editor’s note:

5 Words to Guide Your Creative Journey

by colin fitzgerald

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

Whether your fingers lay motionless upon your keyboard, your paintbrush is frozen in the grasp of your hand, or your camera angles just aren’t clicking with you, I’m sure we can all agree that staring at a blank page, canvas, or photo is no fun at all. You thought you had an idea earlier, but now nothing’s coming to you. So, you’re looking for some tips to help you with your creative project, is that right? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. While I’m certainly not immune (nor is anyone) to hitting roadblocks in the creative process, I’ve found that the following five “tion” words can help reclaim the upper hand over your creation.

1.) Inspiration

Your source of inspiration can be anywhere between very simple to incredibly complex, but they usually all come from your experiences and perspective of the world. Some easy examples include; Do you love dogs? Paint one. Are you a fan of music? Try writing song lyrics. Enjoy traveling? Express your feelings in a poem. The more complex ones usually come from deep inside: What gets you up in the morning (or what doesn’t)? How can you turn your childhood experiences into a coming-of-age story? And oftentimes, it’s a mix of both: You chronicle the nights you spent honing your skills to become a master musician, all while your best friend pup was there to support you. The more personal you make it, the more likely it is to feel authentic and stand out. 

Other notable inspirations include people: family, friends, and your favorite creative in your particular field. Media that you love; stand-out songs, movies/tv shows, and pictures. Concepts that spark your interest: a specific culture, place, or idea. The list goes on, and the potential is limitless yet simultaneously daunting. Just remember to look within and ask yourself, “What makes this piece uniquely me?”

2.) Direction

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Now that you’ve got an idea, you’ll probably want to dive straight into work. But know that the direction or structure of your project heavily influences your results. This is one I struggle with often, going from my gut too long until I realize I’ve written myself off track. Making goals to meet along your journey can help from getting sidetracked or overwhelmed by the big picture. Try this, “Today, I will focus on writing only this scene.” Or, “First, I’ll get a rough sketch of what I want my painting to look like, then I’ll worry about the finer details.” Zooming in to work on the small piece of the large puzzle will help you in the long run. 

Determining key aspects is important too. You can absolutely change your mind later, but thinking about key aspects early on can save you from aimless work that you’d end up scrapping later. Are you writing an upbeat or somber piece? What style will your painting be in? What materials do you have to work with, and how long do you think it will take to finish? Knowing these things sooner rather than later gives your project better odds of crossing the finish line.

3.) Experimentation

It’s refreshing to know that when traditional methods don’t seem to be cutting it, you can always try something completely new.

                                                                                                                                                   blank page

Crap, it’s “blank page” again, see it on the right? It hurts just to look at it, let’s scram.

                                                                                                                                  blank page

The heck? Why does it keep following us?


blank page

It’s getting closer! Get out of here! Smack!

                                                                                 blank page

I hit it, but it’s still standing! You try this time!

                                                       blank page

I meant hit it, not crush it to death!

blank page


Oh man, it’s bleeding now, we gotta get outta here before the cops show up!

Make a run for it!

I think… we’re… hold on… a second. I’m… out… of breath. 


Anyways… where was I?

Right, experimentation. I tried that gag bit just now because although it’s pretty unconventional to do in this type of writing, I thought it might be funny. Maybe it was entertaining to you, or maybe it missed the mark entirely. Sometimes getting experimental can progress your project in interesting new ways. Either genius or terrible, experiments are relatively harmless, especially when you’re in the early stages. They can at least inform you of what works and what doesn’t, what you should or shouldn’t try next. 

4.) Investigation

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.com

Now that you’ve gotten down the broad strokes and are moving along nicely with your project, you may have started thinking about those nitty-gritty details. Sometimes it’s as simple as filling in the blanks to connect those broad strokes; the color of the fence in your garden painting, the spacing of the words in your poem, how formal or informal your characters speak in your story, etc. Other times, these details will be much more important. Examples I think of are period films where every prop needs to align with the setting, and how you portray elements of your work depending on the intended audience. 

Investigating for the more specific and subtle elements of a project is one of my favorite parts of my process. If you’re like me, you’ll realize your artistic vision sometimes surpasses your own knowledge, and that’s ok! In the most recent project I’ve been working on, the main character is a photographer. What do I know about photography? Before I started that project, next to nothing. But don’t let lack of knowledge keep you from trying to implement something into your work. The world wide web is your best friend in learning about and researching your detail(s). I’ve delved into photography, hairstyle terminology, highway guardrails, and other odd combinations of things. The internet can help you find the missing pieces to your puzzle that you’re looking for.

But one word of advice: don’t get too absorbed in investigating that you don’t continue the real work of your project (writing, painting, etc.).

5.) Dedication

You knew we had to cap things off with the most important “tion” word. Dedication is the easiest tip, yet it’s the hardest tip at the same time. It logically follows that the best way to make progress on your project is to, well, work on your project. As college students, especially ones living through the digital age, countless stimuli are fighting for our time every day and night. Anyone working on their degree and trying to fulfill other needs and wants will have a lot on their plate. This is why, I’ll say it again: to knuckle down and actually write your story or poem, draw your art, or snap your photo is the hardest part of any project. No matter how religiously you follow the previous four tips, you’ll struggle to finish your project without dedication.

Your greatest bet in overcoming this obstacle is choosing to make time instead of finding the time. Just like in other areas of our lives, such as sleeping, eating, and working, the routine can integrate time for your project more naturally into your schedule. Even when I wrote for only ten or twenty minutes a day, I found I was much more productive writing daily than I was writing for an hour or two once a week. This may vary depending on your personal habits and craft, but it makes sense that the more frequently you think about your project, the more smoothly your work sessions will go.

Bonus – Congratulation(s)!

But with dedication in mind, knowing you have made it this far through this editor’s note tells me, and should tell you, that you’ve got the determination to make your artistic vision come to life. Everyone has good days, and everyone has bad ones too, even me. You’re not alone in sometimes wondering, “Am I even good enough to be trying this?” and “Does my art even matter?” The answers to those questions are yes, you are always enough, and yes, you and your art will always matter. I hope that you found these tips helpful and that you’ll use them to guide your creative journey. Please remember that we’re all rooting for you here at Violet Margin

So, what are you still doing here? Go set the world ablaze with the work that you’ve forged with your own two hands!

Colin Fitzgerald is the prose editor of Violet Margin. He is a junior at UIS majoring in English. 


By violetmargin

The literary journal of the University of Illinois at Springfield.

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