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!

#showyourwork

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.

sisyphus

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.)

The Artist’s Way, Nostalgia & Inspiration

Nostalgia

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.

Possible Alternative Titles for My Blog

Help me pick a title for my blog. OK? We don’t even know each other and I’m seriously going to consider your suggestion as though it were my own. That’s how much I hate making decisions. 

This evening I ate a large Italian dinner with my family and I feel fat and sassy and not in the mood to write. Yet I promised myself I’d write every day for NaBloPoMo and since I already missed about 1/3 of the days, I’m going to go ahead and get this list of potential blog titles out of my head and onto this magic screen:

  • Someone Who Watches a Lot of Law & Order SVU
  • The Tale of the Social Media Specialist with Social Anxiety and Other Horror Stories
  • Thoughts From My Couch and Other Unoriginal Titles
  • How to Write a Shitty Blog Title, by Mostly Everyone
  • My Daily Reason for Hating the Entire World Including Myself
  • Contradictions, Opposites and Vertigo
  • Why I Wish Olivia Benson Would Comfort Me After a Hard Day of Work
  • Steppenchik (like Steppenwolf but a GIRL)
  • Will Change Soon (same idea as Title Under Construction; symbolizes both a lack of commitment and a dangerously open mind)
  • The Fated Urchin (both a pun and a tattoo)
  • Blah Blah Blah
  • Burp
  • This Is The Worst Blog Post Ever
  • Don’t Hate Me (Or Unfollow Me)
  • These Aren’t Even Titles, They’re Literally Just Thoughts Written in Bullet Form with Capitalization

What do you think? Some of these are jokes but some are dead serious. OK thanks bye!

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar: Tagging Nostalgia

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar the other night, I traveled to Thailand, Berlin and Israel. Three places I’ve actually visited relatively recently. You walk into this warehouse in Williamsburg, where illuminated paper lanterns on the ceiling offer a warm glow to a large, one-room space. Aisles of vendors extend back into the darkness.

A dark-light miniature golf course with celebrity cardboard cut-outs sits to your left. To the right is an art installation in another room with ping-pong tables in the middle. “Never-ending trails of color” create a 4-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti piece by Brazilian artist Raphael a.k.a. SLIKS. His work comes from a lifelong sense of loneliness. Puma sponsors the exhibit, and there are glass cases of brightly-colored sneakers which add a dash of corporate flavor to the site. Instagram is in full use, with iPhone users snapping photos from creative angles. They’re tagging photos of tagging. How meta.

Night Markets in Thailand

I felt pretentious telling my friends how much the place reminded me of the night markets in Thailand; in Chang Mai, where the biggest night market stretches for what feels like miles; or in Pai, where the night market is more manageable in size but not in terms of the endless variety of creative wares, produced by artisans and craftsman you hope are local. (It was a running joke, seeing the same fabric elephant coin purse at literally every market and souvenir store across 3 different South Eastern countries. The first time I encountered the elephant, the woman selling it said “I make, I sew.” My travel companion and I loved commenting on how well that woman must have been doing, to have such a robust distributor network.)

Bars in Berlin  

A beer garden shoots off the main room, where low wooden tables sit facing a white wall loosely covered in black-outline illustrations. The casual intersection of art and alcohol and the reminded me of a 5-story place in Berlin calledTachlas. The place is covered floor to ceiling in decades of graffiti, with 5 different types of music on each floor and a sand-covered outdoor beer garden on the bottom level.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

We left the bazaar and walked down a quiet street. The light of a street lamp illuminated a drawing of a crouched, girl-like figure done on the side of the 2nd story of a building – and for a second I felt like I was in Jaffa. The quiet road, the ubiquity of art in odd places, the subdued yet powerful presence of an underground art scene brought me back to the backstreets of industrial, southern Tel Aviv.

Brooklyn Street Art

These comparisons and memories and nostalgia all feel good and bad at the same time. I make these comparisons yet don’t know for what purpose, or what to do with them. My gut reaction is to share them with others, yet I instantly feel pretentious; “Have any of you ever been to Thailand?” is a question usually met with silence.

The silence echoes inside my own head as I ask myself what to do with those comparisons and memories. Tagging them – on Instagram and my blog – makes them seem captured and categorized.

 

The Art of Promoting Others’ Art

Image

Israeli multi-media artist Oum Kultuv

I’ve had an idea for about 6 months but haven’t done much about it. Now I’ll write about it on my BLOG on the INTERNET so that it comes TRUE or at least CLOSER TO TRUE. Stop yelling at you? No. Read on.

