Ideas, Inspirations, and Creativity in the Real World

by Joelle Steele

Among the questions I am most frequently asked are those about where I get my ideas, the source of my inspirations, and how I translate these things or concepts into something creative, such as a story, a poem, a painting, etc. I think it is safe to assume that, based on my experience with other creative people, I am inspired with ideas in the same way that they are. You see, hear, feel, or even dream about something, and you're off and running with it, finding unique ways to express it in your choice of media.

But because I create for a living, I often have to create on demand, turning the mundane or everyday product or service or ordinary idea into something magic — the final creative product. This is considerably different than creating when the mood strikes you. It means you must find inspiration for something on the spot, and you must immediately put it into words or images that are suitable for your client's needs. It also means that you cannot work in a giant vacuum. You must instead create within the confines, the restrictions, and the limitations of someone else's ideas or visions. You must interpret what they want and then produce it in the style appropriate to their project. In some ways, this might appear to take some of the fun out of creativity, but after more than 30 years of creating on demand, I have learned to see it as a challenge and a learning experience. The more I create for others, the more proficient I become at interpreting their requirements, the easier it is for me to do the job and enjoy it, and the more satisfied my clients are with the finished product.

I have always particularly enjoyed designing covers for books and albums/CDs as well as business cards, letterhead stationery, and Web site banners. These small projects give me an opportunity to do paintings, illustrations, photography, and a fair amount of computer enhancement. When it comes to cover designs, I enjoy selecting and setting the fonts and sometimes even writing the book blurbs or liner notes. There is a wonderful interplay between a book or CD and the artwork that accompanies it. I always read the book and listen to the CD because then I really know what that item dictates in the way of design and art to sell it. And I always try to remain mindful of the fact that designing a cover is creating a marketing tool for a book or music publisher. What I create will have a direct impact on how the item sells.

Not everything that I create is for a client. About a third of my creations are for my own use, such as writing or illustrating my own books that I self-publish, writing articles for my Web sites or for a class I'm teaching, writing lyrics and poems, painting pictures in acrylic or watercolor, sketching in pencil or charcoal, taking photographs, restoring family photos, typesetting my family histories, making handbags or beaded jewelry and other items, doing designs for my own garden, and sewing curtains, pillows, slipcovers, etc., for the house. In all these cases, I am just doing my own thing without restrictions or deadlines.

As a creative person, I think I speak for others like myself when I say that we see the world differently than most other people do. For example, when I walk down the street, go into a store, enter someone's house, visit a park, etc., I see a story in everything. I can write a poem about it. I can paint a picture of it. I want to photograph it. I have a need and a desire to interpret it in some way. I can't help myself. I have no control over this. It's not because I was born looking at the world differently; it's because I have trained my mind over decades to see the magic in the mundane. And I apparently did a very good job of it, since it is now an integral part of who I am, and I'm always on automatic pilot, so to speak. In fact, there are many times where I wish I could turn off my brain for a short while to have some relief from all this mental activity. Creativity is born from an awful lot of synaptic energy!

With inspiration and ideas comes a need to keep track of them all. Like any other kind of project you have in mind, any goal you want to achieve, you need to put it in writing and remind yourself of it regularly. Often I find that my list of creative projects begins to form a pattern, which in many cases turns into a book that I write and illustrate. Sometimes it becomes a series of paintings or a collection of poems or lyrics. By writing everything down or making quick sketches, I never lose sight of my ideas and I can work on them whenever the mood strikes, or whenever I have a client who needs something just like what I'm already working on.

Do I ever draw a blank? No, I can't say that I do. Creativity is like a muscle that has to be exercised regularly, and when you do that, you are far less likely to become creatively blocked in any way. Handling life's problems also clears your mind for new inspirations and provides you with the mental fitness and freedom to create. While some creative people insist that they create best under the influence of alcohol or drugs, I have rarely seen such people produce much in the way of work, and I have almost never seen them achieve any financial success or recognition for their endeavors.

Creativity and success do not always go hand-in-hand. Does that mean that a creative person is doomed to financial failure in life? Hardly. There are thousands of people who have healthy bank accounts thanks to their creative pursuits. Many companies and industries need creative services. There are tens of thousands of advertising and public relations firms alone. There are museums and art galleries galore. The entertainment industry employs a good percentage of the world's creative population. Even fine artists have more opportunities thanks to virtual online galleries and eBay stores. There is almost nothing in the world that was not created by an artist.

For freelancers, it's a tougher road, and you definitely need some basic business sense to make a go of it, but everywhere there are countless opportunities to ply your creative trade, whatever it may be. Finding those opportunities just takes some time. And speaking of time, creative people rarely, if ever, retire. And why would we? We've got some of the very best, most exciting, and challenging jobs in the world!

This article last updated: 11/13/2013.