Creative producer and photographer Elizabeth Halford shares her top five tips on how to keep those creative juices flowing
Image courtesy of Elizabeth Halford.
I’ve been coming back to a blank page for three days now. Where to start? What do you need to hear? What do you want to hear? What can I possibly say to you that’s different from any other piece of content you’ve seen recently about creativity and, specifically, inspiration? After all, you’re sitting there at your day job, in an Uber or on the toilet and I have around two minutes to leave you with something worth reading.
Statistically speaking, you might not have made it this far…
We are so inundated with content (video, audio and words). If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you also have the job of creating the stuff and probably feel my pain. Staying inspired to make things different enough to be memorable and effective is no simple feat. Try for a moment to set aside the task of doing it in a visually or otherwise sensually incredible way, and join me in backing all the way up to the conception – the seed of the thing you have to make. This is where it happens, creating.
We’re all grownups here, right? We know where babies come from. You spend a few magical minutes (hours?) working on the very idea and spend nearly a whole year nurturing your creation until it graces the world with his/her presence. But, a healthy kiddo starts way before conception. Much like creating content, it’s easy to focus on the gestation period as the big event and to see this as the creating, when it all starts way before then.
How can we be healthy vessels for the muse to move through? To birth healthy, robust, unique and inspired pieces of content to satisfy our clients and hit the audience right in the feels? Here are five ways I stay creative in this content-heavy world.
1. Get started on your own
When sitting down for ideation on a project, get started on your own before hitting Google up for ideas. It would have been easy to Google “ways to stay creative” before writing this post and just regurgitate stuff other people wrote. I had to procrastinate (somehow, creative work really inspires me to do laundry) and then finally dig deep, glue my butt to the chair and do the work.
2. Inspiration vs copying
Steal Like an Artist is a popular book about creativity by Austin Kleon. The title itself means stealing the thinking behind something because, as Austin points out: “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.” While a valuable part of the learning process may have been learning through copying, as a pro, you’re getting paid to produce work for clients and should already have your own voice established.
It’s not uncommon for me to go back to my own work for inspiration when I’m feeling blank. Not only does it remind me that I’m super at what I do, it sparks flashbacks of the thinking processes that lead to those pieces. You can’t get that from looking at the work of others! As the old adage goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything, everything is inspired by something else.
3. Get outside your niche
Getting inspiration from outside your topic, niche, industry, genre and subject matter can make ideation more interesting. Going through the ideation process for a marketing piece for a restaurant is going to be infuriating, if you’re just surrounding yourself with marketing for other restaurants. It’s kind of like a music cover. If a country singer covers Dolly Parton’s Jolene, it’s expected and not particularly exceptional. The White Stripes covering Jolene? That’ll make you stop in your tracks!
Case in point: The fourth tip (below) came to me while listening to a radio commercial for BMW, which said something about being an early adopter. I thought: “Hmm… That would probably apply to this blog post I’m writing.” Boom! Tip number four was born…
4. Adopt early
While we don’t all have the luxury of being futurists, we absolutely must be early adopters if we’re going to bring the kind of creative value our clients expect. Being a professional creative isn’t just about bringing creative ideas to the production table, because you could be sitting at the strategy table too. It’s important that we’re also ahead of the curve in terms of creative strategy so that we can suggest things that our clients and other stakeholders might not have in their line of sight. Either because they, themselves, aren’t early adopters or they’re not the audience. For example, if your target is kids, Facebook isn’t going to work. Snapchat and other platforms you may have been avoiding or have been late to adopt? That’s where kids are, and we should be there too.
5. Reverse engineering
One of my favourite things to do when I travelled around the UK by train was to fixate on the print ads, work backwards and reverse-engineer the creative process. It’s like a mediation practice to me, to discover what I think the brief may have said and what questions the creative team asked themselves to lead to their big idea. I save photos of memorable ones (and my notes about them) in Evernote.
The example above is from Audible and is still one of my favourite print ads, because it’s very easy to see the question they asked themselves: “What would it be like if Audible was a person?” The same ideation technique applies to this advert from Mastercard.
Inventing habits like these for yourself will help you stay sharp for times when you need to pour out your creativity. But, how can you if you’re not already saturated with inspiration? Living a creative lifestyle filled with healthy practices means you can come up with ideas on the spot. It’s about being proactive vs reactive, when faced with the need to generate great ideas. I see this as a big difference between an amateur and a pro. Because, seriously… which do you want to be?
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