Embracing The Process v. The Product of Creative Expression

3 min read

One of the hardest parts of working for yourself is managing your time. Especially if you’re in the business of helping to manage web content that is goal-oriented and likely to produce positive results.

Pitching work as packaged deliverables with deadlines is a skill. It requires organization, foresight, planning, experience and discipline. You’ve got to communicate the deliverables and the deadlines clearly, and ensure you meet them. If the project involves other team members, this also includes follow ups and budgeting for the kind of “stuff” that “happens” and slows projects down. Toss on top of that things like staying on top of industry news, learning new tools to improve your work, networking, sales calls. Prioritizing and reprioritizing. Maintaining your online presence. Updating your portfolio with new work.

Creating work to pay the bills

To produce impactful digital content takes time. It takes thought and planning. Research and analysis. Creativity is the key ingredient and good creative requires direction, purpose or constraints. Creative briefs are great for this, but you may be the one responsible for creating those as well, depending on project resources.

Self-imposed structure is hard to enforce. You’ve got to stick to the schedule you created. Be realistic about commitments. Communicate with clients and friends in a purposeful yet positive manner.

Creating work for personal expression

When getting paid to produce creative work, it’s often necessary to separate your ego from the work to move projects along. But it leaves you feeling in need of a creative outlet elsewhere – and who has time for that? If you’re going to invest on creating something it better be worth it, because time is money…right? As a self-employed creative, making time for personal creative expression can feel like an irresponsible squandering of your most valuable resource.

Solution: Process v. Product

Show Your Work” is a practical approach by Austin Kleon for putting creative work out there – which in today’s world means putting it online. Sharing influences, inspiration, rough sketches, etc. It’s about embracing the “process” as part of the work.

Show Your Work, Austin Kleon

“The only way to find your voice is to use it,” says Kleon.

The same advice is found in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron – the Bible of unleashing creativity and transforming potential into practice. Cameron says to enhance the quality of the work once must first increase the quantity. To create better work – you’ve got to create more of it. Kleon’s book focuses on placing one’s work into the public domain. This sets a process in motion, as you’re more likely to get discovered by those who share your interests, which can inspire more work.

So, starting today I’m taking this advice to heart by implementing a routine in which I sit down and write for 25 minutes, first thing in the morning, every day of the week. Even before I take my dog out. (She values creative expression, and is a creature of habit so I’m confident if I stick to this routine she’ll get used to Mommy sitting at the desk for a bit before we go downstairs. I think she’d agree that Mommy needs to find her voice on this damn blog once and for all.)

Day 1: Check!


#100Signs Project: No. 2

“Legends Of The Hidden Temple” was one of my favorite shows as a child. It was an adventure-soaked game show with an Aztec-inspired theme: team names were based on alliterative animal names and a setting grounded in natural, earthy textures and structures. The essence of the show was a mix of adventure, history and myth.

As contestants entered their final feat – to enter the temple in search of tokens – the following message emanated from the rock figure known as “Olmec” – a message limited to the context of the challenge at hand.

It’s possible that the show’s producers were communicating a larger message to its childhood audience. The connection between imagination, creativity and childhood has been celebrated by artists (e.g. Picasso) and writers (e.g. Robert Fulghum). It is this connection that is evoked by Olmec’s message set in the context of an adventure-themed game show. It’s a message we can carry past childhood.

100 Signs - No 002

 A Content Strategy Rallying Cry

The internet makes it simultaneously easier and more difficult to have your words heard.

The trash heap of shitty content increases by the millisecond. We all have the ability to write (technically speaking) and access to the marketplace (social media, blogs, ads, etc.). Because of this radical democratization of communication it’s more crucial than ever to start with why when considering whether to produce content.

The distinction between ads or “sponsored content” and editorial content is becoming so blurry it’s like we’re all swimming underwater, and we all need to clean our goggles with that goggle-cleaner fluid but no one wants to miss out by taking the time to emerge on the surface, clean his or her goggles, and see more clearly. Brands instead choose to churn water, pushing forward with mediocre, unnecessary, uninspiring and even self-defeating content that actually does more damage than good (and is an incredible waste of resources).

