Today I finished reading a book called The Institute, written by Stephen King and I’ve really enjoyed it – as with most of his stories!
And, although I consider myself quite a big fan of his work, I know that I still have a considerable amount of his back catalogue to get through. In fact, there have been two more novels released since I discovered The Institute. Whether or not I should take this as a sign of my reading speed is neither here nor there – fact is, he writes books like a butcher makes sausages. But good sausages, not the cheap ones with bits of toenail in them.
King is famously (annoyingly) productive. So much so that when he and George R. R. Martin sat down for a discussion in 2016, the author of A Game of Thrones asked, “How the f*** do you write so many books so fast?” Frustratingly, King didn’t really offer an answer. And just went on to hammer home the point that he writes absolutely loads every single day, without too much trouble. I, and probably Martin too, was left feeling a little irritated.
I bring this up primarily out of bitterness – bitterness being one of my main sources of sustenance. I, unlike King (or indeed a sausage maker), find it very difficult to produce a consistent stream of creative content.
Cue the main purpose of this article: I have been suffering a creative drought since lockdown began.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this. I do, after all, work in a creative industry. It’s like entering a jousting competition with a floppy lance. But it seems I’m not alone. I spoke with a copywriter friend of mine today – Just Global’s own Matt Mundy, who eased my worries by conceding that he too has been struggling to “create” despite access to a lot more free time! He and I have both been working from home (separately – we’re not that close), and that means we’ve gained at least a couple of hours a day when we’re not sat in traffic.
On paper this seemed great! I love my job and I consider myself very lucky, but sometimes, like most people, I think about the work I could be doing, if I didn’t have to please a client. Things that are personal to me. Things that, if anyone ever saw them, would help paint a picture of who I really am. So, when I discovered that I’d be saving at least two hours a day by not having to drive to the office, I started to plan out a series of experimental, personal projects. As Martine McCutcheon once sang…this was my moment. She actually said this is my moment, but that doesn’t work.
Months later, I had nothing. Not a single complete piece that I could legitimately share with the world. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a few pieces that could work within a larger film, if I ever actually committed time to one solid idea. And the Predator render I uploaded to LinkedIn got some nice comments. But individually, it’s a bunch of disjointed splurges that don’t really paint a picture of who I am. Unless that picture is of a man with a sporadic work ethic.
For me, the issue comes from a lack of patience. Despite knowing that the job I do involves a lot of meticulous detail and painfully slow rendering, I always find myself planning the next project before I’ve finished this one! Because of this, I’ve ended up with a hard drive full of unused footage, incomplete animations and test renders that will probably never see the light of day.
They’ll work in a show reel, which is primarily designed to show as much contrasting content as possible, but beyond that, if a client was ever to ask me, “Have you ever made a video that uses 3D marbles as a metaphor for customers negotiating the ever-increasing complexity of modern-day life?”, I’d have to say, “No, but I did a three second test render that’s pretty cool.” And I’m fairly certain that’s where the conversation would end.
I know that I’m not alone. And I also know that, as with almost everything in life, this drought will end. There are methods to deal with such dearth. Methods that I’ve used in the past, like…completing one walk cycle animation per month for a year, or a month of looping gifs celebrating some of the most iconic pop culture vehicles of all time! With both endeavours, I was able to look back over a completed project, with pride.
Some creatives pile on more pressure by sharing a complete (personal) design every 24 hours. Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, has committed to uploading a render per day, using the same software that I (and many others in our industry) use. He’s been doing this for 4,881 days (at time of writing).
Frankly, I think he and Stephen King just need to calm down a bit – they’re being incredibly selfish and making me look bad. Assuming, however, they continue to ignore my emails asking them to stop working for a while, I’ve invited Matt the Copywriter to help me come up with a few tips that will get those creative juices flowing again.
Matt says: “Firstly, by discipline I don’t mean being hard on yourself, I mean create a habit of your creativity. If you’re a writer, carve out an hour or two from your day to sit and… write. It sounds weird to say it, but you can train yourself to react creatively to repeat stimulus. Just create – even if you think what you’re creating is s***.”
“The second point is in finishing what you start, because when the muse begins singing to us, it’s very easy to move on to more exciting things. Don’t waste that inspiration, note it down – buy a specific little notebook for these ideas, or use your phone. Jot it down, capture every drop of revelation that spills out of you then put it down and go back to your current ‘project’ and finish.”
2. Get Away From Your Desk
Matt says: “Go for a walk. Most days. Listen to music that inspires you – whatever lets you relax and think and just walk. On a more instinctual level, there’s something about being outside and among the trees that helps. Maybe it’s just part of escaping the grind.”
I say: I have a dog, so I’m in the fortunate position that I must walk him, or I’d be an awful dog owner. If I’m struggling with an idea, or getting frustrated because I can’t make something work, nine times out of ten I’m able to fix the problem after I’ve been out for half an hour. Not half an hour of playing on my phone, but half an hour of avoiding any screen content whatsoever.
3. Look to Others for Inspiration
I say: Being in lockdown means you’re probably not conversing with people of like mind. If you’re having a creative block, try messaging a workmate, or friend in the same industry. They might be having the same issue (which will make you feel less awful), or they may be able to offer some advice.
I have dozens of bookmarks in Google, leading me to various inspirational sites. For the most part, these serve as a great way to spark some creativity. But be careful – seeing so much amazing work could bring you down if you’re struggling with confidence. Just remember that even the best have their bad days, and they probably don’t publish the work they’re not proud of!
4. Be Kind to Yourself
Matt says: “Don’t treat yourself like s***. Honestly, some of the nicest people I know are horrible to themselves. When you’re angry at yourself for wasting time or not being as productive as you know you should be, ask yourself this: would you treat a member of your family like this? More logically – when you pile on the shame, you’re also piling on the pressure, and pressure is the kryptonite of creativity.”
Not that writing about all this was supposed to cure me of my woes, but what’s the takeaway?
Well I’ll be putting the above four tips into practice, that’s for sure. And I guess, even just living through and acknowledging this drought, I’ve learned something more about myself.