The Importance of Going Back to Basics: Rediscovering Why You Make

by Liz Clark

In the maker community it seems that we can't really go more than a day without seeing an amazing new project. Every person that shares what they're working on is so enthusiastic about their endeavor, whether it be first sketches, intermediate strides, or final drafts. It's a truly inspiring group to find yourself immersed in, either digitally or in-person at your local maker/hacker space, and yet rather than breeding an endless flow of creativity, on an off day this can sometimes sow some seeds of doubt and second guesses.

I think we've all been there, either briefly or for longer spells, wondering what to work on next but coming up empty; feeling overall uninspired. You can also talk yourself out of simpler ideas that come up during this time, brushing them off as unoriginal, done before or not as good as what's their name.

I felt this a couple of months ago, my long list of hypothetical projects and ideas growing shorter with little to no additions. To be honest I think I was tired after completing my book and I think it's incredibly important to take, and talk about taking, breaks to recharge. However, as a creative person it feels wrong in a way to not feel that sparkle of a new idea to pursue. It's almost like there’s a bug in your brain’s code.

Around this time, I was coincidentally beginning to work on an introductory Arduino video series with Apress framed around interfacing with LEDs. It was purely educational, beginning with the basic blinking of an LED and moving all the way up to charlieplexing. I had chosen the topic because I love LEDs. They're fun, simple, and extraordinarily versatile. Show me a project or situation that can't be improved by a fun little light. For beginners in electronics, LEDs offer a literal beacon of feedback that, Yes, their circuit is correct and yes, their code is correct, and with what feels like magic they are controlling this little blinking dot.

It was through working on that video series that some of that magic started to return to me. Viewing these concepts through a beginner's eyes and revisiting circuits and code that I hadn't seriously studied since being a beginner myself, I felt that spark again that had alluded me.

I started pursuing a few different projects based around LEDs: some I had experimented with before, some new, but all incredibly fun to work on. I went back to basics and in turn I got back on track creatively. I wasn't trying to brainstorm a new concept or try out a new trendy component; I was simply following my curiosity and it felt great.

I think there can be some unnecessary pressures out there—some unwritten rules that if you aren't pushing the envelope or on the edge of innovation, then what you're doing doesn't matter. I think it's more ingrained in us from a societal perspective than from the maker community itself, but still it can make itself known at our desks and workspaces. And on those days that its presence looms over you, that it makes a noise so loud that you can't think, I encourage you to take a moment and ask yourself: What caused you to explore in the first place? What inspired you to make? And in that answer, you just might rediscover your creative spark.

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark is a lifelong DIY-er and in recent years has become dedicated to learning and making with software and hardware. A large component of this is documenting the process through video and project write-ups, which is something that she has really fallen in love with. The Tinker Board is an exciting new platform that Elizabeth spent a lot of time exploring and is excited to contribute a resource to the maker community.

This article was contributed by Liz Clark, author of Practical Tinker Board.