Is it just me, or is it difficult to always be creative? There’s nothing worse than forcing ourselves to come up with great words, imagery or ideas when we just don’t feel like we can. It’s that sensation that comes on when we’re tired, or down, or frustrated, or just fed up. It feels we’re like dragging ourselves on our bellies through fog and cobwebs, over broken glass, uphill, slowly and painfully toward completion of some daunting task.
At least, that’s how it feels to me.
We know that we’re not going to do our best work under these conditions, but sometimes that’s just where we find ourselves, being forced to trudge on, pumped full of caffeine, or sugar, or salt, or whatever fuels us.
No, our best work is done when the wind is at our backs, we’re unencumbered, and unrestrained, and there’s nothing between us and the threshold to our creative destiny!
That’s the stuff!!
But how on earth can we maintain that victorious gate and always do our best, most inspired work? Or, at least, almost always do our best, most inspired work. Here are my tips from quite a few years in copywriting, freelance writing, and “sure I can write that for you” writing.
1. Find your own rhythm.
This is my most important tip. If you’re a freelancer or you operate with a less traditional schedule, you have a great deal of control over how you spend your days. Honor your natural rhythm. By that I mean, do your best, most creative, most inspired work when you’re most capable and most energetic.
For some, that will be early in the morning. For others, it will be the middle of the night. For many, it will be somewhere in between. As long as you can hit deadlines and communicate with clients, co-workers and partners, it really doesn’t matter.
Begin by determining when you are most creative. Then, ask yourself, what do you currently do with that time? I’m at my best early in the morning, before the email assault and other distractions begin. Even with that early morning schedule, it’s easy for me to get sucked into playing catch-up on communications from the night before. Instead, I have to fight to remind myself that now is the time to CREATE, not to reply to emails, acknowledge social media, or become distracted by something that didn’t go my way the day before.
Do your best when you’re at your best, and save the less inspiring stuff for when you need creative breaks or when you’re energy is at a lull.
2. Don’t procrastinate! Create when you’re at your best.
This is a follow on to #1. Too often when we’re at our peak for the day we become distracted by something that’s a far cry from a creative pursuit. We feel like we just have to return that phone call or look for that receipt.
When you’re at your peak, don’t procrastinate. Create!
And be open to working from where you do your best work. Heading out to the local coffee shop to get some fresh ideas can be tempting, but if it’s only a distraction or a diversion from getting your work done, is it really helping you do your best?
3. Shake things up!
But sometimes a change of scenery can do you a lot of good. Even if you know when you’re at your best and most inspired, be open to introducing change. My best time used to be late at night, after the distractions of the day had passed. Then I had some schedule changes that forced me to begin my days early, very early. You know what I found out? I was actually sharper in the mornings and more energetic and enthusiastic about doing great work than I had been with my late night schedule.
Now I re-arrange my day around my morning creative sessions. I rarely schedule client meetings or calls in the early mornings because I don’t want to lose that precious inspiration time. That’s how important it is to me. And, in the interest of productivity, I’ve limited the travel I do to client sites in the ridiculous traffic of the Washington, D.C. region. I either schedule multiple meetings in one day, push for phone calls instead, or try to schedule meetings so they don’t fall near rush hour.
If you feeling like you’re losing your spark, try to shuffle your day up. You might find a better peak time for you, and making changes like this actually boosts that creative spark!
4. Client preferences trump creativity. Always.
So you’ve come up with the most imaginative, inspired, brilliant concept. It’s some of your best work ever. You present it to your client, and while they like it, they have some suggestions and edits. Their “insight” will not only dumb down your creative, it will render it innocuous and castrate it.
That castrated feeling is even worse than the one of forcing ourselves over broken glass through fog and cobwebs. At least with the latter, you don’t feel as if a part of you is missing.
When your client extracts your creativity from a project, remember that it’s their business—and for you to have a business, you need to accept it. Follow their lead, do the work, and collect the money. And next time, when you work for them, save your best stuff for the folks who will appreciate it.
5. Give your best to your best
This flows right into the next tip. Know when to give it your best. In Sun Tzu for Women, I write about Sun Tzu’s call to use the ordinary force in ordinary situations and the extraordinary force in extraordinary situations. If you’re good, you never settle for the status quo. But there are times to go all out, and do your most amazingly creative work, and times to create more restrained—maybe even more predictable—products for those clients who have a lower threshold for creativity.
Save your sanity and know when good enough is good enough.
6. Get away as often as you can.
Creatives need to honor our ability to create. For most of us, our best work doesn’t flow when our stress level is teetering on the brink, and our workload is on the wrong side of insurmountable. Pressure helps us to hit deadlines. It rarely inspires us to create.
You must constantly fuel your creative spirit. That means you must get away from your workload to recharge and allow your ideas to flow.
I encourage you to take day trips, weekend trips, and more, to new and different places. Go places you’ve never gone before, do things you’ve never done before, eat foods you’ve never eaten before….you get the idea. New experiences spurn creativity. They help us look at things differently. They unclog the sludge that lies stagnantly in our creative arteries so wonderful ideas can flow freely.
7. Be open to hearing from your inspiration
What inspires you? I’m sure you have a “thing,” maybe multiple “things” that move you and create a stirring. Never lose sight of these. Take them in with frequency. Immerse yourself in them. Let them speak to you and inspire you to greatness. Without inspiration, you can never truly create.
But also be open to finding inspiration in unlikely places. Looking for new inspiration is like looking for new love. If you focus on looking for it, you’ll have a very difficult time finding it. But if you allow it to find you, and you’re open to receiving it, you’ll be amazed at where it can take you!
What will you do to listen for new inspiration this week?