In Creativity and Inspiration, Freelance and Business, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons by David70 Comments

Camogli, Italy. It’s a stretch to make this image relevant to the sermon below, but these guys know that talking about fishing isn’t going to bring the fish in. Neither is looking at the boat and hoping something happens.

Goethe is frequently quoted as saying:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

It’s likely he never said it quite this way, but the quote holds, and is relevant to this post. I’ve been reading a couple books lately. The first is ReWork, by Jason Fried. The second is Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky. Both intersect at the idea of work. In fact, a third book – The 4-Hour WorkWeek, Timothy Ferris – intersects here as well. Belsky especially is relevant to what we do, whether we do it as working photographers or not. I tell you all that so you know my sources as I get up on my soapbox.

As the so-called Creative Class you and I put a lot of stock in the value of ideas. Inspiration. Creativity. We often do not put a lot of stock into work. In fact work is often set up as the opposite of artistic endeavors. Where Belsky rocked my world is in pointing out that how great your idea is means almost nothing without the will to carry it out. And to do that you need motivation and organization and perseverance and the willingness to get up at 5am if that’s what it takes (don’t look at me, pretty sure my muse wouldn’t ask me to do that. That’s crazy talk. But for some people…).

You can generate idea after idea, fill your Moleskine notebooks so jam-packed with great ideas the world would fall down at your feet if only they knew how creative you were. But the trap lies in thinking that coming up with the ideas is where the value is. It isn’t. The value lies in your ability to execute. Forget all the hundreds of ideas. Pick one. And do it. Then pick another, and do it too.

We get paralyzed sometimes by too many options. A million ideas and we’re stuck because we can’t pick one. Stop it. Pick one. Move forward.

How does this apply? For working photographers or those who aspire to it – pick one project and do it. Finish it. Then do another. Which one? Who cares! Pick the one you most want to do, the one your dog wants you to do, or the one on the top of the list. But pick one, and do it. Because picking the “wrong one” and getting it done puts you in motion and is better than doing nothing at all. It’s the same with your day to day tasks. I know, you’ve got too much to do. Lord knows my calendars and to-do lists have never been so long, so I feel your pain. Don’t stare at it, don’t whine. Just pick the thing at the top of the list – or better – the one you most dread doing, and begin. Just begin.

And for the ones who just do this for fun – same thing. Begin. Pick a project. Begin. Work it through. Then finish it. Nothing helps us move forward like momentum; beginning is the hardest part. Get in motion, and watch things begin to fall into place.

You are not creative until you actually create something. The root word itself requires that. That old adage about creativity being 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? It’s true. Don’t let your piles of notes and your great-sounding ideas lull you into thinking you’re making progress. You make progress when you begin. Ideas are great, but they’re no substitute for the thrill of creation, of seeing that idea become real. All you need to do is begin. And then finish. But beginning is the hard part. There are a million excuses – we’re too busy is the best one. But isn’t it interesting how the Too-Busy still have time for Lost and American Idol? How they’re always talking about their next great idea? How they – and by “they” I mean “we” because I’m the first one that needs to hear this sermon – are always talking about photography more than they are actually making photographs. Watch TV if you like, just don’t complain you don’t have enough time. And don’t try that “but I watch TV to get inspired!” line with me, most of us don’t need more inspiration. We need to begin acting on the inspiration we’ve already been given.

Timothy Ferris is a good read on this. The first thing he suggests is to adopt a low-information diet. Fried says decision are progress: stop thinking about projects, make a decision and move forward. Belsky suggests you adopt a life with a strong bias towards action. I suggest the same thing when you get stalled. Stop thinking about it. Stop complaining about it. Just begin. I’m not sure there’s magic in it, but power certainly. You will get more done than most creatives by taking that first step.

I know this post doesn’t seem photographically relevant but the fact is most of us have enough technical knowledge and at least one good idea. What we need is to get moving. Heck, even a mediocre idea – even a BAD idea – once in motion is better than a good one that never finds legs. At least the bad idea in motion has a chance of becoming a better idea and one day actually becoming something more than an idea. Begin!


  1. This was an excellent post. I’ve read a few of your articles at this point and I must say, I can appreciate how practical and efficient your messages are. That, and pointing out those “traps” that are so easy to fall into with photography, and life in general. I will definitely share these, as we all can use something to hit home on the real point, and not the politics. Look forward to exploring your sight more.

