- Start my Spring ’18 book, project name “Red House.” Should end the week with three solid chapters.
- Let Zero Draft of Summer ’17 book rest for a month. DO NOT TOUCH.
- Finishing touches on the new cjbernstein.com site.
- Draft of my “Conquer The Zero Draft” post.
- Edit photos for Stony Creek post.
- Finish “Social Share Presence” graphics.
- Two In-World sites in the can for August Interactive Novel debut.
- Set up analytics for all sites.
- Source postcard printer for SCBWI Conference “business cards.”
- Narrow down content for back of card.
**I originally wrote this article for Creator Magazine in 2013**
The greatest challenge in my career as a writer, an artistic entrepreneur, has been keeping the creative spark from being snuffed by the rigor and stresses of business. It’s easy to do. Building and maintaining your company is crazy hard work and can, if you let it, draw every ounce of your time and attention. Meanwhile the imaginative fire inside you burns out. But over the years I’ve come up with ways to help stoke that creative spark, keep it burning, and even help it spread.
Now I’m about to tell you to do some things contrary to what you think your business needs. I’m going to tell you to go do OTHER creative things, to take on other artistic ventures that seem totally unrelated to your business. The logical, sensible part of you is going to think that you’re hardly managing to be creative enough for your company, why would you divide your attention more by pursuing some other creative pursuit?
Well here’s the truth: There’s a reason they call it the “creative spark.” Because creativity, like fire, spreads. Creativity grows and grows. The more there is, the more there is. Being creative, doing creative things, doesn’t deplete you of creative energy. I swear. It actually gives you energy. It defies the laws of physics. The more you do, the more optimism, enthusiasm and ideas you have to do more. Creativity begets creativity.
Now here’s something I believe: Every creative expression is a form of storytelling. A company with a product to sell wants the customer to imagine their life with that product, or be unable to imagine their life without it. That’s storytelling. Marketing, editing, design, painting, coding, writing, it’s all expressing a feeling, a thought, revealing a need. All storytelling.
And that’s what’s really below the surface of “how to stay creative in a corporate structure.” You need to allow yourself to tell more stories, in different ways, with different materials. The expression is what helps you grow. Creativity begets creativity. And I’ve come up with ways that have helped me stoke that fire and might help you too.
Get a hobby
It’s romantic, the idea that you’e a tunnel-visioned, uber-driven entrepreneur who gives all you’ve got to your company. It looks good in a bio but unless you’re satisfying the creative drive that probably got you into business in the first place, you’re just drowning. You have to give yourself a chance to breathe. And I don’t mean meditation, but…yeah that too. I mean do something that’s completely separate from your business, something that gives you a sense of creative satisfaction.
Over the years I have taken up knitting, woodworking, sewing, web design, photography, and even building massive Lego kits, not only because I love to create (the literal and figurative root of creativity) but because, like I said, creativity begets creativity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve allowed myself to let go of work and focus in on some unrelated creative endeavor only to have a half-dozen sparks start burning in my mind. New ideas, fresh looks at old ideas, and solutions to current creative problems. Instead of snuffing the fire, you spread it. Your mind is relieved of the work stress, which is anathema to art. It seems nuts, it seems like procrastination, but it’s what you need. Seriously, even if you just take a walk every day and Instagram something interesting you see, that’s a hobby, that’s a creative expression. That’s another story told.
Ever notice you’re most creative, inspired and enthusiastic just before you go to bed? Or in the shower? Or during a movie? Notice those are places you are literally unable to get to work? Making yourself unavailable for a morning, or an hour, or even a long shower, in a place where you can’t (or shouldn’t) be in touch with your business is like building yourself a playground. You might think that ass-in-seat is the way you show you’re devoted to your endeavor, but giving yourself time to breathe and stoke the fires is what provides you the passion you need to actually BE devoted to your company and give it all you have.
I can’t read fiction. I mean, I can. But I can’t often let go and get lost in someone else’s story. Sometimes, but not often. I think it’s too close to my job. But non-fiction? I get completely swept up in the real histories of cities, the lives of politicians and explorers, lost cities and missing people. I get inspired, and then I start looking for the story, how I could use it or make it a movie, or a comic or a short story. I feed on that fire.
Now you. What piece of entertainment makes you feel that way? Inspired, excited, on fire? Museums, film, video games, books, even great magazine articles. Figure out what gets your juices flowing and keep them on hand. Take time to get swept up in something, put it on your to-do list if you have to. This should be as important as any other aspect of your company’s growth. At the risk of overdoing the fire metaphor, fire can’t burn in a vacuum. It needs fuel. So do you.
