Most web freelancers are “creatives” — developers, designers, writers, and so on. Over the course of our working lives we develop our own approaches to tapping the creativity necessary to do our jobs. And by the time we’re freelancing, we need to reliably be able to access that creativity if we’re to constantly produce unique work to a high level of quality.
We need, effectively, to have “commoditized” our creativity to some degree — to have boxed it up into a nice little kit, complete with psychological Allen keys so we can assemble it and take it apart again as and when required.
But what happens when some aspect of that creativity goes rogue? When it becomes unpredictable? Is there some way to harness it again?
The creative process
Until recently, my answer to that question would have been “yes.” Creatives tend to develop and rely on their own creative process as a means to get full power from the proverbial “creative muscle.”
I think everyone’s process is necessarily slightly different: some of us rely on models, blue prints and pro formas that have been researched and developed by academics and are taught in courses. Others use alternative forms of inspiration — the work of others, unfettered experimentation, mind-altering substances, you name it — to springboard their minds to a certain creative level.
Many of us use a mixture of these approaches, adapting them to each project, and over time we develop an almost intuitive sense of the creative tools needed to attack the creative problems we encounter. Whether this process is conscious or not, I think it exists for many people who do creative work for a living.
The black box
But with some of the work I’m doing for a client at the moment, my creative process has gone out the window. I’m making good stuff for these guys, but not to my time-worn process. In fact, not to any process that I can see.
How I’m coming up with the product I’m making for them is literally beyond me. It’s like I’m reaching into a black box, and somehow pulling out a creative answer that works. Or has worked, so far. Fingers crossed.
You might say, “Well, that’s all fine. Why worry? As long as it works, don’t question it.” But I’m not so sure.
As freelancers, our livelihoods depend on our creative reliability. Since this thing that’s happening seems to be good, I’d like to be able to understand it and apply it to other projects. What might I miss out on if I don’t get my head around what’s going on here? I might be able to access new creative influence, inspiration or application through this new approach — who knows?
But perhaps less fantastically, as a freelancer, I need to be able to reliably tap into this creativity — at the very least for the client it’s currently working for. In the back of my mind, there’s always the knowledge that while it’s all worked okay for this deliverable, next time, I may not be so lucky. Since I don’t understand what’s going on here, I don’t know if I’ll be able to nail next week’s creative task. All I can do is hold on and hope for the best.
Have you ever had this experience? How do you harness your creativity so that you can use it reliably to help clients? What advice can you share to help others get a handle on evolving aspects of their creativity?