Starting Your Creative Adventure


Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen. Seth Godin

With the above definition of art in mind, a creative adventure can be anything from creating a book, a painting, a product, a service, a business, an organization to a variety of other undertakings.

When we adventure creatively in our lives, we’re figuring out how we fit into the world and how we can contribute to it. Starting such an adventure, by choosing it and committing to what it requires, is probably the most difficult part of creating.

Before GPS and maps and even coordinate systems existed, early explorers set out on daunting voyages using simple navigation tools and techniques that measured their position in relation to the landscape and stars.

Just like early explorers, creative adventurers need to set out with their own simple tools to help guide them along their way. Here are four for beginning:


Your horizon line

On the ridge where the great artist moves forward, every step is an adventure, an extreme risk.Albert Camus

Your horizon line is your quiet, calm mind that you can rely on when making decisions about how to move forward. Creative adventuring is all about taking one step at a time in the direction we want to go. Each step involves its own risk, its own choice, its own struggle. For the most part, we cannot know what will happen when we take our next step, and we likely aren’t ready for the future steps that will follow. But we need to be able to make decisions, work hard and keep moving forward even when we’re full of fear and doubt. We need to trust ourselves to be our own guides at each next step. It can feel impossible to do this when we’re busy thinking anxious, self-critical thoughts or when we’re distracted by countless other things. That’s why cultivating a practice of quieting our minds is so important. Your practice might by meditating, doodling, walking, sitting in nature, staring at your dog or even showering. Begin practicing that activity every day to slow yourself down and calm your busy mind.


Your starting point

That’s why you start where you are. Not where you wish you were. Not where you hope you are. Not where you think you should be. But right where you are.Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Our backgrounds, talents and interests will, of course, all help shape the creative adventure before us. It’s important that we understand where we are so that we can better guide ourselves along our way. The following questions are intended to break our histories and passions into simpler, smaller parts that we can take stock of:

  • List 5 of your most vivid moments. (These are the intense moments in life when you’ve felt fully awake. These moments and their related feelings can be good pointers for the direction you’re headed, as well as good inspiration for your art, whatever shape it takes.)
  • List 5 of your most difficult experiences. (Pain holds abstract ideas that you can draw on to inspire your artwork. In addition, helping people get through a pain that you understand can give you a direction to pursue with passion.)
  • List 10 things you find fascinating. (These can be any objects, ideas, places, experiences, etc. that, for some reason or another, you find intriguing.)
  • List 5 things you feel strongly about. (What are you so interested in you would shout it from a rooftop? What are you uniquely qualified to express? What would you die for?)
  • List the things you’ve spent 10,000 hours practicing. (Regardless of the debate around the idea that 10,000 hours of deep practice will make you an expert, it’s important to pay attention to the things that we’ve spent a lot of time on. Note that this is about 6 hours a day for 4.5 years or 3 hours a day for 9 years.)
  • List 10 things that really matter in your life. (These are the things you want to hold on to while you’re on your creative adventure.)
  • List 5 reasons you want to go on this creative adventure.
  • List 5 reasons you’re afraid to go on this creative adventure. (It’s important to acknowledge our fears so we aren’t ruled by them.)


Your guiding lights

What is interesting is the artist, and what is interesting about the artist are his own convictions. David Smith

There are endless loud voices around us and in our own heads telling us what to value and what to do. Checking in with ourselves about our current values, finding what’s authentic and true for ourselves today, is a critical step before starting on our creative adventure. With these values as our guiding lights, even if our path isn’t always clear, we’ll at least know if we’re headed in the right direction by aligning what we’re doing with what we believe.

Guiding lights are your answers to the Big Questions of life, creativity, work and meaning. If this makes you squirm, just be flexible and curious. Ask the questions that work for you, make up your own questions and see what you discover. (These questions come, in part, from Designing Your Life by Burnett & Evans. You can replace ‘work’ with ‘create’ if that is helpful.)

  • Why are you here?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of life?
  • What is the relationship between the individual and others?
  • Is there a higher power or something transcendent?
  • If yes to the above, what impact does that have on your life?
  • Why do you work?
  • What is work for?
  • What does work mean?
  • How does work relate to the individual, others and society?
  • What defines good and worthwhile work?
  • What does money have to do with it?
  • What do experience, growth and fulfillment have to do with it?


Your beacon

Don’t you possess an idea that you’ve wanted to work on for the longest time already, an idea that resurfaces unbidden, that you keep putting off, that you love but also doubt?Eric Maisel

Your beacon is your your subject, your big idea, your problem to solve. It’s the dilemma at the heart of what you’re creating. Consciously choosing a subject that feels deep, worthy and beautiful can help you commit to it, start it, work on it and complete it. Like the quote above suggests, you may already know what you want to work on next. But what if you’re still not clear? Here are some things you can do:

  • Go practice your horizon line activity. Keep practicing until ideas start coming (they will!).
  • Revisit your answers to the “starting point” questions and see what comes up. Can you mix up your answers to create new ideas?
  • Come up with ten difficult ideas, ten easy ideas, ten personal dilemmas, ten remarkable questions. When it comes to ideas, there’s power in numbers!
  • Look for inspiration in what others in your field are exploring and see what resonates with you.
  • Look at the things you started in the past: old sketches, first paragraphs, bad poems, draft plans.
  • Visualize, write and sketch for a few minutes about a few of your favorite ideas. After, does one seem more vivid or insistent than the other?

You want your idea to be absorbing and vibrant. You want to feel like you can work on it wholeheartedly. But remember, ultimately you must proceed even if you don’t know if your idea is right or not. You can’t have supreme certainty when it comes to creativity (especially in the beginning!).

What you have to do now is work. There is no right way to start. Anna Held Audette

10 Responses

  1. I especially like your references to purpose, meaning and value; the recognition that creativity is not just — or even primarily — about form. For me it’s really about the content. Thanks for another excellent essay Sarah. I’m inspired!

  2. This is very timely for me. I re-read this post twice to fully digest its content. I’ll have to keep coming back to read it on days I find myself listening to the noisy world out there.
    Thanks for taking the time to listen to your voice and putting such potent words out there for us/me to find encouragement within.

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