Brand managers and content strategists are generals in the battle for authenticity in modern advertising. Social media is where the bloodiest squirmishes are lost, in the form of dull content that falls on deaf ears; no one sees it. At least no one valuable to your bottom line sees it. If they do, they aren’t persuaded to do or think in any meaningfully different way.

If a shitty Facebook post gets no reach, does it make a sound?

The answer is yes – in the form of a digital footprint. It’s easy for competitors or prospective business partners to check out a brand’s Facebook page only to find tumbleweeds. You don’t delete posts that fall flat; they remain there for all to see.

Savvy and strategic thinkers already know this; the problem is getting through to the masses. Fortunately, this means there will always be work for content strategists. Unfortunately, everyone with opposable thumbs and an internet connection fancies him/herself a content strategist.

All we can do is stay calm and carry on.

Check out the (7!) books closely/loosely relevant to this topic I bought yesterday. Reviews to follow!

books on branding



Design Strategy: Embracing A Dual Nature

This is one of the more personal posts I’ve written here, but I’m going with it because it turns out there are others like me who feel torn between two seemingly opposed aspects of themselves: career-oriented and “businesslike” while also creative, artistic and passionate. It’s been hard for me to reconcile between these two aspects. This is an attempt to do so.


Like most people in their 29th year, I’m going through my Saturn Return. It’s an astrologically-based (so in my opinion totally inevitable and justified) period of evaluation of one’s life, ignited by Saturn returning to the same point in the universe for the first time since you were born. Interesting, right?

I’ve been on what feels like a Sisyphus-like quest for the past 10 years: find the kind of work that energizes me, doesn’t feel like “work” and makes use of my unique combination of skills, experience, knowledge and intuition. This has entailed (1) quitting a post-college job as a paralegal at a fancypants Manhattan law firm to pursue a research internship in Israel; (2) working at a fun, well-funded Tel Aviv startup as an SEO and content strategist; (3) realizing I was extremely interested in what the designers and brand managers were doing; (4) deciding to return to New York to pursue this new career path; (5) working at a digital web agency on social media strategy, until (6) I decided I wanted to be my own boss. This decision came as a result of me recognizing I possess two aspects of my personality, and in order to be truly happy at work I need to constantly draw on them both: a) experience in the corporate world, an interest in business strategy and an ability to analyze information, and (b) creative energy, a deeply rooted appreciation for aesthetic and a strong passion for human connectivity and communication.

Now I’m an independent marketing consultant for small-to-mid-sized businesses. I come up with strategies for companies to boost their online visibility. There’s a ton of methods and tactics I could employ, ranging from quantitative, data-driven insights to creative work that requires imagination and intuition.

This duality of business-&-creativity has firmly deposited me in the lap of branding. I thrive when activating both sides of my brain. (My career coach calls it having an “And/Or” aspect to my personality; she compares it to a mosaic.) I was elated to find an interview with Facebook’s Director of Product Design, Maria Giudice by Debbie Millman, a renowned branding consultant. A former CEO of her own design studio, Giudice discovered she had a natural tendency — and ability — to view problems as “design” problems, whether or not the actual subject was design-related. Possessing a designer’s mindset, which is oftentimes non-linear and highly associative, is an extraordinary problem-solving mechanism. She states the following in her book, Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design:

“The future leaders of the world need to combine the skills of creativity and analytics.”

These words spoke loudly to me today, demonstrating that the path I’m pursuing has begun to be cleared by multi-faceted thinkers like Giudice and Millman.

I’m inspired and motivated to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain.

Further Reading/Programs/Quotes/Concepts:

  • Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design (2013), Maria Giudice
  • California College of the Arts – MBA in Design Strategy
  • GSD = Getting Shit Done (something design leaders do)
  • “The best design is 50% thinking and 50% doing.”
  • SFD = Shitty First Draft (just hand in something; Done is better than perfect.)

