When Joss Whedon was writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he received much praise for his witty writing and the characters’ artful banter. Then he wrote the episode Hush, where a plot device robbed the characters of their voices, and deprived Whedon of his greatest strength—his dialog. Thus constrained, he forced his characters to communicate through other means, and himself to communicate to his audience through non-verbal cues and expressions. Fast forward to the last few years, and we see this skill finely tuned in the character chemistry of The Avengers. Throughout the movie, the characters communicate and define themselves and their relationships on multiple levels, allowing Whedon to tell a complex, character-driven story in a short amount of time.
In the documentary It Might Get Loud, Jack White describes how by challenging himself and making his stage performance more difficult, it forces him to get creative to succeed. By lunging farther across stage, rushing harder to keep time as he jumps instruments, the music he produces is more raw and more real.
Last year, web comic artist Chris Rusche almost gave up on his labor of love http://shotgunshuffle.com/ until fans rallied and convinced him to keep going. Following his archive, you can see his art improve over the years, and he often blogs about pushing himself harder to increase his skill. Rusche’s later strips communicate on multiple levels through dialog, lighting, expression, and mannerism, (as well as easter-egg jokes galore). His strips are frequently a day or two late, but the fans don’t care—the product is that good.
I don’t challenge myself the way these folks do, but their method gives me pause, and forces me to ask that question. How do I challenge myself? How can I push myself farther, to produce something better, not just more of the same quality? I don’t have good answers yet, but thinking about these examples are a starting point, and it’s something to chew on while I edit.
How about you? What artist’s method inspires you? What self-imposed struggles have enabled you to thrive in your craft?