Challenging Creativity

YIP Day 322 - The dreaded blank pageImage by Auntie P via Flickr

The Dreaded Blank Page

I am pleased to welcome guest blogger, Amy Souza to Words from the HeartAmy is a freelance writer and editor in Arlington, Virginia. She founded SPARK in 2008. The project began with 20 participants—10 artists and 10 writers—and February 2011 marked the completion of its eleventh round. In total, 279 people have taken part, many of them multiple times, resulting in (at last count) 738 new works of art, writing, music, and video. Learn more about the project at

Think Inside the Box
by Amy Souza

Have you ever felt fear when faced with the blank page? You want to write, but can’t decide where to start. Or you get deep into a story or poem but something’s not working and you’re not sure what to do next. Setting a few limits might help.

We like to dream of complete creative freedom to make anything we want and great swaths of time devoted to nothing but our art. But I’m a big believer in parameters. Working with zero boundaries can leave you numb or anxious, or make you spin your wheels for so long you never bring a piece to completion.

As a writer and an artist, I often set limits when starting a project or when I feel like I’m hurtling out of control. Forcing myself to stick to a limited color palette, for instance, saves me from the (very real) urge to use every tube of paint I own on one canvas. Rules—even arbitrary ones—can actually foster creativity. That’s why writing exercises are so popular. Freed from the what-will-I-write?! panic, your artistic self emerges and takes off.

 Photograph by Lene Gary
Window photo/poem  
Read Amy's poem in response to this photo by clicking here.

In 2008 I started a quarterly project called SPARK, in which writers, artists, and musicians use each other’s work as inspiration. At the beginning of each round, participants get paired with someone working in a different art form and send each other a file from their portfolio. Then, during the 10-day project period, everyone creates something new, using that initial piece as a jumping off point. (So, a writer responds to their partner's painting or song by penning a new poem or story; a photographer responds to a story by making a new picture.) Essentially participants get three main parameters—a starting prompt (a painting, photo, poem, story, or song), a goal (to create a response piece), and a deadline (10 days). The point is to find in someone else’s work a bit of inspiration—a spark—then go from there, creating whatever you’d like in response.

During one round, I decided to make a “found art” sculpture—something I’d never done before but felt moved to try based on my partner’s inspiration poem. I carved part of a tree that had fallen during a windstorm then adding melted crayons and morning glory vines, shot some photos, then distorted those using an online imaging program and voila! One of my favorite pieces was born.

I have now completed 11 rounds as a writer or an artist and, because I often work with more than one partner, I’ve created 20 responses. I can say with certainty that none of those stories, poems, or artworks would have come into the world without the simple parameters provided by SPARK.

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Kath Fearing said…
Amy, I've often found that my own 'sparks' of creativity come from places I never would have imagined. And using someone else's words or a picture is an interesting and creative place to go to for that 'spark'. You can be that I will keep that in mind when I feel that old lethargy creeping in to my brain.
Beautiful poem about winter.
Val Bonney said…
I've struggled with creativity for the last year or two, because of persistent clinical depression; it was Round 9 of SPARK that got me writing again and in Round 10 I rediscovered my love of drawing and collage, too. In Round 11 I worked with two partners, one as a writer and one as an artist. I'm still not doing much other writing/artwork, but SPARK is helping me keep it simmering until I am fully healed.
Thank you, Amy xx
Lené Gary said…
Amy, you've created a wonderful community in Spark--and a way for artists and writers to inspire and be inspired. I thoroughly enjoyed participating, and I look forward to creating with you all again in the future. Cheers, Lené
Rev. Linda said…
@Kath...I love collaborating with other artists. I once did a collaboration with a friend who is a dancer. I read poetry and she danced to it. It was amazingly beautiful. Thanks for being a "spark" in my life!

@Val and Lené...Thanks for visiting the blog and sharing your thoughts. I agree that Amy has begun something very magical!

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