When people outside of advertising find out that I make my living as a creative director, their first response is often a wistful, “Wow, I could never do that. I’m just not creative.”
And I think, “You’re right. You probably couldn’t do it.” Because even those of us who rely on our creativity for our livelihood wrestle with it. We mostly love it. We couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But some days we hate it. Putting your ideas out there on a regular basis for the world to critique is masochism in the purest sense. At times, it takes skin as thick as concrete not to let the comments discourage you. It also takes a supreme amount of self-confidence—or false bravado, which in truth, is what most creatives possess. We’re actually quite the sensitive bunch; such an irony considering what we subject ourselves to.
According to Luke Sullivan, chair of the advertising department at the Savannah College of Art and Design, “The whole creative process is stupid. It’s like washing a pig. It’s messy, it has no rules, no clear beginning, middle, or end; it’s kind of a pain in the a**, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.”
But I spare the person I’m talking with my thoughts on the highs and lows of being a creative director. And I respond with the reassurance that everyone, no matter how unimaginative they think they are, has more creativity bubbling within than they suspect. It’s just a matter of knowing how to nurture it and bring it to the surface. So the next time you’re feeling creatively inadequate, try a few of these techniques:
- Change Your Scenery. Let’s face it. An insipid beige work cubicle is often the last place you’re going to find inspiration. If you’ve been trying to force an idea and nothing’s coming, get up and take a walk. Go outside if you can. Find a scenic spot to clear your head and just appreciate what’s around you. People watch. Listen to music. Check out some art. That little break when you don’t think about your project can bring renewed focus when you come back to your desk. Or, don’t come back to your desk if you don’t have to; working in a different environment can work wonders.
- Kill Your Inner Critic. The same rules of brainstorming with a group apply to brainstorming by yourself. Write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Because when you’re brainstorming, there are no bad ideas. The goal is to have a stream of consciousness that will produce something great. When you look back over your list, some of the thoughts might crack you up. You’ll vow to tear the piece of paper into bits so no one will find proof of your insanity. But usually, there’s at least one idea that’s just about perfect. (And it might even be the one that you thought was the most absurd at first.)
- Set Yourself Up for Success. Forget the stereotype of the tortured artist. Despite the assumption that you should suffer for your “art,” you shouldn’t. Chances are, you’re going to find it easier to come up with a great idea if you’re in a good mood and doing things you enjoy.
- Take Care of Yourself. At the risk of sounding like a self-help book, don’t lose sight of the basics. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Reduce your stress. Eliminating the consequences of not taking care of yourself means you’ll have fewer distractions getting in the way of your creativity.
- Be a Sponge. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Read. Ask questions when you meet people. Keep up with the news as well as pop culture. Be a student of life and always be curious. Exposing yourself to different people, places, and things means that your memory bank will always be full to help spark an idea when you need it.
Still stuck for ideas on how to come up with ideas? Seek me out. I’ll be the one washing the pig – and loving every minute of it.