Inspiration, that quick breath of insight, aligns not with clocks or calendars. How then should one build a creative career? How will deadlines be met? How can deliverable schedules even be written? It’s all a bit like whispering to no one in particular that you need five logo comps by next Thursday and waiting, hoping, something presentable will show up in time. It’s no way to run a profession! [Un]fortunately, this is exactly the way our vocation works.
Dead ends happen. Ideas stop coming. Unless you learn to sense the logic of your own genius-daemon, you will not make peace with your calling. Getting stuck means that something tantalizing is about to surface. If you want to be there when that happens, stop clicking your mouse, moving your pencil and running your mouth. Show up. Let go. Pay attention. Squeezing associative sparks into a work-a-day timetable can only happen if you don’t squeeze them at all.
- Follow a schedule, any schedule. Having a rhythm in your life allows you to recognize windows that tend to offer up more creativity. Find them and use them.
- Purposefully learn something every day. Keeping the gears going is vital to your success in the vocation. Learn about [mohair coats / concrete manufacture / Hellenic Greece / the little shea-pets that make the butter]. It doesn’t matter what you learn. If it is interesting, your brain will keep it kicking around and connecting with other odd bits until it proves useful.
- Fish with a net, not a line, for good ideas. Thumbnails, comping, brainstorming with good collaborators and concept diagrams are among the most useful practices year to year. Ideas grow ideas. New things often come from known waters. Just the act of casting the nets helps.
- Start jotting down irksome questions and put them where you can see them every day. You will begin to pay attention. For example:
- How come NetFlix takes 3 days to get here but only 2 to go back? Perhaps, in your effort to know why, you learn more about the local delivery schedule, or discover your postmaster has a funny last name, or learn that engraved stamps use special papers or see that your mail carrier has sewn fuzzy, lime green fleece inside of her jacket. You never know where these little shards will take you on that next project… perhaps a button-down, blue gabardine, corporate website with a fuzzy, young, green, youth-demographic interior? And it’s all thanks to your NetFlix obsession.
- Here’s another: Are you often hitting your stride about 2:00pm when your [boss wants to meet / kids need to be picked up / wife gets home / dog throws up]? Good! Now you know something about yourself. Either you either work well after lunch or under deadline. Change your schedule or meals to accommodate.
- Paying attention also means paying attention to when your head needs a break. Get out of your [studio / bedroom / coffee shop / office] and go for a walk. 15 minutes + no thoughts of your project + the feeling of [sunshine / hail / rose petals] on your face = change of creative direction. Get up. Watch. Walk. And buy me a coffee while you’re out, dammit.
- Our society likes scientists, preachers and movies with tidy endings. Don’t we all? It’s easier. The surety of the quantifiable, the deductive and the climax are inherently stabler. Design is a full tank of gas. Just drive.
- Life is a game of chance and initiative. That said, your beliefs about (and your trust in) the outcomes shape the actions you take as you go along. Don’t concentrate on things outside of your control. Your work will be done by deadline if you believe it will be. You will take the time to make sure it meets your expectations. Trust the certainly that an uncertain process will produce and it will.
- Mathematics tells us that if you have five actions that are each only 50% likely to succeed you will get something like 95% success if you put them together. For example, flip a coin five times and there is a 95% certainty of getting heads at least once. Uncertainty is certain. Go for walks AND thumbnail AND ask questions AND comp AND believe you will find the answer AND brainstorm with others AND diagram AND ask stupid, little, irksome questions. Cast your net. Improve your chances. Be there for the spoils.
Design is a vocation. You must be called to do it, forced into it by temperament, really. When you’re in the moment and doing the work, there’s nothing sweeter. You carry the remembrance of those lush moments with you. Even in a trough of inspiration you can cultivate the extraordinary. Design (the action and the thing) is a moveable feast.