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  3. it seems that you saw my moleskin and decided to write this…my list of ideas goes on and on, even my non photographic ones, like house projects, call, to do’s etc. it only takes to begin ONE, I know, maybe this little push of reading it here would help…

  4. Thanks David 🙂

    Reminds me of…

    Continuous efforts – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.
    – Winston Churchill

  5. This is so relevant! Yesterday I threw myself into Adobe and did a layered Save the Date Card for a Wedding… someone saw that and asked me to shoot their Wedding as well… That and this reminds me…Do It!! Don’t think on it..just start!

  6. I know I’m well late to the party on this. But no less relevant. I had to put the yellow legal pad away and pick up the camera. Wasting way too much time pretending to be productive, organized, developing a strategy. What I needed to do was get moving, make some pictures and make it happen. Thanks for the reminder and all of your generosity. Hoping for a full & speedy recovery.

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  9. Like my Dad told me, “Son…if the worst thing you have to do in a day is eat a toad, eat it first thing in the morning and the rest of the day is a breeze”

  10. For me, as a newbie author, the issue has not been to “begin” but to just keep going. The creative, fun writing part is done, but the mundane getting-it-ready-to-publish part has become a foggy marsh of indecision and distractions. I’ve been paralyzed by dreaming about so many other attractive, creative projects that I can’t bring myself to do the unattractive, boring minutiae it will take to finish the original job. I can even justify (in my own mind) watching TV because I’m knitting while I watch. Time to put on the blinders, go on that low-information diet, and “get er done.” Thanks for the reminder.

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  15. David, I just got back from a road trip and am catching up with my reading. This is such a timely post for me – I absolutely agree with you and yes it does indeed pertain to creative photography. Most importantly for me – I did it! I had 4 definitive ideas for subjects on the road trip and beforehand i set myself the goal of 2 out of 4. I managed to attempt them all. I have yet to go through the images fully and i know I missed a few that i wanted but the important thing is I got out there at 5am when needed, overcame the fear/resistance and went ahead with each of the projects i had given myself. As I said we’ll see how they came out but thanks as always for all of your advice through this blog. “Within the Frame” was my travel read on the trip too.

  16. Thank you very much for this post David! I agree with you that we know about every new camera, lens, bag, flash, … everything there is to know but we forgot about stuff like realizing our ideas from time to time. Thank you for the reminder, I appreciate you taking the time and sharing your knowledge with us.


  17. Sounds like you know me well. I’d swear you’ve been peaking over my shoulder! Good news though I have started on my list of ideas and completed a few, stumbled, learned more and just kept going. Love the insight – send me more!

  18. Awesome – I’ve had an idea for a photo book in my head and, with this, I’m going to do it. At least it’s something…will it change the world? Nope, but at least it will get me going.

  19. Great post.

    “At least the bad idea in motion has a chance of becoming a better idea and one day actually becoming something more than an idea.”

    This is key. Ideas are like living creatures, they evolve and the best ones survive. Fruit flies in the labratory aren’t going to evolve to real world conditions, and an idea in your brain won’t either. Start working on it though, and you’ll quickly figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.

    I’m amazed by how many people — in the photography world and almost everywhere else — sit on their hands, coming up with concepts and even communicating them, and then wondering why the world isn’t coming to them to help them make it go. Doesn’t work that way, folks!

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  21. Brilliant – I am in the process of researching business ideas and the amount of tangents one can go off on is incredible. It takes a lot of discipline to stay on track and an equal amount of courage to simply “begin”. In terms of task selection Tim Ferris was spot on when he advised asking yourself:-

    “What are the top-three activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive?”

  22. Great post and so true in all aspect of life! Reading all the comments, made me realize how much I “suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’. I have loads of ideas but I spend too much time worrying about which one is ‘best’ or ‘right’.” As Greg said: “and find myself immersed in magazines and books and blogs…” To much reading and trying to find the PERFECT plan of attack. This mad me realize how much I’m afraid of “mistakes”, “failures”! But, not like some who says that they got their creative fire back, I’m looking at my wish list, to do list, project list and wonder which one will make successful? Yep, sad. Maybe, reading it tomorrow or for the next week, will make me choose one!!


  23. Oh yes – wanted to mention that I’ve spent some time based in Camogli while exploring the Cinque Terra, and LOVED that town. Brillant to avoid the crowds in the villages along the trail, too…! And Camogli is very photogenic – as you have proven!

  24. Ouch! This one cuts me to my core! Spot on (for me personally) and absolutely right on for my photography. I get too easily distracted (avoidance?) and find myself immersed in magazines and books and blogs and lose myself reading about what I should be doing instead of DOING. My current distraction, interestingly, has been with a couple of eBooks I’ve read and re-read about Craft and Vision. And the last week I’ve been gobbling up a great read titled “VisionMongers”… Cosmic timing, eh?

