||Way of The Idea Warrior
By Jerry Forney
(This article, originally written for cartoonists, applies to all creative disciplines.)
When asked "Where do you get all of those great ideas?" I reply: "Inspiration graces the prepared mind." I do not mean to sound mystical or vague, yet there is a basic truth to the notion that great ideas occur to people who have devoted themselves to a question. This devotion is not merely questioning for its own sake, but a form of inquiry that stretches the boundaries of creativity.
One such worthy question is "What if...?" This particular question is the basis of possibility thinking. It ranks up there with the question "Why?" which is the basis of all modern science. Today, artists and scientists must devote themselves to one or more of these great questions if they are to prepare themselves for mental combat. The arena of warfare is human knowledge, and the enemy is ignorance, mediocrity and superstition. One of the most important fronts in this war is the Creative Thinking front. It requires warriors devoted solely to the Creative Arts and Sciences. It takes training and discipline to become an Idea Warrior. The warrior's life must be dedicated to maintaining a prepared mind. Nothing less will do.
Unfortunately, there are no formal schools for studying the Way of The Idea Warrior. There are no ancient stone temples filled with monks studying stacks of brown brainstorming parchments or young neophytes practicing the mental arts with a slide rule-wielding guru. Sorry. Also, there's no "The Tao of Becoming an Idea Warrior" in the self-help section of your local bookstore. Creative thinking classes and seminars give you drips and drabs, but they're not talking about a Way of Life! Where can the aspiring Idea Warrior go for this invaluable training?
Wherever you go, there you are. You are the temple, you are the guru, you are the ancient wisdom scrolls. Locked inside of you are the questions, and the questions have the answers locked inside of them. It's that simple...and that challenging. Nothing is more challenging than learning that there is another you inside of yourself, a creative, insightful, inspired you. This other you exists mainly in potential, like a gold mine waiting to be properly mined. Much of what is considered mysterious about the creative process exists in the subconscious. Remember, you are alive, an organic being. So is your subconscious. It is like a garden in many respects. You get out of it what you put into it. Actually, if you are following the Way of The Idea Warrior, you get out of it much more than you put into it. Creativity implies a Quantum Leap of consciousness. Great ideas, from the notion of Gravity, to the structure of DNA have come to minds who were prepared to receive them. Solutions only occur to those who pose the problem; answers only come to those who live with the questions. The truly great questions will go on forever, gathering devotees and preparing minds for great inspiration. That is the basic truth embodied in the Way of The Idea Warrior.
You might be asking, "OK, great! But what can I do right now to start along this Way?" Cartoonists and artists of every kind have already started on this Way. "What am I going to draw now?" is a great question for an artist to live with. "How am I going to draw it?" is another. Your answers to these questions define you as an artist. So you see, your questions are rungs on a ladder of self-discovery and artistic development.
The Way of The Idea Warrior has some rules of conduct. They were given to me by several great Idea Warriors whom I have been fortunate enough to study under during my career as an artist and cartoonist. I will review them here, in case you have missed one or more during your own career as a cartoonist.
Pose a question to yourself every day. Try a variation of "What if?" "Why" or "How?". Be creative even with the questions you pose to yourself. You will be surprised at some of the answers that surface. An Idea Warrior puts a creative spin on everything, even to questions, often to the dismay or amusement of the "normals" in their immediate circle. Like small children, they are never satisfied with pat answers.
Have a sketchbook with you at all times. When your Muse beckons, you must heed her call. You show her that you value her gifts when you record them. This shows appreciation for the creative life living inside of you.
Remember, no gift is too small or insignificant. Put the thought or doodle down in your sketchbook in a manner that will be decipherable by you at a later time. Postpone analysis or criticism of the ideas. Right now, the Idea Warrior concentrates on this wonderful creative mystique, this beautiful relationship you have with your Muse, your creative inner self. Cultivating this relationship is the key to a fruitful creative life. Record your dreams when possible. Many good ideas come when you are relaxing or entering/leaving the sleep state. Put them down before you forget them! Your Muse many never release them again. She appreciates your attention.
Take risks. Fear of failure will paralyze an Idea Warrior and discourage him/her from attempting something courageous. It is the faint of heart that always dream of what might have been. Another enemy assailing the Idea Warrior is regret: "If only I had done this or that..." The best strategy on this front is to stay on the offensive. Never reject an idea prematurely. Censor you ideas only after you have dared consider them seriously, not before. Never be too shy with your ideas! You must always be willing to dream the impossible and dare the incredible. Muster the courage to grasp the great idea and run with it! Be prepared to accept the magical moment, the sudden flash, the burst of illumination. There are no bad ideas only untried ideas. You will always learn by your efforts. The Idea Warrior considers each and every idea a treasure, an ally in the battle against the dull and ignorant. Life is too short to quit now. Grit your teeth and dive into the fray!
