Lately I’ve been working on (though for the majority of this week, I’ve actually been avoiding) switching over a website from a table-based design to one that only uses cascading stylesheets. This is something I could talk about all day, but I made a vow before I started writing that I would not geek out on you, and I will stick to that. What I will tell you is that, to me, writing a successful stylesheet (and the corresponding markup) is like creating a delicate artwork, where so much depends
upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens on creating a pixel-perfect balance, where everything exists in a very specific order. See, I haven’t really done very much writing in the past year or so, but I have done a pretty fair amount of communing with CSS and XHTML, and I’ve come to look at hand coding a website’s design as a pretty gratifying creative outlet. Yes, CSS is poetic, and all of its elements, from faux columns to negative margins, are its building blocks. It may not do the same thing for you, but something like this is poetry to me:
font-family: trebuchet ms, arial, sans-serif;
border: 1px solid black;
Whatever. You say Coleridge, I say Zeldman.
As it is with creating anything, it can be a very frustrating process, but getting everything right is incredibly satisfying. Like winning something, only better. Because taking a mental image and making it into something real, using only letters, words, and occasional bits of punctuation is a good thing to be able to do. Any writer (whether the medium is pixels or poems) knows this.
But sometimes, no matter how much I may even want to, getting started is difficult. Especially if I know that the work is going to be really hard or beyond my comfortable range of knowledge. I’ve found that lately, I’ve had to trick myself into getting into a creative mindset, because I’ve mostly felt like ignoring this aforementioned website (since I keep breaking it instead of fixing it). And this usually works — if I fire up the ol’ iPod and stare at an HTML file long enough, eventually I start typing, moving blocks of information around, celebrating what I fix and cursing what I break. It doesn’t take too much of this before I’m completely absorbed. Lost in the process. Totally in the zone. Forgetful of the fact that I had to trick myself to get there. Wondering if there’s a better feeling than abandoning myself to the act of creation.
But enough about me. It’s time to talk about you. What does it take to get you into a creative frame of mind? Do you wake up that way, or do you sometimes have to work at it? How do you get yourself started? And once you have, what are you like once you’re in the zone? Do you have to follow a specific process every time, or do you vary it?