The job you hate is killing your creative spirit

The wonderful Grant and his weasel buddy join me for a post-show photo (also shown Peggy Etra and Brian Clark).

The wonderful Grant and his weasel buddy join me for a post-show photo (also shown Peggy Etra and Brian Clark).

Grant Baciocco is an amazingly talented actor and puppeteer I had the good fortune to meet online and then in person when he came to Toronto with the improv puppetry show PuppetUp! (about which I have raved extensively elsewhere).

Well, aside from his amazing talent, he also has a wonderful creative spirit, both in the sense of what he creates and how he tries to inspire others to be open to their own inner creative spirit. To this latter point, he has a wonderful blog Grantblog: Ruminations & Pomposity that I heartily recommend.

At the beginning of each week, he posts Creative Mondays and today was no exception. Today he talked about “A job you hate”, which I excerpt below:

For years after college, about ten in fact, I worked as a substitute teacher.  It was an okay job, certainly flexible enough and I was making money, but by the end of those ten years I was starting to burn out because it was not the job I wanted to be doing.  I was good at it and several times I was told I should get my teaching credential because I was such a good teacher.  But deep inside of me I could feel a darkness building up because I was doing a job I absolutely hated.

The moment I made the decision to stop subbing and focus on The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, it felt like a weight was instantly lifted from my chest.  I attempted, for the millionth time, to lose weight and it was actually working (lost 80 pounds).  I was just a million times happier than I was when I was subbing.  And guess what?  I became more creative!  This was the creative boom era for Dr. Floyd, because I was doing something I love.

Grant’s is a lesson too many of us learn very late in life (NOTE: I did not say “too late in life”…it is NEVER too late).

In my case, I was fortunate enough to have a series of occupations I loved for a period…scientist, science writer, media relations, advertising copywriter…but with each, I stayed in the occupation long after I had fallen out of love with the choice. I had to be a certain amount of miserable before I was brave enough to jump.

But two years ago, I completely jumped ship to pursue my true love: story telling (screenplays, novel, sketches, short stories). I’m still not making money off any of this, so I live on freelance magazine writing and ad copywriting. But to Tiffany’s point, it is what I do to eat and sleep under a roof.

If you are fortunate to know your passion—it can take time to figure out what it is—then you must make it happen to find happiness (hunh, “happen” and “happiness”…so similar).

And if you haven’t fully defined your passion yet, go with your gut until you do. Explore the universe of opportunities, until you do. You may not end up the financially richest person on the planet, but you’ll definitely be one of the spiritually richest.

If you don’t want to take it from me, then take it from Grant. Find your happiness and pursue it with everything you have. Despite appearances, you really do have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

 

You can follow Grant on Twitter: @ToasterBoy

The writer who… (UPDATED)

As an advertising copywriter, I was constantly called upon to summarize a client’s product with a single line, as few words as possible that would capture the brand essence of the product or service. The almighty tagline.

As a magazine writer, I am also called upon to summarize the stories I write into a sentence or fragment. Something that will give the reader the kernel of the story so they can decide whether they want to read it or move on.

And finally, as a budding screenwriter, I am asked to summarize my entire story in a single sentence so prospective producers can get my idea and see the possibilities, artistic but mostly commercial.

And yet, with all of this practice in concise summarization, there is yet one product that eludes my abilities: me as a writer.

At last year’s Austin Film Festival, during a session on how to work the festival, the Langlais brothers—that’s how they describe themselves, but Gene and Paul, for the record—challenged each of us to define ourselves in a single sentence as “the writer who…”. They suggested that if we could define ourselves as producing one type of screenplay, it would make it easier for producers and directors to wrap their heads around who we were and where to go when they needed that kind of screenplay. Call yourself something and then be the best that you can be.

The challenge for me was that I couldn’t even decide on a medium or genre, let alone determine what types of stories I wrote.

About the only medium I have not yet written for is radio and that’s more the result of lack of opportunity than lack of interest.

I am naturally inclined to write comedy, but my last two screenplays have been family drama and murder thriller with the possibility of a horror on the horizon.

For nine months or so, the question has plagued me. I am “the writer who…”

Recently, however, because of a screenwriting course and completely separate conversations about life with a friend, I have had a bit of a breakthrough, if not an actual answer.

Maybe, I’m looking at this challenge on the wrong level. Rather than focusing on the details of what I have done—genres, media, angles, etc—I need instead to take everything I have done to its most basic level. Stripped of the decorative details, what is the essence of what I create?

What is at the core of my favourite comedy sketches? My screenplays? My television shows? My magazine articles? And what am I doing that makes it mine?

I still can’t tell people I’m “the writer who…”, but I think I’m a little bit closer.

(Image is property of owner and is used without permission, about which I am of two minds.)

 

UPDATE

Interestingly, the Canadian film organization Raindance Toronto just posted an article called Creating a Personal Genre. Although aimed at filmmakers, the article clearly has overtones of what I presented above. Check it out.

Thinking outside the balks

Image

If you’re reading this blog post, then you’re probably something like me—that wasn’t meant as an insult—and you’re looking for opportunities to express your true creative self.

Unfortunately, whenever you visit the Want Ads looking for employment, you are met with hundreds of ads all touting their desire for an outside-of-the-box thinker and yet doing so in the most boring way. Talk about making a bad first impression.

So here is my call to all companies: If you want outside-of-the-box thinkers, don’t approach them from inside the box.

