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Issue 29


In this issue ~~

* Making a Living With Your Creativity

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Making a Living With Your Creativity

It's lovely to have free rein with your creativity, and for many people, their artistic pursuits are their personal outlet. But what happens when your creativity is what pays the rent? How do you keep the juices flowing on the creative process and still function within the bounds of your job?

When you think of creativity, you think of expansiveness of expression. Even the best artist needs the freedom to produce a lot of garbage in order to come up with a handful of great works. How many sketches did Leonardo da Vinci do before he created his masterpieces? How many frames does a photographer shoot to glean two or three outstanding ones? How many of a songwriter's songs hit the charts?

The creative process is not always predictable; it often takes a lot of trial and error. But when you're creating within the confines of a job, you have to be productive as well as creative, and you have to perform "on command" to boot. You don't always have the luxury of allowing creativity to happen at its own pace and without limitations.

You may wonder just how creative you can be in a business setting. When money is involved, you're expected to produce results. While it's the original idea that gets attention and makes the big bucks, once a concept "hits," everyone wants to copy it and achieve the same level of success. The media is a perfect example: How often do we see a myriad of imitations of a successful film or TV show? The goal is to have maximum results with minimal risk. That can be the antithesis of creativity.

Maintaining a level of creativity while trying to fulfill the requirements of a job can leave us feeling stuck, fenced-in and frustrated. And there are other issues we may face:

~ Creativity waxes and wanes. In a commercial job, you have to produce on demand, and you have to find ways to stimulate your creativity even when you're not feeling like it.

~ Creativity is, by nature, risky, and it's hard to take risks when you're in fear of failure or losing your job. You may be fortunate enough to work in an environment that values and encourages creativity and risk, but often, your boss is also afraid of risk and in turn limits you.

~ Some "creative" jobs are downright repetitive. While your artistic skills are involved, you're repeating some form of the same task over and over again, with little innovation. Some people like this, as it's less demanding and conserves their energy for their own creative work. For others, it's stifling, especially when the job is your primary creative focus.

~ In some companies, creativity is discouraged or limited. For several years, I worked at an ad agency that specialized in pharmaceuticals. The clients simply didn't want anything too flashy, and often, the more creative ideas were shot down in favor of the same-old-same-old. It was disheartening for the designers.

~ In many jobs, you have to produce on a schedule. You need to be able to pull out your creativity even when you don't feel inspired. Graphic designers and writers, among others, may find themselves working well into the night to meet a deadline, trying their best to be creative when they're exhausted and bleary-eyed and can't come up with a new idea to save their life.

Staying fresh and inspired can be a challenge. As an artist, you want to do your best work. But when you're working in less than optimal conditions, you may not be able to achieve your ideal. There are a few things you can do to enhance your creativity when it seems to be hiding out and help make the experience more pleasurable.

~ Create a productive, inspiring environment. Set up your space so it operates efficiently. (It also helps when your equipment is functioning properly!) Bring in personal items that nurture your spirit. Surround yourself with great art or music. If you need solitude to think and create, close your office door. If you're in an open space or cubicle, let the headphones on your Walkman create the solitude for you. Or if you can, work somewhere else, perhaps in a library or at home, or take your laptop to Starbuck's or the park. With the explosion of technology in recent years, telecommuting has become a viable way to work, and more employers are willing to allow it.

~ Create a routine or ritual to get you started. (This is particularly helpful if you're not a morning person!) Perhaps begin your day with your bagel and coffee, check the news or stock market on the Internet or peruse your favorite section of the newspaper, set up your tools, do a warm-up such as practicing scales or journal writing, take a deep breath, and go!

~ Discover what inspires you. If you get your best ideas walking in the nature, then it's to your employer's benefit to let you do that. Go to an art museum, or read something that stimulates your mind. Take a few moments to meditate and quiet your mind. Sometimes even doing something like crossword puzzles or computer games can relax you and make it easier to get into the creative flow.

~ Find new ways to free your creativity. Create new avenues of expression for yourself. If you're a graphic designer, taking a painting, drawing or sculpting class may be the breath of fresh air you need to free your creativity at work. If you're a journalist, doing some writing exercises (there are several good books) or taking a creative writing class can bring the joy back into your writing and open up new pathways to creativity.

~ Learn about the creative processes of other types of artists. Talk with them or read some of the many wonderful books available. See how their process can translate into yours.

