Respecting Your Own Creativity
By Layne Proctor | Comments
Working in the field of creative arts can be harrowing and a surprisingly stultifying experience. Despite the number of hours spent sitting safely behind a desk or similarly cluttered workspace, and although creative often lacks much of tediousness characteristic of many other professions, the blank screen looming at the start of a new project can stir up an outright existential crisis.
While there will never be an easy fix, no way of making that blank page seem any more welcoming to the diligent copywriter or designer, there are two very simple habits that can mitigate the terror and help gather momentum towards covering that page with something meaningful. The ideas behind these two habits are not novel, but for all their obviousness bear repeating.
1: Get it down on paper, now.
Take this as literally as you need to, but when an idea comes along, and no matter how loud your internal voices are shouting that the idea is no good, bring it out of that echo chamber of a head of yours and set it down somewhere out in the world. For me, nothing can compete with the visceral act of jotting a fresh idea down into a notepad. Sketching, doodling, letting my fingers and the pen work as a physical complement to my racing mind: It’s inexplicable, the feeling that accompanies the transfer of my thoughts to paper. But this might be seen as an outmoded practice to some, even many, and for them maybe pen and paper aren’t the medium of choice. No matter whether your idea starts off on a sketchpad, in a Word document, or recorded in a voice memo on your Smartphone, what is key is that you expose your idea to the light of day.
Doing this does at least two important things.
Firstly, stopping whatever it is you’re doing when an idea pops in your head so that you can get it on paper is a great initial step in establishing good creative habits. It will help to create a situation where there isn’t a time in the day (or night) when you are not at least partially engaged in your creative endeavors. This is not to suggest that you need to be ceaselessly working, only that you should be respectful of your own creativity.
You never know when that breakthrough will come, or which mud-covered hunk of seemingly worthless earth will end up being that coveted diamond once it has been sufficiently polished. Just as uncertain is which ideas, good or bad, you will remember fifteen minutes, an hour, or six hours later when you finally set aside a little time to mull them over and sketch them out.
Secondly, being indiscriminate and disciplined in getting your ideas on paper helps you to accumulate the raw materials needed for what will eventually be that well-crafted finished product. Though not out of the question, most great ideas don’t burst from a creator’s head perfectly formed. Great ideas are built up piecemeal, repeatedly rearranged, partly torn down so that the stuff that isn’t working can be tossed out, built back up, selectively demolished to make room for innovations, and built back up again. Some of the stuff you jot down will ultimately be classified as, by your own admission, garbage. However, as you sift through which ideas go and which stay, you are involving yourself in a honing process that brings the idea you are currently working on closer to greatness at the same time it improves your creative faculties in general.
Put differently, it’s simply good practice: Practicing expressing your ideas precisely, practicing critiquing them once they’re out in the world, and practicing bringing your ideas together to work towards cohesive and unique ends.
Alright. Your idea is down on paper. What’s next?
2: Show your idea to someone else.
The thought of showing your idea to another person is likely part of the reason you weren’t writing your ideas down as diligently as you should have been. Trying to create something new comes with a fair amount of risk, and it can be gut-wrenching to think that what you have come up with will be labeled as stupid, worthless, or senseless by people whose opinions you respect. But think about it honestly for a moment.
Isn’t feedback, even if it isn’t all good, exactly what you crave? Even the most brutal of critiques are opportunities to check your ego and check your work. It is usually fruitful to objectively acknowledge criticism, even when you think it is misguided, so long as you avoid internalizing its message. You are not your idea. Your idea is something you created and that you control. If an asked-for opinion knocks you down, get up, dust yourself off, and take a new look at your idea. Find ways to express it differently, express it more clearly, fine tune it, make it more evocative and compelling.
Most importantly, know that great ideas can’t persist in a vacuum, and a vacuum is exactly where an unshared idea languishes. Feedback and active collaboration are what make a great idea come to life.
Another way of saying this is, no matter the idea, if it doesn’t get voiced – out into the world and then shared with those who can provide productive feedback – it is not going to go anywhere. So throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, as the saying goes. With creative, the only answer is keep working, keep working, and keep working. Once you are in the habit of respecting your own creativity, you’ll come to find that you are working even when you’re not, but that it won’t often seem like work.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be hard work and difficulty. There will be. And that blank screen won’t ever become any more welcoming. A good idea will always be forged through blood, sweat, and tears. But you’ll come to relish the struggle and, as is frequently the case, once you get moving, momentum will begin to take over. Not to mention, more concretely, once you have something down on paper, you have something to edit, something to improve upon, something to riff off of.
You might think an idea just thought of is only half-baked, derivative, unclear. But that inspiration might never come again, and who knows how that idea will mesh with the last idea you jotted down or how it will react with the next idea.
You can’t foresee when all those scraps of paper will come together to form something extraordinary. You can continue to be your own worst critic, but don’t allow bad habits to get in the way of bringing your creativity to fruition.