There are parts of Marketing I like: creating compelling content – both visuals and copy. Static copy (websites, ads, emails) is more rewarding and interesting than the transient channels of social media and blogging. But all of these buzzwords really blend together and you can theoretically call all of this and none of this “marketing”, “branding”, “advertising” and “business development”.

I encounter an artist with an incredible vision, body of work and voice. This person has a Facebook page, isn’t on Etsy and doesn’t know how to effectively “market” themselves. Then I appear, in a ray of sunlight wearing a black pantsuit but some edgy accessories. I’m here to make you internet famous – at least, as famous as your art allows you to be.

I want your art to speak for itself. But I want to give it a microphone.

The Day I Decided to Stop Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

Editorial Calendar - VIsual

I discovered last night that it’s NaBloPoMo. So I’m joining the rest of the nutjobs out there, blogging their hearts out one day at a time. I got a late start (It’s November 3rd), but better late than never. Also I could have retroactively published this post on Nov. 1st but that felt like cheating. I even created this colorful editorial calendar I taped to my closet door using pieces of paper I bought at an overpriced Swiss stationery shop in London. I had been “saving” them for some sort of perfect occasion that I think is now.

On Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

The amount of energy I spend deciding whether or not to turn this into my full blog (I have one at Tumblr as well, and a Cowbird account…and I Tweet and use Instagram regularly) is absurd. I’m a social media specialist at a Manhattan digital marketing agency and I should have better control over my digital footprint. I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she justifies her job as a hooker by stating “I say who…I say when…I say who…” with no actual confidence or conviction behind the proclamation. That’s me. I’m a social media hooker. 

Facebook isn’t my network of choice. I love defriending people and clearing my social cache, and I don’t post pictures on Facebook often and never check Events. I falsely assumed this would make me  immune to social media overload, but I’m actually a slave to digital media. I’ve lost control. I’m too connected to my cell phone, my iPad, my laptop, my double monitors at the office. I know this is something many others can relate to, but it frustrates me on a personal level for some reason. I love writing, and communicating, but I get overwhelmed with the amount of content out there already and don’t know what the point is of adding more to the pile. Then I stop myself and think “But you’re a decent writer, and you have shit to say, and people like listening to the shit you say in real life…so you should blog.” Then the earlier voice pops back in saying “But what are you going to focus on?” Then I take a nap and decide to figure it out later.

Until now.

Last night I watched an incredibly inspiring talk by Darren Rowse, a professional blogger, on “Getting Dreams Out Of Your Head”. The following tidbits jumped out at me as solutions to the block I’m experiencing:

“The reality is that your next big thing might be the current small thing right in front of you.”

I love this. Darren spoke at length about “sparks” – little ideas that can grow into something magnificent if given enough oxygen and time to breathe.

Choose 1 small thing every day that will get you closer to your dream. Do it to the best of your ability. Not perfectly.

As a chronic perfectionist and over-achiever, this one slapped me in the face as well. It’s about picking one thing to focus on a day, actually doing it, and moving on to the next. I also read an article in the Times about Mindfulness and Meditation, the 30-year-old chief executive of Inward, a startup focusing on “positive lifestyle change”, stated that when he added fewer things to his to-do list, he was actually getting them done – and done well.

“Become obsessed with being useful.”

This one’s important and has the potential to make you, the blogger, successful. It’s about providing solutions to problems others have. I need to spend more time thinking about this one and deciding which approach I want to take here, because I have a hard time thinking of myself as a provider of solutions in a traditional sense. Sometimes I blame my literature background for my love of endlessly analyzing situations – whether it’s the theme in a movie, a topic of conversation, a campaign idea for a social media client…I like stirring the pot and encouraging ideas to brew to the surface. Most people who know me wouldn’t classify me as a “problem solver”, but I definitely do cause others to think of things in a new light and to become excited by the process. Hm. Will have to come back to this.

“Create space to observe”

Last but not least. I’m going to track my daily flow of energy; what did I do that gave me the most energy, and what took my energy away? I want to focus on doing more of the things that energize me and less of the things that drain me. Energy gain v. energy drain. Seems straightforward enough for me to jot this down daily without overanalyzing it too much (see previous paragraph).

This blog post is approaching the point of getting classified as an energy drain, so I’ll stop here. But am excited to give NaBloPoMo a shot…and to start getting some of my dreams out of my head.