Exercise you mental powers. A prime condition for developing a "prepared mind" is to keep mentally active. An active mind for the Idea Warrior is one that is constantly enlarging its areas of knowledge and awareness. Maintain your curiosity. Never settle for boredom or predictable outcomes. (Unless you're mixing up Nitro-Glycerin, that is...) Try different things to help you stay out of a rut. An active mind feeds on novelty, and loves to experience a variety of things. Read a book on a subject you know absolutely nothing about, or tour a museum you've never been to before. Often, seemingly unrelated pieces of information can be mixed together to produce something original. Your mind is a great synthesizer, one that is better than any computer! Knowledge and experience are the fuel for this creative engine. Fill your mental fuel tank to the top if you can!
Consider other viewpoints. There is often no "right" or "wrong" solution to a creative problem. It is not a moral or ethical issue. Avoid dogmatism. Consider all possible ideas, even the seemingly outrageous. The Idea Warrior must fight against "It's always been done this way before!" with "Why?" and be willing to go to great lengths to beat back this killer of great inspirations. Using a sharp mind instead of a sword, the Idea Warrior wages battle against another enemy: "It's always worked fine the way it is!". Status Quo is the Guardian Spirit of mediocrity. It has many heads, and often, when it is cut to pieces, it grows new limbs and assaults us once again, armed with excuses and tired cliches'. Few Idea Warriors can win complete victory over it. Those who win, do so on a temporary basis. Status Quo is a spirit and cannot be killed, only momentarily disempowered. Don't give up, though! The battle must go on! It is worthy of the fighting spirit of an Idea Warrior.
Maintain a positive attitude. An Idea Warrior is receptive to all possible ideas and solutions. Criticism is postponed until later. Nothing is discarded. All idea fragments, half-formed concepts, tentative solutions, and half-baked notions are all welcome. The Idea Warrior battles "No, you can't do that!" with "Yes I can!". Always strive for some definite pattern or purpose, but don't let the dictates of it intimidate you. Stand up to the task, take a deep breath, then advance! Be receptive to the random grouping, the happy accident, or the found object. Use everything at your disposal. Put your best where it will accomplish the most. You have what it takes. Be confident. Remember: if you are not delighted, it is unlikely that you will delight your readers.
Engage in Creative Play. The Idea Warrior loves to explore and experiment. Structured puzzles and games are fine, but improvised play is better. It is an exercise in Creative Living. Above all, have fun! Stretch yourself, expand your horizons. Approach play in a carefree, uninhibited way. It is not work, so don't take it too seriously. It isn't therapy so ignore outcomes, just get into the flow. Children have not forgotten how to do this, but most adults have. Doodle, goof off, fiddle around, slow down: the Idea Warrior intentionally tries to recover some of this lost playfulness. Maintain the distinction between work and play. Never, never let your play become work. If you do, it will never serve as play again. It may still be fun, but it will never be the same liberating activity it once was.
Maintain your sense of humor. The Idea Warrior has not forgotten how to laugh. When we laugh we release those powerful endorphins. These wonderful body medicines help heal us from the ravages of stress and anger. Think of something funny at least once a day. Actually, as a cartoonist it is your job to think of lots of funny things every day. Laughter is a curative force in all of our lives. The Idea Warrior defends the Sense of Humor from attacks of acute seriousness, blind ambition, and over-scrupulousness. Any one of these three hungry dogs can consume our energies and deplete us. Our sense of well-being is directly related to our sense of humor. Creative ideas flow much better when we feel good about ourselves, and when we are being good to ourselves. The Idea Warrior nurtures the Sense of Humor, not only for creative release, but for richer personal relationships. Everyone loves a clown. After all, cartoonists are clowns who perform on paper!
Craftsmanship, professionalism and competence will be easier to achieve and maintain, once you have placed them in the proper sequence in your creative life. Your ideas must always proceed the forms they will eventually take. Quality workmanship, while important, always comes along second to the idea. Analysis, critique, improvement...these are certainly important and an Idea Warrior knows when to utilize them in molding and improving the finished product. A successful cartoonist will have developed excellent drawing and lettering skills, and above all, a virtual library of delightful ideas, enabling him/her to supply readers with laughter for a long, long time. What a wonderful thing to share!
These guidelines should help you advance along The Way of The Idea Warrior. There is still much to be learned. You will not become a master overnight, but you can start experiencing results in a very short time. Practice the Way of The Idea Warrior and you will become richer in ideas. When you start producing more ideas than you could ever use in one lifetime, you will then be well on your way.
© 1995 Jerry Forney