    Thanks for putting these thoughts out there David!

  25. Thanks for the kick in the butt!

    I just printed, matted, framed, and this week I will exhibit my work for the first time.

  26. Hi David, thanks for that!! Only today I thought I would be better off selling my camera and equipment to pay off my debts… all my ‘grand’ ideas are gathering dust, immobilized is me… anyway, the dog’s idea of time well spent is to take it for a walk! At least that’ll get me off my rear-end and I can decide which action to take next. Lost my vision, thanks for the reminder to keep it alive!

  27. Just stopped reading your post so I could work on all the pictures I took at the local mtb race yesterday.

    I was a bus-boy in high school and learned, too start a table and finish that table. You can’t seat three unfinished tables.

    Thanks for the guidance.

  28. Great post, David. It’s a good reminder to me, as I started a personal project, but have let it sit for a while. I will get back to it asap. Many thanks for the good words!

  29. What a great post and thanks for the reading titles. Must say I read the 4 hour week just before Christmas. On the back of it I relaunched my web site in a matter of hours but then have dropped back into the trap of daily life. You have just sparked my motivation again. Thank you.

  30. Author

    Kathleen – I love that quote from the Jonathon Fields blog. Just love it.

  31. BAM! Moving all but one idea off the “to do” list until next year. Prioritized and doing one thing, but doing it right.

  32. David et al: First, great post. Next may I suggest a very good read: Seth Godin’s “Linchpin”. I have already passed on my copy otherwise would send it along. The book nails the themes of this post with the added insights of Seth Godin thrown in.
    “Resist the Lizard, and he will flee from you”. Read the Linchpin to understand ; )
    Thanks again David.

  33. Author

    Thanks Jeffrey. Somehow I knew you’d chime in with the voice of reason. I’m going back to bed now…

  34. Thats yet another great read David!
    I absolutely agree that we have to start somewhere as doing something is better than doing nothing at all!

  35. Thanks David for a really relevant and inspirational read. It’s spurred me on to get out there!

  36. Thanks for the kick in the butt David. As usual, your advice is spot on and spoken as a friend. Photographer, writer, philosopher… you are all of them and more.

    On your point about ‘pick anything…pick the wrong thing’ I am reading Trust The Process by Shaun McNiff ( where he discusses ‘mistakes and distortions’ as harbingers of ideas that introduce new directions. He quotes Claude Monet as well, who advises people not to fear mistakes. Anyway, your advice to just do it, pick anything, even the ‘wrong’ thing is right on track.

  37. I think this post absolutely IS photographically relevant. I for one often suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’. I have loads of ideas but I spend too much time worrying about which one is ‘best’ or ‘right’. This was a great kick in the pants to just do something. Thanks David!

  38. Thank you! I really really needed this friendly little kick this morning.

    I finally left my first ever workplace yesterday and am floating around feeling a little lost. My plan is to get into photography seriously now, but that’s just what it is, a plan. I keep telling myself I’ll get a little more settled in my new job and then work on it seriously..

    As of today I’m going to think in terms of action, no excuses, lists are not enough.

    Thanks again!

  39. I’m glad you wrote about this. We’d all struggle a lot less if we can follow these words without fail, JUST FREAKING DO IT!

  40. i love the 4h ww. read it a few times like 18 months ago – great reminder!

    instead of commenting, i should begin working 😀 and after a few words i will 😉

    i think too this is relevant to photography. i have a planing list to keep interesting ideas in my head. if i’m interested in the idea after a few weeks, or if i get my muse in kissing mode, i work on a project. but actually – i always work on some photographical project (if its on the list or not).

    and the thing is – ideas in your head are great. but only in bringing it to reality you can see if it works. and sometimes the greatest idea is not practical. so you have to PROVE your ideas are that great. by doing. and only by doing you can finetune your ideas – even make it better. so not begining is cheating yourself – cheating yourself from the prove and from the seeds of better ideas.

    [hope my english gets the point across 😉 ]

  41. I read every post of your blog and this is one of the best (most needed). Spot on. Thanks.

    “paralyzed by too many options … pick one, any one … move forward … finish it.”

  42. I’ve been trying really hard to apply this thinking to my photography over the past few months. The baby steps really do feel just like that – baby steps. But eventually, cumulatively you take stock one day and realise that they DO all add up.

    It’s only life…we just need to get on with it!

