500 Words About: Ideas

Ideas are slippery. They lurk around the fringes of my mind like weird deep sea fish. Ideas are shadow figures, only visible out of the corner of my eye when I’m not trying to see them. Do I catch them, or do they catch me? 

Ideas can also be comforting. Today I lost my composure, ugly crying on the phone with my husband about debt and budgeting and business and all the ideas I can’t pin down. I dried my tears, hung up the phone and then…BANG! I was hit by an idea like a surprise jump hug from a friend. My cheeks flushed and my hands fumbled to my keyboard to write the idea down as soon as possible before it disappeared. It wasn’t the most complex idea, but it was honest. It was funny. It was good. 

In the world of art and design, my focus is stationery. Greeting cards are my most common medium. I write, design, and print my own work. My work is almost always just text. Simplicity. Black ink. Ideas - good ideas - can be hard to come by. Countless writers and designers have repeated the same sets of words for centuries. I love you. I’m sorry. Happy birthday. Congratulations. 

Sometimes I sit down to write new cards and I end up stewing in the futility of it all. “THERE ARE NO NEW WAYS TO SAY THESE THINGS!” “ALL OF MY IDEAS ARE STUPID!” “I’M A TOTAL FAILURE!” On days like that (yesterday), I close my notebook, walk away from my computer, and do something else. (Like make dentist appointments and take the dog to the groomer and eat a lot of All Dressed chips.) On days like those, there’s no amount of persistence that will push me through to great ideas. 

On days like today, the fog lifts suddenly and before I know it, I’ve written a whole new series of things. I order new paper and printing plates with confidence. I’m giddy and can’t wait to print this new series and share it with the world. I’ve gone from abject failure to inspiring entrepreneur in no time flat!

I watched an insane movie on Netflix the other day called Girlfriend’s Day. It’s about a greeting card writer who is in a writing rut and is stuck on an idea that could mean life or death. (Like I said, it’s an insane movie.) But as nuts as it was, the movie left me with a quote that is so poignant, I can’t help but share it.

“You’ve got to have the feelings first, then you can write about them." 

I think the emotional breakdowns, flailing arms, doing mundane tasks, and feeling like a failure are important steps in my creative process. Every time I think that I can skip all of that and go straight for the good stuff, but it’s not that simple. I have to go through the process so that my mind can work on the ideas when I’m not paying attention. Then, like magic, there the ideas are! Fully formed and ready to go. But it’s not magic, it’s just the end of the longer process. All of my best work has been personal. This new idea is personal, too. My brain tapped into the struggles and the “if I don’t start laughing about this, I won’t stop crying” dynamic of working for yourself and wrote a series about that. I don’t always appreciate the way my mind works, but I love the results when it’s finally time to make something new.