• Advice

Why do creative people sometimes hate creating?

As freelancers, we create on demand.

We’re given a project or a brand and a budget, and our client sends us off to to come up with something brilliant.

Since we’re not creating just for kicks and giggles, we need to understand how creativity works -- the process of getting it started up, keeping it going, and channeling it into our client work.

Even when we really, really don’t feel like creating anything.

Myth: Truly creative people don’t find it painful to create

When things don’t come easily and I’m struggling and sweating, I believe I’m stupid.

If you asked me to be objective in those moments, I’d tell you very wisely that all creative people struggle. But somehow I still think that the most creative people are better at this creativity thing than me, that they’re more open channels of constant creative genius that they can turn on and off like a spigot.

And that’s when I give myself an excuse: “This work is crummy anyway. It’s not even worth struggling -- I’ll just come back tomorrow when it’s easier.”

Yet when I come back the next day, it still takes me at least an hour to “get in the zone” and start creating things I can live with. No matter what, there’s a period of hard-going.

Fact: It takes a while to get used to creating (and a short time to get un-used to it)

Creativity has its own momentum.

This is what creative people mean when they say they’re “in the zone.” Creativity leads to more creativity. They’re in a space where things are just coming.

But the rule of momentum implies inertia; it’s easier to go from 1 to 2 to 100, but it’s often painful to get from 0 to 1.

Being in the zone is great. Pushing yourself into the zone -- a necessary labor of all create-on-demand freelancers? Not that fun.

George R.R. Martin, whom I think most people would call creative, once said something wonderful (sorry for the lengthy quote):

“Being in the zone gets me in the zone. When I’ve been away from it for a while, it’s hard to get back into it. That first day after a trip or something else, when I return to Westeros, I get very little done. I have to kind of force myself to do it. And then the next day I get a little more into it…and at a certain point it just takes me over.

Sometimes I think that the not terribly different than the process of being psychotic.”

-George R.R. Martin

The point is this: Everyone has times when they have to force themselves to create. But this part of the process -- the part where you force yourself to get into it -- is a necessary step to being in the zone!

The zone does not spontaneously occur. The zone is the product of persistence and routine.

Fact: Very creative people with crazy deadlines often dislike creating

One of the main reasons I find myself hating creating is that I’m under a major time crunch.

For freelancers, this is a fact of life. Your clients give you a deadline, you tell them the work will take longer than that, and give you that “I will not stand for BS” look, as if you’re trying to pull one over on them by inventing extra billable hours.

Eager to please and prove your worth, you negotiate a better schedule (that is, better for them).

Unfortunately, creativity takes time. You can’t just start busting something out right away. You have to think about what you’re going to make, and then take time to execute it -- and in the process of executing it, your work may take a different direction, and you’ll have to start over, takes a while.

You could always turn something around fast. But it’s more likely that it’ll be mediocre and unoriginal.

(Maybe this is why it takes more than 5 years for George R.R. Martin to write a book?)

Just take this example: you give kids 10 seconds to draw a clock, and every student draws the same clock. You give them 10 minutes, and each of the drawings looks completely unique:

The time crunch = mediocre work isn’t just true for kids.

Science agrees: Deadlines can make us become rigid, unoriginal thinkers.

According to Srini Pillay, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, “When people hit a wall in their thinking, in general they start thinking harder.” That’s not the best approach, he has found.

The part of the brain we use for quick problem solving is not the part of the brain that comes up with original ideas, these researchers found.

This is why we can’t back down when a client gives us the “do it faster” evil eye. We need to tell them that just because there are 1,000 words in the article doesn’t mean it will take the amount of time it would take to straight type 1,000 words. Just because the logo has one word and is the size of a business card does not mean your logo design process takes 2 days.

It’s your job to explain your process thoroughly -- the research, the background on their company, etc. -- and show them that the time you’re asking from up-front will make the revision process much smoother.

Freelancers, do you sometimes dislike creating? What systems do you use to push through?