Friday, October 30, 2009

messy thinking

Last night, as Iz and I were chatting before bed, talking about organizational skills and school, she told me she was having a hard time because she's a messy thinker. Wow. WOW. That stopped me (not to mention the conversation) in my tracks. Messy Thinker. What profound insight for a kid. What a fantastic name for a book about creativity. What a cool concept. And so, as we started talking about what a messy thinker is, I realized I'm one too.

It's hard for me to stay on a linear path when thinking. Or talking. It drives Jon CRAZY, how I can have 7 threads of a conversation going and wrap it all up neatly in the end. I think that's more a woman thing. When hanging with friends, new topics keep getting introduced, but we always make it back to where we started. A shout out to my friend Mim, who proceeds new subjects with, "ok here's a non sequitur," we take tangent after tangent, but in the end, all has been thoroughly discussed. And that's the way I work too. I don't go into a project with a grand plan, which can be challenging. Hey, sometimes it sucks. I wish I could start off with an organizational chart, an outline, a map of how things will play out. I try. I bought a red notebook last night to keep track of all the FLOW stuff that's starting to happen. I'm not sure I'll ever crack it open. My computer is highly organized—I have folders within folders for everything, email lists for every possible listing and occasion, and yet, I often end up scrambling for what I need. An example: yesterday I was looking for a photo of me to send with a blog interview. I have an "Elissa Stein" photo file. I also have photos within my FLOW file. Separate photos for my website. I've got other photos in iphoto, plus another file of photos altered for various online uses. Scarily, they're all almost the same.

Collaborating on FLOW put the way I work into a harsh spotlight. Explaining my process caused panic to people who are more conventional writers. I had lunch the other day with a friend who just had a book come out and I mentioned that I don't consider myself a writer. She basically told me to shut up. She's right. At this point I am a writer. It's just that it wasn't something I set out to do, I've never taken a writing course, my creative path so far has been, well, messy.

I think in design—it's the way I see the world. Whenever I start a new project I acknowledge the constraints, but don't have a master plan in place. I work until I know I'm done. Pieces fall into the places they're supposed to be. And my writing career grew out of design. It's the marriage between images and words which is my way of storytelling. At my portfolio review, just before graduating from School of Visual Arts, after killing myself for a year on design projects, my teacher told me to go to graduate school and be a writer. I burst into tears. But he was right. It's combining words and images that is my path.

That's how I approached FLOW. In fact, when I first had the idea, years and years ago, it was more about the images, the advertising, the packaging, and how those visuals, tag lines and text shape how we think and feel. But, there was so much more to say. And that was incredibly challenging for me. When I've done my other pop culture icon books, I'd start with the art, and the story fell into place. This time the manuscript had to be shaped first, the art relegated to second string. While I was writing 24/7, pulling together a 5000 word chapter a week for months, living in front of my computer with towers of books and notes consuming my living room, I felt like I was in a black hole. I craved the pictures that would dictate my story. How can you write about advertising without actually looking at ads? I survived, barely, coming out the other side a better writer, but knowing that how I create is unconventional. And that it works for me.

I'm a messy thinker. Thanks Iz, for that validation.

Day 31 is introspective.


Catharine said...

I, too, am a messy thinker. Iz is a genius!

joanna said...

Brilliant way of phrasing an overveiw of my world! :D How did you know?!

Bee said...

I read it's called divergent vs convergent thinking. Or is that something different?