Creativity And A Propensity For Self-Torture

Whether writing words or pushing pixels, anyone wearing a creative hat in advertising is in the business to create. We’re in it to fulfill our love of commercial artistic expression for the gains of our clients, our agency and ourselves. We suffer the other 70% of our agency activities because we know the next opportunity is coming. We thrive on the anticipation of the next chance to create. It is our addiction and we will suffer just about anything for the next fix. The glorious anticipation of the process of applying abstract aesthetic sensibilities to a structured set of marketing parameters is what gets us up in the morning. It is our purpose.

Yet when the moment comes, it goes a bit like this: The brief is done. The clock starts ticking. Everyone is waiting. Hours later when the page is still blank, the mind begins to race. Things go dark. Soon, we’re convinced there are no new ideas. That it’s all been done before. We write words, sketch pictures, and fill wastebaskets. We question the meaning of life. We imagine failure before we even have a couple of good concepts to reject. A sense of foreboding washes over us. We would rather be anywhere than in a closed up room searching in vain for a big idea. Blissful anticipation is long since forgotten.

Any good creative person worth their salt carries a touch of insecurity. Fear lurks. Fear of mediocrity. Fear that the clients won’t “get it”. Fear that our peers will think it’s crap. Fear that the work won’t be worthy, that we’ve squandered another opportunity for immortality. See, creatives of any type are a competitive bunch. And while creating is a solitary process between a handful of people, the judge, jury and executioner is the world around us. And worse, there’s the jury of our peers. God forbid we do shitty work. Most creatives would rather cut off a body part than have anyone see work of which we are not proud. And at one time or another, we all have produced work of which we are not proud. We just pray to the Gods in many languages that no one sees it.

And so we stay up all night, locked up in our personal Gitmo. We eat crap take-out and drink coffee till we get the shakes. The page is no longer blank, just covered with bad ideas. We lie and say we got some great stuff. But we don’t. Time is running out and we begin to wonder what’s wrong with us, questioning our reason for being. It’s an ego thing and we are our own worst critics. We hate everything. My ideas suck. My partners ideas suck. Everyone will know we suck. The stink of fear fills the air. We’re wondering if we’re even capable of creating one good idea. We questioning our career choice, then our life’s purpose. The angst is palpable. It is torture and it is indescribable.

There are only days left. Suddenly, something happens. I’m not sure what exactly, but nothing becomes something. It’s right there, scribbled in the margin, a few key words and an approach. Right before your eyes it comes alive. An idea is born. The more you look at it, the clearer it becomes. It just flows.

It’s hard to explain, but great ideas have lives of their own. All of a sudden it all becomes easy. The dread of our creative water-boarding sessions are gone and we’re floating. We can see how it works, we can see how it sells. The connection to the strategy is clear, as is every step of the execution. We’re clearing shelf space for the gold pencil which will sit next to the gold lion, and counting the countless views of our new viral sensation. We are whole again.

The real magic of a great idea is how simple it all becomes. Great ideas are easy, not to create, but to apply. They effortlessly align with objectives, reflect the brief, and elegantly extent to all channels in a campaign. Every channel and medium that extends the idea compounds it’s effect. It has staying power. It doesn’t matter what era of advertising, great ideas always have legs. When it happens, all is right in the world.

We live for this joy and so we accept the process of getting there. Hurt me, torture me, lock me up, I don’t care. Because that feeling of creating an idea that works, that really works… well, there’s no feeling in the world like it. And next time the brief comes, we will willingly do it all over again.