Illustration by Maxine Crump.

I’m inspired to do so many things all the time. Every time I pick up my cello to play it, I’m inspired to become a professional cellist. Every time I hear some funky music that I can’t get out of my head, I want to create my own. I want to make art, and make music, and act, and sing, and write, and film, and take photographs, but every time I start I can’t finish, or I can’t think of how to start in the first place. Whenever I ask someone how to fix this they tell me to “motivate myself” or “just take the plunge.” But how can I do that if I don’t know what the plunge is? I just don’t even know how to begin or how to collect my thoughts and create something. Any advice? —Elle S.

Hi, Elle! You and I are an awful lot alike. I am a photographer/music-video-maker/comic-artist/illustrator/writer/guitar-player/bunny-trainer/advice-giver! It’s amazing that you’re looking at art—and creating things in general—as being limitless. Being excited and passionate is half the battle, though I know how frustrating it can be to hear blanket statements like “Just go for it!” I will tell you right now that it is not easy to “take the plunge,” “kick it into gear,” or “make that thing!” But you can do it, and it’s worth it!

As a first step, I would recommend carrying a tiny notebook. You can even use the Notes app on your phone. Whenever you have one of those rushes of interest or inspiration, write it down. Describe what about that thing made you so excited to begin with. Defining what inspires you is a step toward figuring out what you want to do and say! When I need to figure out where to even begin, I also love to use bubble charts. Start by writing down a single word or idea, then jot down five ideas, words, or images that stem from that. From each of those items, put down five additional ideas, words, or images. Before you know it, you may have the premise for a novel, a photo series, a song, or whatever the heck you want!

Another beautiful thing about the artistic process is that many pursuits, including the ones you listed, can easily intersect. Here is an ol’ example from young Al: I was primarily a photographer—that’s what I am formally educated in—but I kept finding myself going to shows and wanting so badly to engage with music. My head was spinning on ways I could participate. I also was a huge film nerd and wanted to be a boss director. I had no idea how to tackle any of it. Then it finally clicked: Why not make music videos?! With music videos, I could take my photography background and love for light and composition, add the language of cinematic storytelling that I admired so much, and then collaborate with musicians to put my own spin on the art they already created. Putting it all together was hard and scary but ultimately gratifying in ways I couldn’t have even imagined. (Here are examples!)

Your interests can complement and propel each other, too! Here’s an exercise to try: Pick a piece of music you love and learn to play it on your cello. Then make a painting based off of what that music made you feel. Then go out with a camera and take some pictures inspired by the painting that was inspired by your music! Heck, you could also film it all and make a short movie! I know it sort of sounds silly, but working in a circle—taking one idea from your idea bank and investing it in a lot of different projects—can make the creative process a whole lot less daunting. Each interpretation may inspire a different idea or project for the future.

I hope these activities help. Creating may always seem daunting, and the fear of a blank page is a true thing. You’ll mess up and things won’t always be perfect. Just know you are never bound to a single identity or practice. Everything you try, and every idea you attempt to express in a new way, will always lead to discovery. That alone will guarantee a very fruitful creative life. ♦

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