6 DIY Wedding Chalkboard Tips for “Bridesmaids with Neat Handwriting”

bart the shining

My college roommate asked me to design the chalkboard for her wedding this weekend. These are pretty standard at outdoor weddings and they’re all over Pinterest, so it seemed pretty straightforward. If all those Pinterest people can do it, how hard can it be? I have neat handwriting and am creatively inclined, so we figured we’d be done in an hour or so.

Dead wrong. Thinking all you need is neat handwriting to design a chalkboard for one of your best friend’s weddings is the same as thinking all you need to perform a route canal is opposable thumbs. First comes dental school, novocaine and insurance.

The following are 6 nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from what was the most stressful 6+ hours in recent history. If this list gets discovered by just one bride-to-be and/or her creatively-inclined bridesmaids with neat handwriting, this post was worth writing.

1. Chalkboard paint sucks. Use a real chalkboard. At least, don’t use chalkboard paint on scratchy, rough plywood. It sticks to the chalk so if you make a mistake and want to erase, you’re left with a cloud. You’ll try to erase the cloud with some water on a paintbrush, and it will seem like it’s working…until the water dries and there’s that damn cloud. We actually started whispering in a creepy voice to whoever thought she had succeeded in erasing something, “Wait till it dries….” and resorted to covering up the clouds with more chalkboard paint, using tiny paintbrushes to outline the final layer of chalk, as a ridiculously painstaking hack. Repeat: chalkboard paint sucks.

2. Regular chalk works well. Chalk paint is also pretty cool. You can get markers which are basically white paint in the form of a marker, which creates a smoother look than regular chalk, and is easier to control. Personally I found good, old-fashioned chalk to be easier to erase, and I like the look but it’s really whichever you feel looks better. If you opt for the markers make sure to buy enough because they can run out and then everyone loses their shit.

3. Plan the text and layout ahead of time. Make the bride send you precisely what is to be written on the board. Check to make sure all the names are spelled correctly. Check to make sure all married women have the correct last names. Even if the bride prepared this document, have her parents or the groom’s parents approve it. Even if she’s a really great elementary school teacher who has her shit together. Sketch the entire thing on paper first so you can all agree on the layout.

4. Sketch a grid. Bring rulers and draw horizontal lines to guide your writing. For the gridlines you can either use pencil or a very light-handed chalk that you can later erase. Also bring paper towels and water bottles for erasing. Small paintbrushes can be good for erasing as well.

5. Have the same person write everything on the same board. At least, the same person should write all the headers/titles, and the same person should write all the information. Otherwise the handwriting changes and it looks like someone suffered from a stroke and transitioned from flowery script to cartoony-bubble letters.

6. Remember that this doesn’t really matter and no one’s going to actually read the board besides the people whose names are written on it, and they’re already supposedly such good friends of yours anyway so they really shouldn’t be spending too much time at your wedding critiquing this damn board.

In the end our board came out great and it was a fun bonding experience . . . but for a solid chunk of time it felt like we were ruining the wedding before it even started. Don’t let that feeling happen to you. USE A REAL CHALKBOARD!

Congratulations, Laura & Jon!

diy wedding chalkboard


The Artist’s Way, Nostalgia & Inspiration


Nostalgia as a Source of Inspiration

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about nostalgia. Probably because of the holidays, and I’ve been back to my parents’ house a few times since Thanksgiving, Christmas and a couple of weekends spent visiting my grandmas. I go home and my old room is totally full of photographs and memorabilia. Old clothes I can’t bear to part with. Trinkets and objects collected as gifts on birthdays, books I read in college, funny notes passed to friends during class. I even have a box full of gifts and letters from my first boyfriend, although that recently made its way to the basement (unless one of my parents smartly tossed it instead.) But what do I do with the rest of all that painfully meaningful…stuff?

The Artist’s Way

Last week I started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s sort of a self-help book (keep reading) that guides you through a 12-week course of exercises designed to tap into and re-awaken the creative self. Reciting daily affirmations is one of the exercises. I’ve never done affirmations before, but one of them resonated with me strongly: I will let myself learn how to create. It’s not that I don’t know how to technically or physically create; it’s that I have this problem where I look at creative expression as an unproductive waste of time, unless I’m already creating something totally inspiring, magical, beautiful, complicated, deep and representative of something totally important and transcendent. Which is a great way to guarantee you won’t sit down to create.