  43. Thank you, I woke up this morning saying I have to get a job, when what I really mean is I must get on with the next project in the pipeline. Action is it. Not pondering or reading about other techniques. Doing what I know I need to do. A very timely post. Your blog is excellent and not only pushes me forward creatively but practically too.

  44. Totally agree. And a good way to force yourself into action is to move the driving force outside of your head, e.g. by enrolling in a course. I am nearing the end of my third year of a five-year photography course at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts, and in order to pass I simply HAVE TO get up and take action 😀

    Also, this post links up nicely with an earlier one where you said there is no better way to beckon the muse than to start working. So action is not only the remedy for too many ideas, it also works wonders for curing a momentary lack of ideas 🙂

    No matter how you look at it, Result Requires Action.

  45. David,
    Thank you… Again. Your books, your life, your blog… a continual inspiration, a continual reminder to go and do… to live for that which drives me. To begin down the road I long to travel. Best wishes, and again I appreciate all that you are!

  46. Some years ago, I cancelled my cable for about a year. It was amazing how clean my home became and home projects completed.

  47. This is exactly what I needed to read! It applies to my photography and to my entire life! Thank you!

  48. David,

    Thanks so much for this! It is so timely for me to get started on a project that has been eating at me for the past four years. It has been one of those projects that sounds great and draws a lot of attention when I talk about it with others. I guess it is time to make it come to life.

    Thanks for the push!

  49. Can I add to this?

    If so, shooting is the easy part. All of us like being behind the camera, but having a plan for what we shoot is usually what holds us back.

    I have a presentation in a month or so that needs to arrive with a book in hand, some work to show, and relatively coherent ideas to articulate. Guess what I’m doing about it? Sitting outside my camper, loading images into LR, and reading photo blogs. Think I better get my butt in gear? Thanks for the kick.

  50. Excellent post. It is extremely true that action is so important and relevant in particular with photographers. I think you are definitely psyhic, David, as I have just gone through a process of selecting a few photo projects to work on and have begun to set action in motion. Too often I have projects I want to take on and never get too. It is good to know that others have the same issues. Thanks again, and I would be interested to read some of the authors you have listed. Keep up the great posts, as they keep us on track.

  51. David… thank you for posting this, I’ve been waiting for someone to give me the kick in the ass I needed to “just do it” and I don’t think anyone I know could have put it as eloquently as you just did 🙂

  52. but it IS photographically relevant – relevant to anyone who creates really. The easiest thing in the world is to talk about ideas you’ve come up with. But… can you walk the walk? This is a subject I am so passionate about. EVERYONE is capable of creating but few actually get up and go DO It. All it takes is one tiny step, and then another one and another one and before you know it… boom! An idea comes to life!

    For me, sometimes the stuff swirling in my head is so overwhelming that I don’t know where to start so I don’t. I’ve found the best way to get on is to make lists: it focuses me and then the steps to get it done are all on paper in front of me and I just check them off one at a time. worry about the next one when the first one is checked off. Makes the impossible suddenly seem possible.

  53. Ok now I am getting off my butt and taking my camera to take some pics. I don’t know of what yet but something may inspire me. Thanks for the swift kick!

  54. yup – concur… sometimes I just have to push through to gain a bit of inertia to keep going on an idea. Sometimes it takes me in a different direction but I always am satisfied that I ‘did’ something.

    Thanks David


  55. Absolutely awesome!!

    I assume, I needed that. I’m the one who sits in front of the tv all afternoon!

    I really need to Begin!!

    Great post, yet again…

  56. Totally relevant to photography. One thing I’ve learned reading about Avedon, Penn, Newton…is how hard those goes worked. Penn worked into his 90s I think. Back then they treated it (gasp!) like a job. Oh, and Steve McCurry’s still putting himself in harm’s way, too, I think.

    There’s an old video by Ze Frank that I think sums it up in a crazy video that, while NSWF (the end is a whole song with the F-word), really says it all:

  57. David – you are so right. Just got back from walking Coal Harbour area. Hopefully got some good shots of reflections in buildings. I will start NOW getting them into Lightroom and doing something with them. And then I PROMISE I will work on my images of Italy from last June that I planned to hang on our den wall! Simple tasks but I want to make these ideas happen! Thank you for the push.

  58. Damn – you keep saying things that resonate w me. That is the quote on my filing cabinet. One other is “Those Who Stand For Nothing, Fall For Anything” Malcom X.

    Am glad you enjoyed the wine and camera in your hand in Italy. I tried to send a response but none went.

  59. Dani and I were just talking about this this afternoon. A great reinforcement. Thanks.

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