My brain is a fog of pandemic-induced anxiety. I am exhausted – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – by the mere fact of 2020. And as someone who relies on creative thinking to make a living, this is very bad news.
I recently chose to go freelance, so it may be self-sabotage to admit that I simply have no ideas. Besides, I’m convinced there is nothing to write about because nothing is happening. Films have been delayed, tours cancelled, even fashion is on pause as we embrace trackies and house socks as our new daily uniform. I turn to social media for inspiration and, after scrolling past countless redundancy announcements and podcast launches, regret it.
This is not the case for everyone. As we know, the crisis has inspired many a creative solution from virtual choirs to socially distanced photoshoots. And if I didn’t feel bad enough already, Kickstarter’s Inside Voices campaign, which funds projects made and delivered from home, has pledged over £250,000 since launching in April. Clearly someone’s hoarding all the ideas.
“Having some enforced isolation from the day-to-day madness of the outside world has given me the chance to stop, think and reflect,” says Sachini Imbuldeniya. During lockdown, she produced two headline-making projects: Studio Pi, an illustration and photography agency which celebrates diverse talent, and You Clap For Me Now, the viral video in which NHS workers recited a scathing poem about discrimination in the UK, penned by Darren Smith. “As a result, I feel like the last 9 months have been the most productive of my career to date”.
So in a desperate bid to kick-start my new career venture, I spoke to Imbuldeniya and three other creatives about how to get shit done when the world is on fire.
Some people thrive in quiet environments, others feed off group energy. Whatever your inclination, you’ve likely felt the absence of spontaneous chat over the past eight months. Imbuldeniya has relied on partnerships with like-minded people to get the creative juices flowing. “[You need] people that you can trust to talk to about anything and everything – not just someone to bounce ideas off,” she says.
Plus, there’s never been a better time to reach out to people who inspire you, says Theresa Lola, the former Young People’s Poet Laureate for London. You may be Zoom fatigued, but a virtual chat is less costly and time consuming than a coffee date, so send that email – you never know what may come of it. “Many have been in the process of reflecting in this period, it’s the perfect time to connect with someone.”
If you’re a creative professional then the reality is, you’ve got to do the work to pay the bills. But this is easier said than done. Dr Steven Pritzker, academic and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Creativity, suggests that working within time constraints can often lead to our best work, so set yourself daily targets and stick to them. “Writers’ block is often a convenient handle for a lack of discipline,” he tells me (ouch). “Creative people like to think that ideas just fall from the sky. As someone who’s been a professional writer for a long time, I can tell you that ‘flow’ comes when you sit down and do the work”.
The author Neil Gaiman illustrates this well in his Master Class on writers’ block. After several iterations of How To Talk To Girls At Parties “died on the page”, he apologised to his editor and said he wasn’t going to happen. His editor then gave him a 12 hour window, et voila. “It’s quite possible that that time crunch is really what focussed me,” Gaiman says. “The willingness in the end to just throw out what wasn’t working, grab what would work and put it in.”
“Break it down into doable bits,” says Dr Pritzker. This way, seemingly gargantuan tasks seem less daunting. So re-evaluate your to-do list and separate big assignments into their component parts. Gemma Lawrence, author of Creative Block: over 100 tasks to get your head into a creative space, agrees, “If you dive straight into the deep end, you won't be able to process it. Sometimes restricting yourself gives you more creativity”. Plus, The satisfaction of ticking each thing off your list will feel like an achievement in itself.
Watch good films, read good books According to Dr Pritzker, “audience flow” is the process by which we learn from the art we consume. “It’s when you’re watching a film or reading a book and you lose yourself in a flow state,” he says, referring to the psychological principle of being completely immersed in what you’re doing. “Out of that comes new knowledge and new ideas”. “Good art” is, of course, subjective – does binge-watching Love is Blind count? “Be selective,” Dr Pritzker advises. “Use your leisure time to look at the best in your field and learn from it”.
It’s widely believed that doing creative things, no matter how small or seemingly insubstantial, leads to creative thinking. Lawrence adheres to this principle in her own book, a collection of 113 artistic activities inspired by her time working with children. On one pleasingly pink page, she asks readers to “turn these scribbles into something, maybe a scene, an object, a mate of yours”. “The instant gratification you get from achieving something so simple boosts something called ‘creative confidence,’” she tells me – a concept referring to the ability to come up with fresh ideas, paired with the chutzpah to actually do something about it.
Pitching this article was, really, a cry for help. But the simple process of putting pen to paper has already helped. A well of creative confidence I am not, but cogs are certainly turning. So, armed with my shiny new to-do list and burgeoning list of cultural gems, I’m diving into the murky waters of freelance journalism. Wish me luck!