The Shape of Creativity

If you’re a creator, tell me if this resonates with you.

At some point in your past, you were going about your day and something caught your eye. Your curiosity was piqued by something that someone else made.

Curiosity Piqued

The Shape of Creativity: Stage 1 - Curiosity Piqued

Stage 1: Curiosity Piqued

In my case the thing that first pulled me into this world of sketching out ideas was a TED Talk given by Sunni Brown called Doodlers Unite! Not only was my curiosity peaked, in that moment there was a little bit of an “aha” around identifying that as a craft that I wanted to develop, and that’s what I started doing.

Honeymoon Phase

The Shape of Creativity: Stage 2 - Honeymoon Phase

Stage 2: Honeymoon Phase

From there you step into the honeymoon phase, a period of time where there’s fairly rapid development as you learn the basics of the new craft you’re exploring. You go from not being able to do anything to making something that you’re pretty proud of.

During my honeymoon phase I was sketchnoting podcasts or videos every single day, publishing them on a blog that I had started, and really just enjoying the excitement around building this new skill into my life.

But then comes the next stage – you encounter the dip.

The Dip

The Shape of Creativity: Stage 3 - The Dip

Stage 3: The Dip

This is where you start to doubt your abilities.

It’s where you start to compare your work to others, no longer a complete newbie, now someone that has a bit of experience. And the steepness of your skill development starts to flatten out. You don’t even want to show your face let alone your work, all of which you unceremoniously throw into the trash.

My dip with sketchnoting happened when I started sketchnoting for other people. A handful of freelance opportunities came my way that I was excited to take on because the prospect of a career in this field really excited me, but it also caused a whole lot of stress, a whole lot of thinking that I’m not good enough.

At this stage there are two ways you can go. The first is the “I quit” route, giving up on that craft, going back to that place you were before your curiosity was peaked.

I Quit

The Shape of Creativity: Stage 4(a) - I Quit

Stage 4 (Option 1): I Quit

Or you can go into workshopping mode, where you address whatever it is that caused the dip by backing up and trying again.


The Shape of Creativity: Stage 4(a) - I Quit

Stage 4 (Option 2): Workshopping

If that doesn’t work, you back up again and then you try again.

One way that I’ve workshopped throughout the years is by exploring the use of different materials.

Sketchnoters have lots of options. You can go modular with sticky notes or index cards. You can get real big with poster paper up on the wall or on a large desk in front of you. You can go digital and select from one of the many apps that are well suited to visual thinking.

But in addition to that workshopping of materials, there can also be workshopping around purpose and people – who you’re doing your work for why you’re doing it in the first place.

That type of workshopping led me away from doing freelance work to merging this interest with my past experience in education to start teaching these skills. That plus the happy coincidence of connecting with a local TEDx event here in Portland, where I was able to make my first videos like the one above (with someone else behind the camera then), was the impetus for starting my first YouTube channel.


The Shape of Creativity

Stage 5: Growth

Through that workshopping you eventually land on something that clicks, and you start a steady climb up again, to the point where sometimes it feels like you’re a superhero flying away.

That’s the growth stage.

It’s important to point out that the growth stage doesn’t last forever. In a lot of ways it’s going to parallel this honeymoon phase. It’s going to go good for a while, but then something’s going to change – maybe your circumstances, maybe something going on in the world, maybe a new direction that you start to take in your work.

That’s going to cause another dip that’s going to require some more workshopping until you find the next stage of growth.

Workshopping: Courses & Community

One series of that repeating cycle led me to Mighty Networks (affiliate link), when I decided I wanted to build more community elements into the courses that I teach.

It’s actually Mighty Networks who came up with the general shape of the line that I sketched out, as they described the life of a community. If you’ve ever thought about starting your own community, check out this free workshop that founder and CEO Gina Bianchini hosted.

Workshopping: YouTube

More recently I’ve been doing some workshopping related to the videos that I make. The video above is the first time that I’ve used a green screen. What’d you think of that? Let me know in the comments on YouTube.

I’ve also decided to start another YouTube channel. With my main channel I feel l like I’ve been trying to reach two audiences at the same time, and I think each audience might need its own channel.

The first and primary audience has been people who are interested in visual note-taking, who are learning how to sketchnote, and who want to build these skills into their life.

The other group is people who just enjoy the type of video where someone is sketching out interesting ideas, but don’t necessarily want to learn that skill themselves.

So I’ve decided to rename my primary channel from Doug Neill back to Verbal to Visual, which is what it was up until a handful of months ago.

That will be the place where I’m going to focus specifically on people who are building their sketchnoting skills. I’ve got a lot of ideas around videos and series that I think will help bring people along that creativity curve. I want the freedom to be able to make those videos without worrying about the people who might just want to see interesting ideas sketched out.

That’s what the new Doug Neill channel will be for, where I will be sketching out the interesting ideas that I come across in the books I read, the podcast I listen to, and the videos that I watch.

My hope is that this workshopping of how I share my work on YouTube will allow for each of those channels to grow at their own pace and gather independent (though overlapping) audiences.

I’ll continue sharing both types of videos here on this site within the Tutorials and Sketchnotes categories of the blog.

With that I wish you luck no matter where you are right now on your creative journey.

Learn How to Take Visual Notes

If you’d like to learn how to take visual notes like those I shared above, come join us inside of Verbal to Visual.

There you’ll find a full library of sketchnoting courses and regular live workshops to help you build your skills:

You can learn more and sign up here.