This is the year, you’ve told yourself, when you finally write that book – or start painting, playing the piano, singing, quilting, sculpting… But as the first month of the year wanes, you wonder what happened to your resolution.
Never fear! To bridge the gap – you need a map. It’s a simple, but surprisingly effective, visual tool to move from ideation to motivation to activation! I call it a Creative Map, and it not only helps you chart the course toward your dream, but also acknowledges the progress you’ve already made.
Before we dive into mapmaking, let’s consider why this exercise is important. Experts advise us about the power of declaring our intentions and writing down our goals, using techniques such as journaling. In addition, research shows that sharing your progress greatly improves the odds that you’ll successfully achieve them. With the Creative Map, you’ll do both!
The Creative Map process makes dreams far less daunting – what we might dismiss as unattainable becomes far more tangible. This isn’t a pipedream – there is a precedent! So, if you’re feeling stuck and stymied, a Creative Map can generate energy and provide direction to advance along your journey.
With that, let the mapmaking begin! (I have a short video on the Creative Map, too.)
We’re all works in progress, and that includes our goals and dreams. That’s why the Creative Map starts with an X in the middle of a sheet of paper turned horizontally (or posterboard – if you want a larger scale). From that X, extend a line to the left.
Along that straight line mark down past attempts and accomplishments that support your current dream. You may very well see more entries than you expected – like those notebooks full of doodles when you were in high school or that college theater production. You recall how you felt the first time you walked into a gallery and really looked at art.
My own Creative Map extends back to an accomplishment I had nearly forgotten – winning a special award of merit in a nationwide essay contest when I was a 17-year-old high school senior.
While you’re gazing in that rearview mirror, think of the tangents and turnarounds along your creative path. You wanted to be a dancer until severe tendonitis kept you away from the ballet barre, and you took up singing – finding your true passion. Or you tried and tried to get a book published, then gave up (but you did complete that manuscript). Mark these junctures and claim the lessons learned.
For me, my biggest tangent was pursuing literary fiction for years, only to be told by a very wise editor that what I was actually writing had all the elements of a great mystery! That sent me back to square one to, once again, rewrite my novel. But the result was the launch of my Ohnita Harbor Mystery series, and my first novel, The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor, followed by The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm. Without that turnaround on my path, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
It’s time to chart your course ahead. Mark your desired destination in the far-right margin (I suggest using a heart, star or other aspirational symbol). Label it with your deepest desire – your novel published, your painting or photography on display, staging your performance art, or other creative endeavor. Take a moment and savor what you’ve just done! You not only wrote down your goal, but you’ve made it the destination for your ongoing journey.
Draw a curvy line between your “X” in the center to your destination. Why the zigzag? Creative paths always involve interesting twists, so you might as well welcome the learning experiences, challenges, and fortuitous moments ahead. Now, plot out the next 2 or 3 points along that path – especially the things that you commit to doing this year (leave lots of white space for the future).
A writers’ workshop? An art class? Entering that contest or juried show? Getting up on open mic night for live lit or standup comedy? By mapping it out, you’ll increase your chances of actually taking that brave step.
Throughout history, topographers and mapmakers have made changes as they explored the world (and found out a ship wouldn’t plunge over the edge into the abyss). In the same way, your map is going to be amended. From time to time, you’ll probably have to draft a new – and bigger – one. And that’s a good thing!
Additionally, you might need a companion map, like those city inserts on state roadmaps (the kind we tried to refold and stuff into the glove compartment in the days before GPS and Google Maps). For example, while my Creative Map is all about perpetuating my writer’s journey as a novelist, I have a companion map that helps me keep up momentum in marketing through social media, traditional media, and even a goal of teaching.
From past to present, present to future – our Creative Maps are snapshots of our journeys. They acknowledge what we’ve already done and chart a course toward our dream. And whenever we feel lost or stuck, all we need to do is plot out one more step. And that’s how we start (and keep) this year on the write track!
What looks like scribbles and scrawls is actually the first draft of my Creative Map, marking my progress thus far and charting the course to my dream. Now, I’ll transfer it to posterboard for a bigger map to put on the wall.
Have you drafted a Creative Map as a visualization tool? What did you write on it? How can you connect the dots from past experiences to your current dream? What can you do now to take you one step closer to your goal?