Unlock Your Creativity (and Win Pitches) by Starting at the Finish Line

Start and finish line on athletics track

Image by digitalista via BigStock

When I teach my workshop on ‘Fundraising for Artists,’ we play this game: I give the class an imaginary check for $10,000 and I ask an artist to come to the front of the room and describe her project.

Participants have to decide if and when they’re willing to give the artist the check and if not, what questions they want answered. Suddenly, the attendees who walked into the room as unsure artists transform into savvy philanthropists with smart questions about the artist’s project and vision.

This game helps both the artist see where her proposed project needs work and helps participants discover how smart they already are about how to clarify a project when they have some distance on it.

Play this game after you’ve dreamed up your next creative endeavor and you’re looking to fine tune it. Give a group of colleagues an imaginary check and then present your idea to them. You’ll find they’re full of questions – questions you’ll need to answer to write a proposal, convince a funder to pay for it, or even convince yourself that you actually want to do it.

The most challenging part of describing your project is that you’re trying to describe something that doesn’t yet exist. When artists tell me how hard it is to write about something they haven’t yet created, I say:

Imagine it done. Now, describe it to me.

If it’s a novel, describe the cover and read me the back cover blurbs. If it’s a dance performance, tell me what I see when the lights go down. If it’s a performance installation, describe how it will feel to walk through the space: what will I see, feel, hear, smell, taste?

This exercise helps you wring out the details. You’ll find you know much more about your project than you thought you did. You may also find that behind the glitter of this new idea, once you start digging, you’re not as interested in the project as you thought you were. This can be a blessing! You can now move onto another project knowing that you’ve pursued this one as far as you needed to.

So, tell me, what’s the project in your mind that’s still just a glimmer?

Now try this:

1. Imagine your project is finished and you’re on the other side of it

You’ve run the marathon of completing it. Now, look back. What do you see? Be open to whatever you see. (If you’re a writer, you might see a dance. If you’re a dancer, you might see a film.) Let whatever come, come.

2. Describe it

If it’s a novel, hold it in your hand. If it’s a film, sit in the darkened auditorium. You get the idea. Be present with your finished creation.

What does the cover of the book look like? How does the heft of it feel in your hands? How does the flap copy read? Look at the table of contents. What do you see? If it’s a dance, how does it open? What music or sound effects do you hear? How many dancers? What is the lighting like?

3. Write all of this down

Remember to check in with all your senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, sound. Pay particular attention to what you feel as a viewer (not as the author but as the audience), for example: joy, fear, etc.

4. Use these words in your proposal or pitch

Now when you sit down to write your proposal or stand up to pitch your idea, you can describe your project in detail because you’ve already experienced it. When you describe it as if it already exists, your funders will be able to see it too.

Over to you

What do you find out when you go through this process – either alone or with a group of friends?

How is your project different when you really witnessed it? How is your vision expanded?

What does it take for your friends to write you that imaginary check?

About the Author: Gigi Rosenberg is an author and coach to visual, literary, and performing artists, and entrepreneurs, teaching them how to give stellar public presentations. To download a FREE excerpt of her book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing click here. For the latest, visit gigirosenberg.com.

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  1. “Imagine it done. Now, describe it to me.”

    That’s sort of amazing. Simple, obvious, and totally missed most of the time.

    This is almost the process I use to convince Best Beloved to let me fire up Yet Another Project (so far she has never asked me to shut my YAP) but this refines it. Might even help me decide on my own which ones to kick to the curb before I say it out loud.

  2. Gigi, your cheque idea is a particularly brilliant touch and can be used for social inventions, community innovations and all manner of human improvements, technical and scientific to achieve “buy-in”. Thankyou.

  3. Mark,

    This is very insightful and helps people to get there.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. I’m designing for a startup and we are doing something similar on our website as a digital vision board. I’d start with imagining the emotional result of what I’m shooting for. How does success feel?We only want anything because we think we will feel better once we have it.

    • Kelcey, Wow! I’m very excited to hear how you use this process already! “The emotional result” is a nice way to go about this. Looking forward to hearing about your startup.

  5. This is what a bit like what Martin Scorsese does: visualize it, visualize it, visualize it!

  6. Yes it is! Thanks for posting. His quote is going on my bulletin board! Best, Gigi