When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.

I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)

Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.

Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.

Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.

So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.

If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.

If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.

Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together

Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.

The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.

Think through actions and through making.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Break Apart Ideas to Overcome Creative Blocks

How can we get past creative blocks?

Transform one piece of an idea at a time. We like stay with what we know. Regardless of whether it’s a first draft or a five-year-old work — once a thought exists it becomes harder to think about another.

Iris Shoor presents a neat and simple strategy to conquer blocks. Taking an idea and breaking it into smaller pieces. Quit seeing at your work as a single whole.

Create a rundown of components. After that, concentrate on one section and change only that. A fascinating thing about this strategy: simply isolating components helps thoughts to begin streaming.

Read more about Iris Shoor’s process in Why creativity blocks happen (and how to overcome them)

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Artists Don’t Want to Work for Free, Facebook isn’t Email, and Secrets Behind Viral Hits

Artists Don’t Need Your Exposure

@forexposure_txt is a Twitter account of quotes from artists who were expected to work for free. Too many people don’t value art. Artist Ryan Estrada posts real quotes from real people who think we need to work for exposure. Especially now in the internet age, exposure is incredibly easy to get for anyone for free. My networking guide post contains better ideas for promoting your work and making healthy relationships as an artist.

I respond by explaining in detail how I design. I drew for years as a child. Educate others kindly that creating is truly difficult work. I’ve worked as a designer the moment I turned 18, while also studying Fine Art (and classical piano). I learned to love studying computer programs and reading books on design and productivity. Slowly putting that knowledge to use every day. Spent the last 17 years learning techniques from many amazing colleagues. That said when others (even clients) are excited to tackle a design project I encourage them to do so. If they can stick with it and do it themselves, good for them!

Facebook isn’t email

Most people don’t even see your posts. The FB algorithm shows only what they think will keep you on FB. All of your friends are hidden.

“I learned a real profound lesson with the Inside news app. You can get 500,000 people to download an app, but only 1 percent or less will use it a day. And then I realized, I took the same information that was in the app, I emailed it to the same audience and 40, 50, 60 percent opened it every day.” Jason Calacanis on Recode Media Podcast

On the user end, email is super easy to control. You own it. Most email programs make it easy for users to sort email automatically, search, and surface content when you want it.

Hit Makers make content popular, not viral sharing

Viral sharing is over rated. Tracking memes and “viral content”, analytics discussed in the new book Hit Makers show that they stay within small circles until famous hit makers and influences get involved. Distribution is more similar to traditional broadcast media than you think. And most people find out about content through the big broadcasters promoting.

“Facebook initially went ‘viral,’ not by building a product that every person might share with five other people, like a disease, but by using networks that existed. They digitized the Harvard network that existed, and the Ivy League networks that already existed.” Derek Thompson, Atlantic Senior Editor

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Why is personal productivity important?

Every week on Q&A Monday, I’ll be answering questions from the Uncanny Creativity community and the web.

Why is personal productivity important?
Anonymous asked on quora

Artists and designers use the word productivity to describe the art of deciding and acting on our top priorities. When we work with our values, we give our life a sense of meaning. First, we notice what we really want. Then, we figure out ways to keep those tasks and projects in motion.

Sometimes we don’t really think through the steps involved. We end up putting effort on reacting to situations we don’t really care about. We’ll often be distracted by helping others with their dreams. We’ll help them in ways that don’t make sense for our own lives. We’ll react to whatever random thoughts come to mind. Often any mental connect of our day triggers these thoughts if we don’t have a way to practice.

By taking action on what’s important, we get more of what we want and need. Researchers at Stanford surveyed almost 400 people about their thoughts on distinctions between meaningfulness and happiness. They found that getting what we need helps us feel happier. Such as when we put some effort toward our health, we’ll usually make healthier choices and then feel happier. The researchers linked thinking about the present linked to happiness.

Meanwhile, the Stanford survey found that thoughts about the past and future actions lead to finding meaning in life. Connecting to other people deeply with a sense of responsibility helps with both meaning and happiness. Finding meaning often is stressful. We might choose the career of our dreams, engage in hobbies, raise children, and travel. All of these include both levels of uncomfortable mental or physical trouble. Those choices also help us feel less stressed .

We could use the term task for anything that we need to carry out. We might have bigger more complex life projects filled with recurring tasks. Productivity for most people includes continually balancing our wants with those of others, dealing well with stress, and defining ourselves.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What’s the greatest part about being a graphic artist?

The one thing I miss lately in my design work: Super close work with others. Anthony Wood over at Creative Boom writes about his 10 favorite reasons:

Graphic designers are rarely alone; they’re often part of a creative team or working closely with the client, collaborating to come up with the best possible solution. You’re likely to get to know PR professionals, copywriters, marketers, advertisers… you’ll probably work with senior management and be expected to consult with company directors.

Your role will rely on many business relationships; the knock-on benefits of which will only boost your skills and experience – especially your ability to effectively deal with different personalities.

I love talking through visual approaches, getting super into detail about the schedules, and coming to agreement on changes. My current projects involve mostly independence – less collaboration. Much of the fun involves engaging with positive and passionate designers, editors, and project managers to put the puzzle together. 

For me, that’s the best kind of design work beyond making everything look pretty. 

Read more: 10 great reasons to become a graphic designer in 2017 (Anthony Wood for Creative Boom)

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.