I was describing a friend of mine as suffering from creative constipation recently. It’s a common complaint, many designers suffer from it and it can be the result of multifarious causes; tight deadlines, the distractions of every-day life, worrying about friends and families, an untidy desk. All of these have been my obstructions at one time or another, preventing my creative juices from running freely.
Fear of failure is the main culprit though, not just failure in the eyes of others but more importantly, failure to oneself. As a creative I’m cursed by the desire to create, it’s a necessary ablution – required to purge my brain of the incessant busy-ness it experiences on a daily basis. I have important things to say, I need to communicate!
But it’s not just a simple case of drawing, designing or writing just any-old-thing, it has to be good, to mean something, to make sense and, most importantly, to inspire and evoke reaction. This pressure I place upon myself is enormous, it’s enough to make me seize up into a foetal ball – like a anally-retentive hedgehog.
Luckily I’ve discovered ways of dealing with this potentially crippling condition. When a bad case of CC kicks in, the natural response is to sit in front of a computer screen in a frozen state of panic, waiting for that elusive “idea” to formulate. This will never happen. OK, I lied, it might happen but chances are that, if it does, it will be a crappy idea.
In order to free your mind and to come up with the best ideas you just need to get working. If you are a writer, just start writing! Any old rubbish that comes to your mind will do, whether it’s related to the subject or not. The exercise of writing will free you up and you’ll find that eventually you will start to incorporate the subject at hand and little gems will appear amongst the sentences. Once this happens, go over it again, delete the rubbish, elaborate on the good stuff and craft it into something positive.
If you’re a designer or artist, get away from the computer! Pick up a sketchbook and start drawing. If you can’t draw then go out and take some photographs or even Google images for inspiration by typing in key words. Drag what you find into a a document to create a mood board (I use Curio for this as it maintains links to the original files).
If you’re working on a design think about the individual components separately as this can be less intimidating than thinking about the job as one, huge, insurmountable project. Spend an hour playing with fonts, not just fonts on your computer but looking around at shop signs, magazines, anywhere you see type. Tracing letter-forms from magazines can be a great way of “feeling” a font instead of just liking it. Spend another hour with some paint, playing with it, experimenting to find color combinations that please you or convey the feeling you want to get across.
From these experiments your ideas will grow, some will be awful but elements will shine through that you can use in the current, or future projects. The ideal is find time to do creative exercises like these on a regular basis, even when there’s no deadline. Modern life and work pressures make this very difficult but a good employer knows that to get the best out of creative talent, employees need inspiration and time for experimentation. Most creative agencies make sure their staff are looked after fairly well with generous time off (compared to other industries) and a good working environment. (Why do you think most production companies have fridges full of wholesome food, drinks and the odd bit of alcohol?)
If you’re a freelancer, remember that you are your own employer so don’t be too hard on yourself. Allow time for experimentation and inspiration. Avoid stress, look after yourself and don’t forget to have the odd bit of fun. Finally, once the ideas start coming, enjoy it but don’t get too cocky or over-confident. You want to be freed up by these exercises but not to the extent where you’re producing nothing but a vast quantity of digital diarrhea!
Angie’s track of the day - Free Your Mind – En Vogue