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On a Whim: the Importance of Being Impulsive

A few days ago, I was doodling in the afternoon sunshine. And as I put the finishing flourishes on my flowery drawing, I thought, 'huh, I've done quite a few of these flowery drawings lately.' and then, "hmm, I don't have any big projects in the works at the moment," followed by, "gee, I wonder if other people could enjoy some flowery doodles right now."

Cut to a few hours later, and I was announcing my brand new mini-coloring book to my mailing list subscribers.

A new coloring book. Without weeks (or months) of planning.

Just on a whim in the afternoon.

How neat!

Everything I was ever taught about art emphasized the importance of planning.

Slowing down. Focusing. Extending an idea. Iterations. Drafts. Methodical strategy.

And I have to admit, some of my best pieces are the result of actually taking the time to slow down, and plan out a project, think it through, make revisions, make more revisions, and then add finishing touches.

I don't think many would argue that a carefully planned and executed work is a bad thing... but that's not what we're gonna talk about today.

Your creativity is never broken. Promise.

Anyone who's ever been in a creative funk knows that all that careful planning, while often the best approach, can sometimes backfire. It can really put the breaks on our progress. Slowing down to think it through can effectively slow us to a full stop, and before we know it, we've given up, and never got around to actually making anything. It can make us feel like our creativity is just... broken.

At times such as these, we don't need planning!

We don't need rules!

When we get mired we become uninspired!

We need a strong, wild wind to push us out of the creative block swamp!

Enter Spontaneity.

Sometimes, being impulsive is exactly what we need. Permission to be irresponsible and immature, to be free from the "shoulds" of good advice gets us actually making stuff- which is the whole point.

Being spontaneous helps us keep our momentum.

"An object in motion, stays in motion..." and as with Newton's Laws of Motion, so too with our creative lives. When we start to feel creative drain, sometimes the best way to combat it, is to keep making. Making anything. Making ugly stuff. Making stupid stuff. Just making something can save us from coming to a full stop in the creative black hole.

I have a friend who spent a good few months painting flowers. She wasn't really in love with her flower paintings. They weren't what she was really interested in. "They were just something to keep me painting," she told me. (She's since gone on to work on more inspired, and less flowery things.)

If it's screwed up, it's just not done yet.

Being spontaneous helps us make more mistakes.

And how is this a good thing, you ask? Wildly throwing stuff at the wall may helps us to make more mistakes... but it also helps us to learn from them faster. The faster you can screw up, the more times you can screw up, and the sooner you can make progress.

It speeds the evolution of our ideas, pushing them along through those "ugly duckling" stages, until they can settle into their final, glorious form.

I sometimes have to play with an idea in several different ways before it reaches a form that feels right. And often my idea begins as something really stupid, before metamorphosing into something that's actually quite neat. If I hadn't been throwing spaghetti at the wall, I'd have never found it in the first place.

Being spontaneous keeps us from talking ourselves out of a project.

I'm the reigning queen of the Overthink Empire. An analytical thinker and trained project planner, I'm a pro at poking holes into an idea. But here's the trick: if we don't give ourselves time to think an idea through (like responsible adults,) we can't think of reasons why it won't work. It's easy to become overwhelmed when we stop to think about logistics. The steps involved. The time investment. The materials you'll have to get. etc. etc. etc...

We can quickly build our idea into something complicated and intimidating. Suddenly inspiration turns to overwhelm, and we quit before we even start.

So, in the words of our favorite high-top sneakers, "Just do it." Get halfway into it before you realize you're gonna need a whole lot more plaster. Get knee-deep into plaster before you realize this is gonna take three weeks longer than anticipated. Meet the problems as they come, and not a moment before.

Being spontaneous conserves energy.

We create because we're inspired. That inspiration strikes, and suddenly we're filled with indescribable energy to realize the vision. And just as overthinking a project can make it intimidating, over-planning a project can also suck the fun out of it.

An Art Journal page with lots of messy, spontaneous energy

Fresh ideas have the most ENERGY! They're what get us excited and stoke the creative fire. By being spontaneous we can grab on and ride that bull into a new and exciting endeavor. No time for wondering whether the idea is stupid, or superficial, or over-done, or unoriginal. It might be. But we don't care about that now. Because we're bottling that lightening and making stuff.

If I'd have turned my spontaneous coloring book into a "proper project," I'd probably have spent several more weeks doing dedicated illustrations, throwing out the ones that didn't fit, drafting several different covers, examining the page count, and I might have even convinced myself that this is a stupid idea and no one wants another coloring book anyway. But I didn't.

And because I didn't, I have a coloring book.

So will our best works come from this spontaneity? Hard to say. Maybe. Often not. But does it matter?

Our poor planning is quite likely to turn out a host of embarrassing messes. But remember: the road to good art is littered with embarrassing messes.

And we might just be pleasantly surprised with something we love.

What about you? Have you ever made something surprising on a whim? Tell us about it! Was it awesome? Was it as disaster? Let us know in the comments.

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