Banish your inner editor to help the creativity flow

Halt!

So you’ve just gotten your hands on a brand new creative brief. Your excitement is basically dripping off the ceiling. Your creative energy is damming up and is just about ready to burst. You sit down, pencil in hand, blank page in front of you, your favourite playlist is colouring the background. And then: nothing. Sound familiar? And to think, you were already planning that sweet #flatlay photo for Instagram. Now you stare at the page for a while, wondering what happened to all of whatever that was that felt like a creative tsunami. Paradox not intended – tsunamis are destructive, not creative. Anyways…

You’re immobilised before even starting. Why? Here’s a theory: it probably comes from the fact that we usually only see people’s brilliant finished work instead of all the crappy work that led to the final thing (curse you, Pinterest!) This then screws with our perception of the creative process. We start expecting and demanding of ourselves that the first thing that we put on paper should also be a masterpiece.

Shame on you, Ed

What’s happening to you likely has something to do with (what I’d call) your Inner Editor™. It/He/She is probably getting involved and getting in the way before they should even be in the room. Every designer needs a well developed constructively critical inner voice if they intend to grow. We need both the editor and the creative voice. The trick is being deliberate about when you unleash your inner editor. If they get involved when you should be being creative in any way, you’ll be crippled with self-doubt before you’ve even touched your Moleskine branded pencil to your Moleskine sketchbook.

What the hell am I going to write?

It’s messy business untangling these two halves of your creative being. I know, because I’ve still got my hands dirty. Something that helps me is to try and get something on paper. Literally anything. Even a scribble or a random string of words. Sometimes when I’m stuck I literally just start with, “What the hell am I going to write?” Somehow you need to say to yourself, “I’ll do this even if I think it’ll turn out crap”. Because you’re a creative. This is what you do.

Pencils are cool, okay?

And yes, paper, not the computer. Try and start the creative process on computer and you’ll be opening yourself up to yet one more way to be paralysed: choice paralysis. When you should be spitting out rough ideas, basic wireframes, and quick concept sketches, starting on a computer will mean right from the beginning you can choose from myriads of text sizes, colours, fonts, line thicknesses and styles, drop shadows, textures, and so on — things which are all fun, but should all only be considered after you’ve nailed the concept. Not to mention, paper doesn’t offer the temptation of scrolling through The Red Website in search of ‘inspiration’. But, this is not the place to debate the benefits of paper over computer — I’ll do that some other time.

Can’t I just become great?

A seemingly obvious solution might have occurred to you: “I’ll just become better and better until I have no choice but to feel so confident in myself that the creativity will just pour out onto whatever is in front of me.” Here be dragons. This is a slippery slope. The source of this self-doubt is likely not a lack of ability on your part. I’d hazard a guess, and point the finger at our natural human tendency (you are human, right?) to discount the wins, and focus on the losses. It’s easier to remember, and keep ruminating about, that time the client hated that logo or that article or whatever. It’s a lot harder to keep in mind the times when things turned out really well. This makes it easier to assume the next thing that you spit out will also be crap.

I’m vividly aware of the irony of creating something about the battle to get started creating something. Surprisingly though, this was one of the easiest things for me to create.

What can I do?

To summarise (lazy readers, start here), for the next time you’re getting stuck before you’ve even started, here are a few things that might help:
  1. Send Ed to the naughty corner until it’s actually time for her to come out and play.
  2. Get something on paper — anything at all. A random scribble is often enough to disarm any mighty blank page.
  3. Spend some time digging into other creative’s development work.
  4. Remind yourself that good ideas are the result of many bad ideas. Get the bad ideas on paper, and then move on.
  5. Always start on paper.
  6. Remind yourself regularly of when things turned out great.
Here’s to becoming a more carefree creator, and a more responsible editor of your work. But not at the same time.
Do you also battle with an inner editor that constantly barges into your creative process uninvited?
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