Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to take your creativity seriously

Sometimes, the only way to have fun is to be deadly serious.

That was the takeaway from designer Paula Scher's TED talk "Great design is serious (not solemn)," a great little lecture on how flying by the seat of your pants, being ignorant, and having chutzpah can garner a creative result above and beyond what you ever imagined.

If you have 20 minutes to spare (or kill), watch the video below. If not, skip to the spoiler -- and my interpretation as it relates to writing -- after the screen:



Oh yay, you stayed with me! Here's the big reveal: The key to design success is not to let play/fun/experimentation become work. Then your intensity weakens, and you're left a pale imitation of your inspired self, doomed to repeat what once was fresh.

Though Scher is talking about visual design, I think her points apply to all creative endeavors. Here's how I see it playing out with writing:

1. Avoiding one path can lead you down a new one. Scher despised Helvetica font. So she designed album covers using anything but. As a result, her work stood out.

YOUR TURN: What pieces or genres do you particularly hate to write? How can you subvert the form and still get the message across, if only to amuse yourself in the meantime?

2. Basics are at the base for a reason. When Scher was asked to help an architectural team design a building, she didn't even know how to read a blueprint. But it didn't matter, because her innate sense of what would be different AND useful guided the project to a new dimension.

YOUR TURN: How are you as a writer honing your storytelling instincts? Do you grasp how words and communications fit into any and every discipline, and are you prepared to bend that universality into a new -- but no less effective -- shape?

3. See, don't just look. The North Side neighborhood in Pittsburgh hired Scher to brand their identity. So she searched the area and pulled out the mundane, commonplace, seen-so-often-no-one-notices-it-anymore overpasses as the basis for a distinctive art installation.

YOUR TURN: What elements are you taking for granted in your writing? Can you herald something usually overlooked, if only for the challenge of making it noteworthy?

Designers, writers, photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians, carpenters, creators of all types -- I now turn it over to you. How do you keep your creative process from becoming too solemn? What techniques or happy accidents have kept you fresh?

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