The Fight to Stay Creative

  • October 22, 2015
  • Joey Held

I was fortunate enough to attend Circles Conference last month in Grapevine, Texas. Circles is a creative design conference, featuring some of the most brilliant, creative minds in the world. Everyone from photographers to writers to designers and even tinkerers presented, telling us about their background, techniques they use in their work, and providing takeaways for the audience.

Each and every speech was awesome. There wasn’t one moment where the speaker onstage didn’t captivate me. But there’s one I want to focus on for the purpose of this blog: Shawn Blanc’s presentation, entitled “The Fight to Stay Creative.”

Shawn has had a tech- and design-centric website since 2007, writing about the latest gadgets, news, and experiences he’s had. In 2011, Shawn made the full-time leap into freelancing when he realized he was enjoying working on his website more than anything else. He offered a paid subscription for just $5 a month, hoping maybe he could get 300 people signed up within the first 30 days. It took only one day to reach 400 subscribers. Now, Shawn has to keep his creativity flowing as he works on his site, teaches classes, and, of course, writes.

I particularly liked Shawn’s discussion of ideas that don’t let go. There are some ideas that are just passing notions, and other ones that you can’t stop thinking about. These are the ideas to go for, and they’ll naturally come with some kind of fear, whether it’s fear of failure, success, embarrassment, or perhaps worst of all: indifference. After all, when you work hard on something, it would be nice if somebody noticed, right?

Shawn encourages us to use that fear as a mile marker—rather than letting it slow you down, take note of it, and keep on pushing. Fear is always going to be a part of a big endeavor, but then again, if everything was easy, where’s the fun in that?

Shawn also had a few takeaway tips—lessons he’s learned from taking the plunge into freelancing. These are applicable for anyone at any stage of their career, and I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t always done all of these, though they’re certainly all important:

  • Don’t Quit­: Shawn encouraged “showing up” every day. For him, that means starting his morning by writing for 30 minutes minimum. Often, he finds himself working for hours instead of the requisite 30 minutes because the work and ideas keep flowing. Don’t worry if what you’re writing isn’t perfect; you’re not going for a final version all the time, you simply want to put some words on the paper.
  • Rest Well: This doesn’t just mean take a nap. Do something that will recharge your mind and energy. That could be going for a run, playing a sport, or rocking out on a keyboard.
  • Clear Goals and Celebrations: Shawn is a fan of breaking goals down into easy, divisible chunks; for example, by week, by month, by year, and so on. Then your daily tasks should work towards achieving those goals. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to reach my one-month goal?”
  • Have Fun: Ernest Hemingway has a good quote: “Write drunk but edit sober.” Don’t be afraid to take a few risks, particularly if it’s for something you enjoy doing.
  • Community: The best writers (and really, the best people in any profession) not only accept feedback, they welcome it. Listen to what others have to say, and provide your own input for their work when necessary.

Shawn ended his presentation with a challenge, and I think it’s a good one for everybody, not just those in a creative field. Think about how you’d answer it:

One thing I will do every day to improve my creative life is _______.

For me, it’s to write something outside of work. It could be a poem, a short story, a blog post, whatever. Just let my mind roam and write about whatever comes out. I asked my fellow INKers how they’d complete this challenge, and got back some terrific responses.

Caitlin: Practice my guitar.

Allyson: Write down my new ideas as they happen in my journal. Often I feel like I have to execute right away, and that isn’t always the case.

Cassie: Review new music. To properly thrive, it’s essential for me to pair my own whimsical words with other people’s sounds. It helps me sleep better, run faster, and feel more confident in every other aspect of my life, which makes me the best INKer I can be.

Kris: Take a picture from a new perspective to see the world in new and interesting ways.

Candice: TO STOP or LIE DOWN AND DRINK SOME SCOTCH. I’m an executioner, and I like to do, do, do, do. However, I know that I usually come up with better ideas and think more creatively when I’m not doing or doing something mundane that lets the that creative part of the brain work – like showering, lying down and drinking some scotch (Mad Men method works), or working out.

Starr: Go outside. And sit for at least one minute. Without my phone.

Shelley: Be optimistic, a lot of creative ideas are never given a chance.

Kim: Read!

Helen: Play the piano.

What are you going to do in your daily life to help improve your creativity? Shawn’s presentation was also encapsulated in this cool sketch note from Sean McCabe, so either way, you’ll have plenty of reminders of how you can overcome any sort of creative blocks. Now get out there and be creative!