The first draft = zero.

I adore process. I first realized this while studying with world renowned watercolor artist, Carl Purcell. I remember fondly hearing him discuss the steps required to make a successful water color painting. He knew them by heart, and treated each step with the same care.

Call To Dinner – Carl Purcell

Dream up an complete image, gather reference, create thumbnails, color comps, final sketches, select the right paper, soak it, stretch it, tape the edges, iron the tape to the board (oooh, that smell is so powerful to me to this day), prep your work area, fill your pallet, arrange and care for your brushes, relocate the final image in your mind before you begin, transferring the drawing to the paper…all of this before you touch the brush to paper. All the build up. All the time to think and wish and dream about the final results, then in one moment the paper is stained forever, and the ballet of painting begins.

And watercolor is a dance. The most active and challenging of all painting media, without doubt. I love watercolors. I crave that rush of knowing I could fall at any moment, being forced to start the process again.

Carl Purcell’s reverence for every step of the process is what has stuck with me the most, but one step in particular has found its way into every creative endeavor I attempt. And honestly, it’s been an issue for most of the people that have to work with me because there are no demonstrable results.

It’s the dreaming part of the process – and in my opinion, it’s the most difficult and important step.

Lunch Break by Carl Purcell

Everyone has ideas, but I’ve found that the ability to visualize a completed painting, a complex yet refined game mechanic, or story is something that takes years of dedicated study. There’s always a rush to jam ideas down on paper, or do a quick sketch or run to google for a bit of fractured research, but doing this interrupts the dreaming part of the process.

I get why people rush ahead. It takes faith to trust that an idea can be permanent. It takes practice to know how to put an idea away, then pull it back up at a moment’s notice. To keep an idea around for days, or months or years. To let it germinate and grow until you’re ready to act on the concept. It can be intimidating because without practice, a great idea can be lost and never return. (Side note – I think that lost ideas always return if they are worth further consideration – if not, that okay. Bye bye half-baked idea.)

I spend a great deal of time in the land of the invisible. It takes hard work and concentration to think up something new, yet familiar. But I always find that rushing away from this part of the creative process too early ends in disappointment.  Sometimes subtle, sometimes disastrous.

Swimming with Whales by Dustin Hansen

So for me, the first draft of a novel is always intangible. A word count of zero. The idea has to be flirted with, then challenged, imagined, lost and found to see if it’s sustainable, then flushed out to the point where I can share it verbally with a trusted friend. Then and only then, do I dare trust my dreams to enter the world of reality. Hmm, there’s even process within this process. Never thought of it that way. Wow, just learned something on my own blog – achievement unlocked!

So, how about you? Do you visualize your creative work (art, food, writing, film, games) before you begin? Or do you take a more experimental and physically active approach?