Get a friend
Your business might not allow you to surround yourself with “creative types” but whether you have it in your work or personal life, you need other artistic people around you. You need to share artistic energy. Creative pursuits can be isolating, lonely, scary. And business on the other hand can be social, fast-paced, exciting. Given a choice between the two it’s very easy to avoid hunkering down with just you and an idea. You need people who get that, and who can help you make artistic effort less lonely and unappealing. It’s not only good for your sanity, it’s also GREAT for your ideas. Often I’ve been unable to work out a creative problem in isolation only to mention it to a friend and in minutes of talking it out I manage to solve it. Knowing other creative types in all kinds of fields helps keep you open, and best of all helps you work through the bramble of creative ideas so you can finish them and move on to telling a new story.
Find creative outlets, make time to get away from your job, seek out things that inspire and stoke you and surround yourself with people who understand and can share in your creativity. You have responsibilities and a business to run, but you also have stories to tell. And those stories are what you and your venture need to grow and succeed.
**I originally wrote this article for Creator Magazine in 2013**
I’m a screenwriter. I’m in the business of selling creative product. I’m the CEO of my company of one. I’m also the bulk of the staff and all the overworked interns.
Starting out I wish there’d been a nuts and bolts guide to help me balance the business and creative aspects of my work. It’s been my greatest challenge, and being a process nerd, I’ve tried every method to create that balance.
Below are five ways I’ve learned to more efficiently keep the scales in check. Admittedly, some of these are going to sound like common sense solutions. They are. But if you’re already doing them all you’re probably not reading this article.
1. Realize you can do both
Recent studies have debunked the old saw that there are right-brained people and left-brained people. Folks often excel at one of the other, but are more than capable of doing both. And doing them well.
Believe you’re capable. Forget the noise that you’re half of a successful person. What you need to help you strike a balance and keep it is structure.
2. Structure is god
Build a daily plan that works for you and adhere to it like the success of your business depends on it. ‘Cause it does. I know this about myself: I normally have two creative bursts during the day, a long period in the morning and a short burst later at night. I plan critical business tasks like email, meetings, research, and longterm planning in the mellow middle of those two bursts.
Showing up in the morning and thinking you can wing it, bouncing back and forth between the two disciplines, isn’t gonna work in the longterm. You’re wasting energy. You should (mostly) finish your workdays feeling satisfied, not wrung out. I know peers who do creative work through the night, or alternate creative and business tasks all day. Whatever works for you. Write it down and stick to it. But write it down. Structure will set you free and help you succeed. Take ten damned minutes the night before and write down what needs to get done the next day, both creatively and logistically. But don’t overburden yourself.
In time, with practice, you’ll figure out what you’re realistically capable of in a given day. Really. Write it down. Try a few different schedules, but you know in your gut when you have your creative peaks. Start there. This is the most important step. If you stopped here, you’d be in loads better shape than you were five minutes ago.
3. Give in every now and then
Yes, structure is the key to getting all your stuff done. You require it. But sometimes, you’ll find yourself drifting off course, focusing on a single task, either business or creative. Embrace it. Obsess over it. Even if you know it’s procrastinating. No guilt. No anxiety. In truth, a lot of stuff on today’s list can roll onto tomorrow’s. A side track once or twice a week is not only okay, it’s good. Forget about all the things that can wait and address that thing you’re obsessing over with all your energy and attention. Today, that thing is your job. Nail it.
4. Trigger the shift
One of the biggest challenges of the business/creative balancing act is the switch from one mode to the other. If you’re like me, once you’re in, you’re in. But the tail kicker is leaving the starting line. I’ve struggled with it my whole life. Master procrastinator. I’d do anything to keep from starting. It. Just. Felt. So. Hard.
Then I read about how, for writers, putting pencil to paper sparks the creative process in a way fingers to keyboard doesn’t. Handwriting activates particular parts of the brain that typing can’t. And anxiety-wise, handwriting seems iterative, typed words seem final. Handwriting frees you because it can all be erased. It doesn’t need to be perfect. So, I made sure every creative task I began started with pen to paper, while business tasks were computer-focused.
The analog/digital switch trained my brain to get into the proper headspace. It helped me effectively jump from one to the other. Over and over. This particular process might not work for your business, but trust, you already know what kicks off your creative tingles and what puts you in a business mindset. Get self-reflective. Figure out your triggers. Apply them to your structure. I keep two to-do lists. One on paper for creative projects. One on my phone for business tasks. But I’m a crazy person. Do what works for you.
You gotta have friends. Pals, peers, and employees who excel in places where you lack. Everybody wants to seem amazing at everything. You’re not. I’m not. It’s cool. I have writer friends who excel at the business bits. Personally, I have a manager, an agent and a lawyer who fill in the significant gaps I have when it comes to the myriad non-creative parts of my job. They help relieve my burden (not completely, but enough), leaving me to be as crazy creative as I’m capable of being and happy to dig deep into the other stuff when needed.
Build relationships with people who help you fill in those gaps. Get advice from friends who complement your strengths with theirs, find a mentor in your field, hire people that rocket full throttle in places you struggle.
You can do it all yourself. But you don’t have to. And with a little help, you’re free to more easily find that balance. The balance allows you to do what you do best, and do it even better.