Jeff: Why Untitled? Can you explain the title?
Blaine: I’m terrified of the blank page and so for the last fifteen years or so I’ve tried to attack it by writing something down about the creative process nearly everyday. When I began curating these thoughts for the book, the name, UNTITLED, kept coming to mind.
In essence, it is the blank page. Nearly every word processor out there opens up each new document with that name and it seemed fitting for the work we must do. We must not leave things untitled, instead we must do the hard work of filling the blank page (whatever that is for you).
Jeff: In the book, you mention the need for creatives to take care of their souls, to not let their gifts surpass their character. Has this been a personal struggle for you? How have you seen people’s gifts get ahead of their character development in detrimental ways?
Blaine: Why are you reading my journal? The last six years and particularly my first year at Willow Creek (I’ve now been there for three) have been difficult ones because of exactly what you mentioned — my gifts were surpassing my character.
In the book, I quote Parker Palmer. He says, “If people skimp on their inner work, their outer work will suffer as well.” My experience is that artists tend to work on the work (the ‘how’) instead of working on where the work comes from (the ‘why’, or the inner work).
I agree with Parker that unless you cultivate the inside (the place where the good stuff really comes from) the outside stuff (your gifts) really don’t mean a lick.
Jeff: Who are what inspired you to write UNTITLED? What role does inspiration play in your creative work?
Blaine: Mainly I wanted to write a manifesto for how I create and I believed that it might be helpful to other artists to have an ally. If I were to courageously reveal something to them, perhaps they might be brave enough to do so with their audience.
To your second question, inspiration plays a huge part in my work. I talk about it more in the book, so you’ll readers will need to buy it completely understand :-), but I do this thing called “scratching when I don’t itch.”
Essentially, it’s the practice of cultivating ideas long before I need them, so that when I need “inspiration” it’s sort of already there.
Jeff: What was your process for writing the book? Did anyone help you with it? Was it hard, easy? How long did it take?
Blaine: I approached my friends at Clark and the Creative Collective about putting together these stacks of notes I’d been collecting over the years into a book. They agreed and I set out to work.
I had a bunch of old stuff I knew I wanted to use, but also wanted to push myself into new territories so I gave myself the goal of writing two new essays a week for the next 4 months. Sometimes I did more, some weeks I wrote less.
Once I had all my old and new stuff on the table, then things got really interesting. How would I structure the book? Would I do chapters or movements? Would the book be linear or not? I had a lot of help from my wife and my best friend, Jarrod. They really helped to shape the book into what it was.
The book took about six months to fashion, but like I said, I’ve been writing about this stuff for the last 15 years. I had been scratching when I wasn’t itching so that when it came time to put things together, most of the initial work was done.
Which by the way, is the genius in writing things down.
Had I not had all the material already written to draw from, I may not have been able to find it within me to get past the first blank page.
Jeff: You introduce some pretty novel concepts in the book, one of which is to not practice the adage “under-promise and over-deliver.” What did you mean by it? Don’t we run the risk of disappointing people or looking like flakes? How do you do this practically?
Blaine: I meant what I said. 🙂
Under-promising and over-delivering is about fear, plain and simple. The way I attack the beast of resistance is by taking risks and standing in the face of fear. I do this by dreaming huge dreams and then doing the hard work to make them come to life.
Do we run the risk of disappointing people or looking like flakes? Of course! But I would rather lay my head on the pillow every night knowing that I worked my butt off to try turning a vision into something beautiful rather than knowing that I under-promised something just to stay safe.
Practically, this requires an emphasis on execution and a bias toward action versus mere ideas. Often, we put too much energy into our “ideas” and not enough time actually making them. In the end, this is all self-talk since I struggle daily to execute and act — and yet I know that when I cast big, scary visions, something amazing can happen.
Jeff: What role do you think creatives will play in the future of our culture?
Blaine: I believe that artists are the new pastors & prophets of the 21st century. Here is some history: we’ve moved from agrarian, to industrial, to information, to the inventive age.
We live in a creative economy in which creativity (and by that I mean, “alternative thinking”) is the new currency. In this era, I believe it is the artists and creatives who will shape our culture the most. In fact, I’ve been playing around with this idea for the last two years and UNTITLED is a primer for laying the ground work for that book.
Jeff: What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects coming up? How can people connect directly with you?
Blaine: I just got back from LA shooting content for the Global Leadership Summit where I’m creative directing the opening and I’ve got a few new writing projects in the works.
Up first is a book for creatives of faith to give to their pastors, or the powers that be, about how to relate to artists, the other two are a little less formed. One is about the concept I mentioned above and one is more in depth look at my insides called The Courage of the Creative Life.
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What’s the hardest part about the creative process for you? Join the discussion in the comments.
*Photo credit: Story Conference and Bjorn Amundsen (respectively)