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May 13, 2005

The Creative Life. An Occasional Column.


Let's pretend we're at a good pub. Grab your beverage of choice, and let's ponder this topic:

Create or die.


So, we've been talking lately about the fact that creative people (and this definition stretches beyond any job title) have no choice but to create. It's not an option. It's just part of their DNA. Whether they create for money or whether they create for joy, some people are born with an inherent need to burn off creative energy. Some involved in the discussion here are somewhat skeptical of the idea. But I think it's true.

See, in my life outside advertising, I have a couple of pursuits that you'd probably classify as hobbies. One takes up the better portion of late summer and all of fall. The other takes up the spring and most of the summer. My friends will tell you they get very tired of listening to me yap on about these activities. Somehow, I find ways to work them into nearly every conversation I have. These days, both of the activities are part of the "John January" brand.

Recently, my oldest and best friend pointed out to me that both hobbies, in which I invest far too much time and money, are, in truth, tremendous creative outlets for me. This is something I really hadn't thought about before, but the second he mentioned it, I realized he was right. Once I began to think of them this way, I immediately liked my hobbies even more than before. And in considering all this, a few thoughts occured to me:

1.) I came up through the ranks as a writer. But both of these hobbies are visually driven. While I spend time thinking about both the visual and verbal expression of the work we do here at SHS, I still spend a fair amount of time writing (not all of it creative). I really do think that I have chosen my hobbies because I wanted to flex a different part of my brain.

(What pursuits have you chosen? What parts of your creativity are these activities expressing? If you don't consider yourself creative, take another look at what you do for fun. Are you creating something?)

2.) I am wildly possessive of these activites. The results of my work are meant to please just one person: me. I don't solicit or entertain other opinions. And I feel no guilt about this fact. Advertising, on the other hand, is truly a collaborative art. You get a lot of thoughts and opinions from various parties, the most important of which is from the consumer herself. The ad you create is, in the end, not for you. It is for the consumer on behalf of the brand. So, in the case of advertising, considering those other opinons, is the right thing to do. In the case of my hobbies, it is not. Yes, I share the things I do with the world. But I don't really care if the world likes them. It's a great feeling. Just to create something for yourself on your own terms.

(What are you doing that is just for you? On your own terms?)

3.) For much of my adult life, advertising WAS my hobby. My only expression of creativity. I gave it everything I had. When I read the many advertising blogs out there, it becomes clear that this is true for many people (particularly young people) in the biz. This is natural, I suppose. But, as Tug and I noted on one early podcast, "Ad Monkeyitis" (our term for the advertising obssessed) can cause you to become way too focused on the mindset of other advertising people and not nearly focused enough on the mindset of the consumer. You know, I think it's ironic that there's not a creative alive who would say that advertising created by committee is a good thing. But, oddly enough, creatives always to seem to be looking to the "creative community committee" for validation. "Hey, if the committee at the One Show liked it, then we should emulate it!" Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that observing and learning from people who are practicing their craft at the highest level is a bad thing. Just make sure you don't end up trying to please "them" instead of the consumer. No, this is not mutually exclusive, but you know what I mean.

(What is it, outside of what you do day in and day out, that you are interested in? How could you pursue it? How would you start?)

What the point of all of this?

Just as you might do several exercises to build up the muscles of your arms or shoulders or chest in a proportional way, you should be putting your creative muscles to use on a variety of tasks in an effort to become well-balanced.

Investing time in creating something that is not advertising (photos, art, music, a screenplay, a garden, a piece of furniture, a quilt, a blog, a podcast, a character in a play, a play itself, a set design, a prop, a lighting design, your own board game, a better mousetrap, an interior design, a piece of architecture, a gourmet dish, a piece of pottery, a landscape for toy trains, a robot, a model car or whatever) will make your advertising work richer, broader and more rooted in the reality and rhythm of the world. I also think you'll find that the more you create, the more you'll want to create. It just works like that.

Not everyone was born to live a creative life. But if you were, it's critical that you give yourself multiple outlets to express it. Trust me, you'll be a happier and more productive person for it.


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Sometimes it needs another person stating the obvious so we recognize 'the truth'. In this case it is John January from the American Copywriter podcast on their blog about creativity. He beginns with So, we've been talking lately about the fact that cr... [Read More]


Loved that one. More of such, please. :)

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