People love a good story, because telling stories is how we share our experiences with others. A well-formed story explains the complex simply so that it will stick with the reader or listener. For a creative, telling the narrative of how and why your creations come about, will not only focus yourself but also inspire others to come along on the journey with you.
Why write a creative narrative? The story of your artistic expression is a story that should be told. This is especially important if you want others to buy or appreciate your art. In the same way an entrepreneur crafts a business narrative to focus their efforts, an artist can use a creative narrative to understand what matters to them and how to explain what they do to others.
1) Figure Out Your “Why”
Artists create art for various reasons just like entrepreneurs start businesses for more than just making money. It’s this internal “why”, absent of the money, fame, and recognition, that drives the artist and the entrepreneur to create something that has never existed before. For the creative, it’s even more important to settle on why you create your art.
To begin our creative narrative journey, it’s important to write down this why in as crystal clear a manner as possible. Here are a few ways to do that:
Exercise #1: Free write for 15 minutes continuously about your art. Just write. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Don’t correct spelling. Continue until the timer goes off.
Exercise #2: For 15 minutes, brainstorm all the words and phrases you can think of to describe your art. Write them all down on a piece of butcher paper or whatever you have on hand.
These two exercises will give you the ammunition to complete the next set of questions on your quest to build your creative narrative. So keep them close at hand.
2) Who Do You Create Your Art For?
This might sound like a strange question to ask but it’s an important one for your narrative. Who you create your art for makes a big difference on how you approach it. For example, if it’s for a mass audience, that’s going to skew some of your decisions as opposed to a niche group of people. In some cases, your art might be for you and and you alone.
Whoever your art is for, it’s important to be able to describe the person or group so that as you create, you keep them in mind. This is especially important for authors since you need to figure out the main genre you want to write in. This genre selection then drives what your audience expects from your art. The same is the case for music or performance. Who you make your art for sets expectations for “success”.
If you’re stuck on what to write, take a look at the words and free write in step one for some ideas.
3) What Makes Your Art Unique?
The world is full of noise. There is so much coming at us that it’s easy to get lost among all the other artists out there trying to get their voice heard. That’s why it’s important to understand what makes you unique or stand out.
Uniqueness can be on several different dimensions including personal experience, artistic style, or platform. The unique aspects of your art will allow you to stand out among everyone else. For some, this might not be important, especially if you create your art for yourself. For those who want some sort of commercial success, uniqueness is why people will pay attention to you.
4) What Feelings Do You Want Your Art to Invoke?
The feeling we get when we consume art is what keeps us coming back for more and more. If you’re a horror film buff, the feelings Saw evokes keeps you coming back to Saw VI or Jigsaw. The uniqueness and the feelings that Saw conjures up in its fans keeps them engaged enough to want more.
Feelings are more powerful than uniqueness. A new take on an old concept could make fans feel nostalgic for their childhood or first love. That’s why reboots of classic movies bring out fans as well as adaptations of comic books into movies. Those artists want to invoke a certain type of feeling in fans.
For your creative narrative, think of artists that evoke feelings of awe, joy, shock, nostalgia, love, and/or jealousy. Next, write down why those artists make you feel that way. Use this list as a way to inspire you to do the same on others. Don’t take this as permission to copy them but rather a way to be inspired by them. Artist that inspire you will evoke the strong feelings you want to evoke in others.
5) Assembling Your Creative Narrative
Now that you have the above completed, it’s time to assemble your creative narrative. This narrative will provide the guidestar for how you create and talk about your art.
The best way to assemble your creative narrative is to string together steps 2,3, and 4, and read it aloud. The act of reading aloud will help you get a feeling of how the pieces fit together.
As you read, pause and make a note of what sounds clear and unclear. The point of crafting the creative narrative is to be as clear as possible as to what you create. That way, it’s clear to you and others.
After a couple of rounds of reading aloud and note-taking, set it aside for a day or so to let it simmer. Stepping away from it will allow your subconscious to work through the sticky points and let you integrate your thoughts and feelings.
When you come back to it, read it aloud one time through. Pause. Then write down the first couple of words that come to mind. Is that what you want people to think and feel as well? If so, great. You’re done. Grab a coffee or adult beverage and rejoice.
If it still feels a little wonky, then go through steps 2-5 again. This time, it should be a lot quicker. As you refine your narrative, you’ll start to become more focused.
It’s about knowing where you’re going.
The creative narrative is similar to an artist statement, but broader. It’s your long term vision of your creative output—not just a specific show or set of works. It’s meant to evolve as you evolve, but not to whipsaw every time you get inspired. This is an important point to pause on. Creativity is a constant process of birth and rebirth with a consistent theme to strive towards. Who you are will be different in a year’s time.
Who you are today will be different than in a year’s time so make sure to revisit your creative narrative frequently for accuracy and inspiration.
Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He has over 20 years of experience bringing innovative products to market, which gives him a unique perspective on the power of storytelling for businesses. He is a Certified Story Grid Editor who uses his editor training to help all sorts of clients tell better stories. He has published five books—The Entrepreneur Ethos, 7 PR Secrets All Founders Should Know, #Endurance Tweet, Frustration Free Technical Management, and Business Basics for Entrepreneurs. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDailyMBA.