Seeking Creative Renewal

Todd Henry, author of Accidental Creative, speaks often to the need for those in the creative industry to recharge their ideas and personal energy long before they’ve worn out. From afternoons spent researching to mornings spent reading, being talented doesn’t matter much if most of your time is spent recovering from working too hard. The process is called creative renewal.

Photo Credit: chiptape via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: chiptape via Compfight cc

Weekend warriors certainly understand this. If they ignore athletic activity during the week (think weight training, yoga, etc.), the likelihood of injury on Saturday or Sunday goes way up, which makes it hard to do anything more than recover during the next week, which makes getting injured again likely.

There are ways to both stave off burnout AND call up those extra creative juices when necessary; but it does take a little bit of planning.

For many of us, there’s just too much work to be done. Sure, you COULD stay late every night and sacrifice necessary relaxation time to finish, but that too often leads to mediocre results. Henry suggests, among other things, to talk about the pressure.

Find someone — doesn’t have to be in your industry — and share what’s going on. This could be over coffee or beers, during a midday call or a weekend brunch. We too often think our creative renewal problems are unique to us, when most of the time we’re all suffering in silence.

Clarify Goals
Creative work typically start with a blank slate. Yes, we often have a framework or notes to draw upon, but copywriting, code and design don’t create themselves on their own. This freedom is fantastic, and allows us to build services we previously never thought possible. Problem is, how do you know when you’re done if you a) aren’t sure where you started and b) never clarified what you hoped to create?

Henry has an answer for this dance with uncertainty, and it’s as simple as focusing on clarity and staying away from imagined consequences (e.g. saying “I need to get this job done so I can get paid” instead of “If I blow this deadline I’ll lose my clients and my family”). Seek to paint a clear picture of what you’re trying to do, then figure out how to do it.

Create Unnecessarily
This last one likely makes the least sense to anyone not in a creative gig: unnecessary creation. These are projects in which you receive no pay (at least not initially) and have no timeline or deadline. Far too many professionals see this kind of work as frivolous, a waste of time and resources, and, because it’s not billable, unproductive.

Sometimes this kind of play is exactly what we all need to recharge our minds, as without boundaries or other limitations, we’re free to combine and transform our previous work and thoughts into ideas we never thought possible before.

Used to copywriting? Write a short story.
Build big websites? Try a simple app.
On sales calls all day? Sit down with a potential client and sell him nothing.

This is not to say a few days of high-pressure, deadline-intensive work can’t produce quality work — just that in order to keep that up, each of us must recognize the need to recharge periodically. With proper planning, a little willpower and a belief in our processes, we can continue to create on demand while delivering high-quality product.

Good luck.