Beating the Block: Douglas Beasly’s Vision Quest Cards

I came across Vision Quest Cards when I was browsing projects on Kickstarter. The concept seemed promising: a deck of cards that would act as prompts for photographers (either alone or in groups) who might find themselves stuck from time to time. I was sufficiently intrigued to plunk down the money for a deck, and now that I’ve had the chance to look them over, I’m glad that I did.

The deck consists of 36 cards, each of which represents a short project. These range from the simple (like the first card, with the simple instruction to “Photograph the color red.”) to the more abstract or challenging (“Walk an area you would normally drive past. Bring your camera and make photos of what you might normally overlook.” Sound familiar?) The card format makes sense, partly because the assignments aren’t numerous enough to sustain a book, and partly because they’re not meant to be used in quite the same way you’d use a book. You don’t plow through this deck start to finish, in other words. It’s something more like a well from which you can draw when the inspiration’s run a bit dry.

This deck might not be for everybody. There’s a simplicity here that a certain breed of photographers (the ones, generally speaking, who pride themselves on how advanced they are and aren’t afraid to remind you of that fact) might find beneath them. That same simplicity allows the project to be as little as you’d like (if you’re pressed for time, it’s not as though it’s that hard to find something red) or as complex as you’re willing to make it, as well. The option for simplicity is a good thing, though, since if you’re stuck, the last thing you need is more complications. Besides which, someone who’s dug themselves a nice, deep hole probably ought not to complain about the color of the rope that’s thrown to them.

Which, of course, is another way of saying that if you’re willing to approach the cards with an open mind, they have the potential to be quite effective. In fact, perhaps the best thing about Beasly’s cards is that you could, if you had a mind to, very easily expand the deck yourself using nothing more than a stack of index cards and a ballpoint pen. They won’t be as elegant looking as the original pack of 36, but as I’ve mentioned before, it can be very useful to keep a stock (or a stack) of ideas in reserve, ’cause you just never know when you might need a shot of inspiration. The Vision Quest deck will easily fit into your camera bag for quick reference.

Postscript: You can find out more at

Beating the Block: Taming the Muse

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, muses are fickle creatures, coming and going more or less on their own schedule. If you wait around for inspiration to strike, you could end up waiting a very long time, which is bad enough. What can be just as difficult is when your muse just won’t shut up. I know that for a creative type, that sounds like a good problem to have, but it’s not always. So how do we deal with these cycles of feast and famine?

As I’d also mentioned yesterday, one way of getting around the famine that is a creative block is by simply, stubbornly, plowing through it. That works surprisingly well some of the time. At other times, however, you’ll need or want a bit more structure than you’d get by just “winging it.” When that happens, it helps to have a little something saved up, as it were.

I say this because in my own experience (your mileage may vary), ideas don’t often come one at a time. They come in clusters, or clumps, and sometimes they take on a life of their own, with some ideas spawning other ideas that lead to still more ideas… Before you know it, there are actually too many ideas, too much stuff for one person to do in a day, or week, or even year. Even when we’re working at full capacity, other things (work, food, water, sleep, social activity) have to be taken into account sooner or later.

And if you have a good idea, or even just one that’s got potential, why let it go to waste? If you can’t get to it now, save it for later:

  • Write it all down. If you do nothing else on this list, at least do this. If you’ve got just the bare bones of something — a title, an overarching concept — get that on paper, but if your mind takes you farther than that, follow it, and jot those thoughts down as well. You may not need these ideas now, but if you hit a dry spell later, this can be one of the things that gets you out of it.
  • Prioritize the list. Your ideas, mine, or anyone else’s, aren’t all good, and even the good ones aren’t equally good. It will be easy to picture some things as completed projects or fully realized ideas, while others may be only half-baked or might only be the vaguest starting point. Depending on what you need, or what you’ve got the time for, go to that part of the list.
  • Revisit your list from time to time. Some things that seem blindingly obvious to you when you first think of them may not hold up quite as well given a month on the shelf. Others may have barely made sense when you wrote them down (you did write them down, didn’t you?) but might make more sense now that your subconscious has had the chance to mull them over for a bit.

And by the way, if you have ideas that have nothing to do with what you’re doing now, write them down anyway. The reason I bring this up (and actually, the genesis of this post) is that over a period of about a week some time ago, I got ideas by the dozen for several different visual projects. This was before I’d ever picked up a camera, but I wrote every last one of them down. Hey, you never know when you might change directions or want to try something new; you also never know when you might come across a collaborator (or a friend who’s blocked), and you might find that you’ve already got the seeds of something, just waiting to be planted.

Do you have any proven “cures” for the dreaded block? Let’s hear ’em!