to any living thing. Movement, kinetic energy, growth are all fundamental to evolution; art, stories and inspiration are all part of that evolutionary process. Drivers are really about movement. Tidbits that urge me down the next rabbit hole, or send me off the path of an uncharted discovery all begin with the investigative potential sparked by drivers.
Image & Sensory Files (A Lexicon)
Visualization is a powerful technique. I used to keep folders and drawers of photography, clippings and images that sparked my imagination. Now I have the wonder of Pinterest that allows me to surf, snag and pin unlimited delightful imagery and sensory inspirations to my heart’s content. Pins boards galore house the bulk of my imagery inspirations, and even many boards on my Drivers.
But storing the information on a cloud server isn’t enough. Sensory data demands experience. When I’m needing more sensory data for my Warehouse, I go to the fabric store, and touch EVERYTHING. I wander through craft markets, bazaars, and farmer’s markets. I walk through the forest and catalog the scents. I go to new restaurants and taste dishes I think sound interesting, odd, or delightful. I smell things.
I am often overheard asking, “Hey Liz, can I sniff your muffins?” No joke. But how else to catalog that amazing fresh-baked blueberry muffin scent?
I sniff things. I touch a lot. I put an enormous amount of food and drink in my mouth. I wear unusual textiles. Stare at pretty things, ugly things, confusing things…and make notes. I take a lot of pictures for reference on light, shadow, and drape. I lose time whilst running my fingers over strange surfaces, or rolling a new flavor around my palate.
Idiosyncrasies. The word used to describe artist types with odd or out of normal tendencies. But what most folks don’t know is that those artists are cataloging life, tastes, experiences, and so on—for use later, whether they’re aware of it consciously or not. Sure, some of us are just plain weird, and that’s cool, too. But when you see me glaze over after taking a bite of something amazing, it’s probable I’m cataloging a reference point to come back to the experience ten years down the road, while writing a story.
The Yes Factor
When I went through theatre training at the Portland Actor’s Conservatory, the most profound tool they taught me was yes. I was already doing it in my real life, and in storytelling—but I didn’t know it also applied to performance. What else is living and storytelling, but performance, really.
Anyway, the yes in theater performance is the willingness to try, experiment, interact with—and ACT. Yes, is always an action, even if that action is inaction.
In this section of my yes factor in the Warehouse is an aisle called, “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”
Walking down this aisle you’d think I have a master’s degree in failure. It’s like a screw-up’s hall of fame. It’s littered with plaques and trophies with labels such as, “Unemployable”, “You’re fired!”, “I quit”, “We need a divorce”, “bankruptcy”, “default”, and so on. I could list a half dozen more, but I’m sure you get the gist.
Other boxes and files on this aisle of the warehouse are labeled, “That was a close one” “Woohooo!” “Your book is done”, “Here are the keys to your house”.
Why would I call this section the Yes Factor?
Because as a human, an artist, I had to say yes to every one of the situations that led me through these events. Some I caused myself, others I had a hand in, and some had nothing to do with me except that I was in the wrong or right place, at the wrong or right time. They were all events that I participated in, even if only by association.
But I had to be open to the experience on some level, and learning from it. Yes is a door to information—it’s not always the information you want or ask for, but part of the yes journey is accepting that truth in any form. Part of the yes is saying, “I’m taking all the experience, even the painful, even the ugly, and especially the difficult. And if the experience is lovely, mind-blowing, or glorious—I’m grateful to have it. Then I’m going to store, catalog, and learn from said experiences so I can use it for my work.”
Yes also leads to some pretty phenomenal things, right? It’s not always failure. Yes, can be a lifelong relationship. It can be a relationship that last a month, but still provides one of the best experiences in your lifetime. Yes can be a side trip down the scenic route. Yes can be the choice to book those tickets to Venice, or smile at the cute guy at the coffee shop.
Yes is simply the willingness to try. It’s the willingness to step beyond a definition, to cross a threshold.
In storytelling terms, Yes is answering the call to adventure. It’s the agreement to transitions your story on one particular subject to act two.
Yes, is the contract you make with your life to engage. To challenge your fear, to accept change, to move toward your own climax or destination.
The results of my yes factor are stored in my warehouse. A lovely benefit to this willingness to engage, is that I’m never without a shortage of stories to tell, weird careers to call upon, interesting facts to reference, and pleasant encounters to reminisce upon.
Putting it all together.
Having a fully stocked and organized warehouse is my most effective tool. It’s all-encompassing. It’s the data storage of life and living, dreams and aspirations, desires and fears. It’s the record center of success and failure, imagination, and curiosities.
Some people’s warehouses might look like a circus emporium; other’s a Fort Knox of ideas.
Mine’s a bit of a menagerie, fantasy creatures and stories that never happened mixed with true events no one would ever believe. I satisfy my storytelling by expressing all of it, and leaving the reality up to the imaginations of others. It’s not unlike an episode of Warehouse 13, actually. Sometimes I have no idea what’s going to get pulled out of storage while I’m in there looking for something else. Often hilarity ensues.
The point of the warehouse is to have wealth of information and inspiration to draw upon. When people ask me where I get my ideas or inspiration, I answer, “the warehouse”. Other artists might say, “from life”, or “I get my ideas from everything around me or in the world”.
It’s hard not to sigh when someone asks me where my ideas come from, because once you’ve habitualized living as an art form…you’re never out of ideas. You’re never short on concepts, never dry of plans, never empty of direction or desire, never not hungry for more experience and input.
And once you’ve reached a point of living like you’re constantly devouring the world data around you, building and creating, and manifesting from that state perpetually; then when someone asks where your ideas come from it’s hard not to say, “Pay attention, man! They’re everywhere. They’re lying on the sidewalk like glittering coins, and dripping from the trees.”
Taking the time to explain the answer to someone who is willfully blind to the inspiration around them is exhausting. It’s often draining and unfruitful.
If you have to ask where ideas come from, you’re announcing willful blindness, and asking someone to tell you how to see a world in color. You’re announcing a lack of general curiosity about the complex and wondrous diversity of life. By saying you’re out of ideas, you’re saying, “I’m indifferent to the magic in my immediate environment. I don’t understand gratitude. I don’t know how to recognize the gift of learning from drawing breath.”
Being in that state is not a bad thing if it works. For most people it doesn’t work. For most people they need “something more” and they don’t know what that is. They’re secretly bored, directionless, and depressed, so they go looking for someone to tell them how to get ideas. Their creative world has stagnated, and stagnation breeds a slow death.
There is an answer, there is a cure. There is a way to invigorate your creative center, to breathe life back into your day-to-day. There’s a way to turn your boredom into a rocket forge of creative potential with more ideas than you can manifest in a lifetime. There’s a way to charge your relationships, build your skills, and bring dimensionality back to your world.
But it begins with a willingness to see, to hear, to be affected. It begins with a deal you make with yourself to take the journey, even if you don’t know where the destination is, or who’s going with you. It begins with risk, with a yes, with a notebook and a desire to know, feel, witness, and learn.
And when you accept the call to adventure and you cross that threshold into act two of your creative story—you’ll be opening yourself up to information to catalog, store, and use for later. And you will, because once you take the risk, and truly open up to the wealth of creative energy around you, the movement will become a forward direction away from stagnation, and you won’t be able to hold back all the ideas.
For the next chapter on process and tools, Click to: The Method and the Channel