~ Use the limitations as a motivator. In the ad agency I mentioned, the designers challenged themselves to see how creative they could be within the strictures that were placed upon them. While it's great to have complete freedom, having a problem to solve can also stretch your creativity.

~ Be willing to experiment. When you're afraid to make a mistake, you limit the range of your creativity. If a gymnast was afraid to fall, she would never be able to develop the big skills. Be willing to take the risk, and see what comes out of it. It's always fun when you surprise yourself!

~ At times, you may just have to get your inspiration from others. While it's preferable to be original and innovative, there are occasions when it's expedient to borrow ideas from industry greats. You certainly don't want to copy entire compositions, but you can take pieces or use them to jump-start your own imagination. Don't be too hard on yourself that you can't create something completely original every time. Sometimes you just have to produce any way you can.

~ Brainstorm with your colleagues. While you may feel afraid that admitting you don't have all the answers will cost you your job, doing so can give you great freedom and the opportunity to learn from your coworkers. They may feel as stuck as you do, and tossing around ideas can reveal new directions to explore.

~ Keep an idea file. When you're in the midst of a project, you don't always have time to go digging. As you go about your day, keep your eyes open for an interesting design, an intriguing face, a pleasing melody, a catchy phrase, an engaging personality, a topic that captures your imagination. Then keep notes or sketches. When you're under pressure, you can turn to your repository and find just the fresh touch that you need.

~ If you feel blocked, just start. Sometimes, you can get good ideas by realizing what's bad about what you've got!

~ Learn to compromise. One of the realities of the commercial world is that whoever pays is right. There are times when you won't be able to do a project the way you want, and sometimes what the client wants will be downright awful. Do your best and let go. If you insist on holding to your artistic integrity against the wishes of your boss or client, you'll soon find yourself without them. Standards are important, and you can still adhere to them on your own projects. But if you want to keep your job, you may need to ease up a bit. I've seen people who clung to their ideals to the point where no one ever saw their work. And isn't the point of creativity to communicate and touch people with your art?

~ Trust the process. There's a part of you that knows how to create, but when you're tense and nervous, you block that. Put the judging voice in the background, and allow the artist to come forth.

~ Remind yourself what you loved about this work in the first place. Remember how you related to it when you were a child or in college, how it made you feel. Get back in touch with that essence that's so meaningful to you and infuse that into your work. If compromising that for your job has become too hard for you, you can choose to make your living another way and keep your art for yourself.

Maintaining your creativity at work takes courage. There's no pat answer on how to deal with it. In some cases, the best route may be finding another job in a less restrictive environment. For others, it's breathing new life into your current job and your creative process. And for some, it's finding a new profession. Even if you're fortunate enough to be doing work you love, there will be times when you need to compromise.

Find ways that work for you, to give you the maximum amount of artistry and enjoyment and still be able to function within the parameters of your job. Remember, even when your job forces you to "crank out" the work and you begin to doubt your abilities, you're still an artist, and no one can take that away from you.


A special thanks to Lynn O in Virginia for inspiring this article.


Creative Tip

Carry a notepad or microcassette recorder with you at all times. When you get a flash of an idea, write or record it immediately, then collect your ideas in a folder or computer file.


Wise Words

"If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play."

~ John Cleese

"Creative geniuses are geniuses because they taught themselves 'how' to think instead of 'what' to think."

~ Ten Speed Press, Publisher, Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko

"To solve problems successfully, you must believe you can, must feel capable enough to improvise. Yet too many adults have been schooled away from their ability to experiment freely."

~ Marsha Sinetar, To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love

"The biggest moneymakers in any organization are always the people who know how to be different."

~ Tom Turpin, President & CEO, Will Vinton Studios




(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life . . . Judy Reeves

Copywriting by Design: Bringing Ideas to Life With Words and Images . . . David Herzbrun

Design for Response: Creative Direct Marketing That Works . . . Leslie Sherr, David J. Katz

Thinking Creatively: New Ways to Unlock Your Visual Imagination . . . Robin Landa

Creativity for Graphic Designers: A Real-World Guide to Idea Generation -- From Defining Your Message to Selecting the Best Idea for Your Printed Piece . . . Mark Oldach

The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak About the Creative Process . . . Ann McCutchan

Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within . . . Kenny Werner


© 2000 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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