“There’s something about being a comedian that means you have to not be scared of failing because failing is part of the process.” – David Walliams
I have been a creative for 25 years. It is all I have ever done to make a living. First as a photographer and then as a creative in advertising. So, after a quarter of a century I thought this would be a good me to write to my younger creative self about what I believe are the rules for successful creative living. I hope this helps a creative out there. And if it doesn’t, well, let me steal a joke from the great comic Jackie Mason. It’s like giving chicken soup to a dead man. It can’t hurt.
Beginning. How to begin? Where to start? A blank piece of paper or screen. The clean space of potential and the emptiness of beginning. The fear never goes away. The excitement never goes away. What you do in that moment is everything. What is your intention? The truth is, without an idea everything that happens afterwards cannnot help.
Ideas. You cannot go to an idea; it has to come to you. As you do this more and more, you realise the ideas are right in front of you. They are already there. The problem is the more you look for them the less you can see them. It’s hard to put this process into words. But, the first time you have an effortless idea, and you won’t have many, you will understand this.
Craft. A beautiful, painful and unfortunately necessary circus. Once you have an idea, execution becomes everything. This is the torture a creative loves and nobody else understands. This is what makes the average brilliant. This is what separates the many from the few. This is where talent is not enough and dedication is required.
Energy. Sir John Hegarty said that if you are the Rolling Stones you can still play Brown Sugar and get a standing ovation. That is a 40-year-old idea. We cannot do that. A creative must come up with a brand-new idea every day. Cheeky, but definitely food for thought.
Comparison. Do not compare yourself to others. It is a waste of me. You cannot do what they do. They cannot do what you can do. All this does is breed insecurity and fear. And fear kills ideas and creativity instantly. If you don’t believe me watch a comedian who is afraid. He will always suck.
Listen. If there was a piece of advice I wish I had learnt earlier it would be to listen. There are millions of opinions in our business. But you have to listen to hear the answer. Listening is the first thing you must do to let an idea come to you.
People. You will meet people in this business who will inspire you to jump without a net into the unknown. You will do more than you thought you could because of them. Surround yourself with these people. You will also meet massive arseholes. They take many forms. Liars, psychopaths, narcissists and those with supernova-sized egos. The ones that think that only they can be right. Eventually, you will find out that most are deeply insecure. And hey, aren’t we all.
Kindness. If you can help someone, do it. If you can’t, don’t make it worse. You see it every day on advertising blogs in the comments section. Nastiness masquerading as high standards. My theory is that this is a bit like people who suffer abuse becoming abusers. My life is shit, so I will make yours shit too. Why creatives do this to each other beats me. And I doubt they feel any better afterwards. If there is anybody we should help, it is another creative.
Bravery. An old CD once told a friend of mine, if you have balls you can roll far. You need bravery in this business. When you are the only person in the room that believes in an idea, those are the moments you must speak up. Speaking up for yourself and what you believe always involves risk. But, the alternative is far riskier.
You begin the creative voyage with enthusiasm and try to acquire wisdom. And later, you must make sure your wisdom doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm.
This is the riddle we all have to solve.
It is the journey we all must take.