Boxes scare creatives because boxes are scary. In hockey, it’s the penalty box. In mythology, it was Pandora’s box—okay, technically jar, but let’s not dwell on semantics. The Boxer rebellion. Boxing Day shopping. Johann Sebastian Box. You get the idea.

To some extent, I blame Human Resource departments, whose job it is to protect the company from legal repercussions rather than actually identify resourceful humans. But senior managers are also to blame, as the majority of them hold their jobs by propping up the walls of their box—often with the corpses of the peons below them.

Several years ago, as Creative Director of a medical advertising agency, I had the opportunity to hire a medical writer.

Now, I am nuts. And the job of medical copywriter in Canada is nuts, because the regulations in Canada are nuts. And working for me is nuts. So when I wanted to hire someone, I needed candidates who were…well…nuts.

Below is an excerpt from the ad I posted on a variety of web-based job sites to get just the right candidate:

We have needs (many of them in fact). But today our biggest need is for a full-time Scientific and Medical Writer to help us create amazingly compelling advertising for our healthcare clients…. 

What type of person are you?

You’ve always been smart—annoyingly so, if we talk to your siblings. You’re just as comfortable talking to a doctor, as you are an artist. You’re always looking for new ways to do things—especially mundane things. You not only dream up big ideas, you can also figure out how to execute them. You are able to convince others to buy into your ideas. You find yesterday’s successes to be today’s challenges. You don’t like taking “no” for an answer. You really want to re-write this ad and send it back to us. And you’ve never met an acronym you didn’t like, including PAAB, RRR, CME, ASC, BID, PM, PI, and ASAP.
Here are some must-haves:
Science degree (BSc. minimum, but dazzle us if you don’t)
Ability to distill clinical data into amazing copy (other distillation expertise will be considered)
Knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry (aside from your medicine cabinet)
A sense of humour in stressful situations.
Nice-to-haves: Did we mention the sense of humour?

Think your skills meet our needs? Then startle us with your creativity. Forward your resume (boring), 3 writing samples (better), and anything else we may find entertaining (don’t worry, we’re easily entertained) to:

I got some amazingly milquetoast applicants, but I also got some incredibly creative applicants and eventually hired an amazingly brilliant writer—who may be reading this and the Canadian market is too small not to constantly ass-kiss.

Like attracts like. So if it looks like you wrote your job ad with a pencil shoved firmly up your backside, you’re not likely to attract the kinds of candidates who think outside of the box. They’re more likely to be outside of your league.

You need to show that creative thinking already flourishes within your company because damned few creatives are willing to be the first and possibly only person who thinks creatively. Without the right amount and type of bullshit, we wither and die in such environments.

Spare the box, hire the creative genius.

 

PS The job boards to which I posted included:

 

(Image is property of Robert Mann Packaging and is used her without permission.)

I can do better than that

Almost a year ago, I had the opportunity to substitute teach a class of would-be advertising copywriters at a local community college. I was quite excited because it would give me the chance to talk to people at the beginning of their careers, while they were still fresh with anticipation and ready to take on the world.

Out of the gate, I let them know a little about myself and background, and then went straight for the “So, what made you decide to become a copywriter?”

To a person, the response was largely the same: “Well, I saw so many terrible advertisements and knew I could do better than that.” I am extremely happy to report that this was not all that they had going for them. Each was amazingly talented in his or her own way and it was a great couple of weeks.

But their original motivation hangs in the air, like a persistent echo that refuses to die.

No matter what our art, I would not be surprised to find that out that we have all said at some point in our lives “I can do better than that”. It’s only natural. It is how society has raised us.

I would like us to stop, however, because I fear it is killing our spirit and therefore threatens our art.

First, it’s just negative thinking on a topic for which we do not have a full understanding.

Having worked in advertising for a few years, I have a much better understanding of the great divide between what we came up with creatively and what finally made it to the magazine page or television screen. Trust me, the average ad you watch bears almost no resemblance to the original concept.

And even if my head exploded a little at the thought of the movie Piranha 3DD, I have to give the writers and producers some credit for getting it made and into theatres. They’re well ahead of where I am with my screenplays, which currently sit on my laptop computer and in a few competitions.

But more important than simply being the “why can’t we all just get along” guy, I think we denigrate our own efforts by focusing our attention downward.

Art should inspire and the artist should aspire. We shouldn’t look down and sneer. We should look up in awe at works that truly stir our hearts; that shake us to our artist core and make us strive to be better.

If all we do is attempt to be slightly above the dirt, then we merely set ourselves up to be the target of the next person in line.

If, however, we push ourselves to reach further, attempt more, climb higher, then there is every reason to believe that we will be the one who inspires the next person to stretch beyond our grasp.

I don’t want to write a screenplay that’s slightly better than Walk Like A Man. I want to write one that surpasses The Usual Suspects.

I want to write sketches funnier and more pointed than Sid Caesar and Monty Python.

I want to take the most beautiful photos that tell the most intricate stories, using every other photo as my muse.

By looking up, we become a lightning rod for our art, attracting the energy and inspiration that drives our passion. Looking down, we shut ourselves off from those same spirits, blocking out the positive input that surrounds us.

Simply in aspiring to something greater, we raise our art and therefore ourselves to new levels. And as difficult as each incremental step may be, the rewards are exponentially greater.

When we look up, we are bathed in the light of our truth. Looking down, we see only the threatening abyss of failure.

Aspire or expire, the choice is yours.

The sheer scale of these falls was only overtaken by the thought that they followed a geologic fault separating Europe from Greenland.

The sheer scale of these falls was only overtaken by the thought that they followed a geologic fault separating Europe from Greenland.