Blogging as Creative Expression

I often ask myself What’s the point of blogging? which probably had something to do with me quitting National Blog Posting Month in the middle of the month. I hate the idea of blogging as publishing my personal diary. I don’t like how much I use the word “I” in what I write here. Yet, I feel compelled to continue writing, as a form of expression. It’s an easy, instant form of expression. I could write on my computer or in a journal (or 5), which I do. But there’s something cathartic in publishing a blog post you don’t quite get from keeping it within the confines of your apartment. Putting in on the internet means it’s officially not just yours anymore; and perhaps someone else can read it and relate. Probably the best part of participating in National Blog Posting Month was receiving comments by new readers, in the form of encouragement or support. A sign of life. Someone’s at the other end of the keyboard.

The Art of Letting Go

One of the hardest things to do is to let go, and nostalgia is basically the antithesis of moving on and putting something behind you. I want to figure out a way to turn it into an art form; some way to preserve the ticket stubs, letters from classmates, photographs of people with whom I don’t speak anymore, in a way that honors their existence yet simultaneously frees me from their clutches.

I blame my mother for a lot of this intense urge to preserve the past; she is infamous for incessantly taking photographs of family, putting the images into albums and sending copies to all those who are photographed. It’s great for everyone else who receives a printed photograph in the mail following an important event like their child’s wedding. But I’ve grown up with piles and piles of doubles of the photos I’ve already put in photo albums, stuffed into my desk and cabinets like symbols of guilt. Guilt because I can’t just throw them out, since my mom spent money getting them printed. And the longer those piles sit there, the more often I encounter them when making room for more recent “stuff” I’ve accumulated.

Nostalgia is draining. There’s a time and a place for it, and it’s not every day. I’m determined to exterminate some of the nostalgia from my life, and to use this blog as the backpack exterminators wear. Or the hose they use to spray their chemicals. Or something else that makes the metaphor work.

The Anxiety of An Artist Who Doesn’t Create

“From the point of view of one who creates, everything is a gamble, a leap into the unknown.”

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama wrote this in her autobiography, Infinity Net. She’s an 80+ year old Japanese artist of international fame, who made a name for herself in New York during the 60’s as “doyenne of the counter-cultural art scene”. After returning to Japan in the 70’s, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo where she currently lives – and continues to produce art that’s shown worldwide.

Artist autobiographies are powerful pieces of literature. Perhaps the strongest type there is, when it comes to escaping one’s self by identifying with the thoughts of another. Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and Yayoi Kusama’s book are the two works I’ve read in recent years, and each one resonated with me in a way that may or may not be healthy. Obviously these are two individuals who were as dark and tormented on the inside as they are brilliant and electric on the outside. Both suffer(ed) from psychiatric stress, yet both created such expressive and magnificent artwork despite (or because) of this disposition. This dichotomy is overwhelmingly encouraging to me.

All the anxiety I have about the unknown, the time it would take to create truly remarkable art, to get back into the practice, to set aside time to be alone and nurture my creativity for no purpose other than to nurture my self…I’m encouraged to transform the anxiety into something remarkable. I know I have the energy in me just swirling around with no place to go – a kettle of  water on the stove, screaming that it’s boiling and has been for years.

I remember in college leaving art class on Thursday evenings and heading toward my car, excited to spend the night at home pouring over a piece I felt was on its way while my friends went out clubbing or bar-hopping. Staying in — staying inside my mind — was more satisfying to me than going out. Not necessarily more “fun”, but definitely more interesting and more important feeling. I have something great bubbling inside of me waiting to get out and this blog is sort of the prelude to whatever that is.

I do know this: it’s not to be found on social media. It’s somewhere inside my own mind, in my own space.

As Kusama said:

Before and after creating a work I fall ill, menaced by obsessions that crawl through my body – although I cannot say whether they come from inside or outside of me.