A co-worker stood in my doorway once to let me know they thought I was a good thinker. Okay. Thank you. I think. That was not a compliment I have heard before or since. That was noticeably different than the time they stood in my doorway to let me know they felt like I was judging them every time they turned around. That also was news to me. If I had been able to get a word in edgewise, I could have learned what I could have been doing differently, but there was no chance of that happening. So I took it upon myself to guess and showed up to work the next day with my new t-shirt. It read “I’m thinking about judging you” with arrows pointing in all directions to ensure I was covering all bases. No, I didn’t do that. That was too tight of a turn-around to make a t-shirt. The workplace can be just chock full of surprises.

While I am the kind who does enjoy thinking, thinking creatively has been eye opening for me. Mostly because what I envision and the final product do not resemble each other. I think this goes back a ways. When I was in seventh grade (yes, we’re back here again), there was an assignment where we were to turn in sketched portraits of two different people for a significant grade. While sketching, I experienced moments like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” where I just knew I was hitting a home run with this assignment. It was just great. Imagine my surprise when my teacher pulled me aside to confirm I understood this was to be portraits of two different people. Stunned, I began to explain the obvious differences. Stunned, she explained perhaps I should not have chosen people who were related to each other. Noted. We’ve come a long way since then.

As learned, spending even a little bit of time thinking about the project you want to engage with helps you know where you are headed. The trick is learning where the fine line is for you personally that keeps you from overthinking everything or the project becoming an absolute free-for-all. I am not one who sketches an outline of where I want things to land before getting started (see above). I do go into a session with an idea of what I want that piece to be. Sometimes it is based on a color scheme, sometimes it centers around a topical theme, sometimes it is an expression of thoughts and feelings. Always, there is a starting place, and it can be as simple as deciding this is where I am going to start, and then I will go from there. For me, I always allow room for developing.

Being an avid note taker, I keep a notepad with me so I can jot down the ideas as they come to mind, even if they don’t turn out to be ones I want to use. Sometimes it’s just ensuring that the thought process continues to run even if a trickle in the background. If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times that it is not uncommon for the trickle to stop, and this is referred to as a “block.” Sometimes we hear how it can be overcome, and the trickle resume. I am here to tell you that the in-between time can feel like a drought, and the drought wants you to become friends with doubt. Don’t do it. Doubt is not your friend.

There are a few simple steps to get that trickle flowing again. One: remember that you not alone. Others have experienced this. Two: find what works for you to removing that block. It may be different than the last time. Go with it. Three: no matter what, don’t give up.

One of the most helpful tools for me has been engaging with a book that I have learned to also keep with me. This book is a resource that I have found helps jump start the creative juices and stretches muscles that I am underusing, often broadening my imagination horizons. Ironically, I have found this to impact other areas of work I engage with as well, not just painting. As a result, I have a new t-shirt that reads “I’m thinking about how to help you. Just give me a minute.”

Taking a thoughtful approach can become your new creative best friend. The level of thought put in can be as little or big of a deal as you want or need it to be. You’ll find how you think best when it comes time to consider what you are working on and even how you want to go about it. The “ah-ha” moment may or may not be part of it. When it is, it’s pretty fun, but not an indicator of anything if it’s missing at the front end. This is part of why I leave room for developing as I go.

Maybe we make one more t-shirt that reads, “Just keep thinking.”