Blank Pages

Blank pages are – ironically – pretty conflicting.

On one hand, when you sit down to begin a project, you feel the excitement of starting something new and are buzzing from the endless possibilities of how it will turn out. On the other hand, you can’t pin down exactly how you will get to the end result you desire, or even what exactly that end result will be. It is the action you take in this very first moment that largely determines how a project will go, and that can be daunting.

The first thing I do when beginning any project is research. That way, when I get to my blank piece of paper, I already have thoughts floating around in my head about what other people have done in the past, what solutions I like, don’t like, and so on. This is similar to how Twyla Tharp fills up her boxes before beginning work on a dance. Some of this research is specific to the problem I’m solving or question I’m answering, but some of it is my every day consumption of pop culture, blogs, pictures, music, video, etc. Some of my favorites include Seth Godin’s website and an RSS feed I set up curating content from over 30 blogs. I also do things to keep my creative muscle sharp, like participating in the CreativeSprint challenge.

Next, and this is specifically for when I’m working on a written project, it is all about getting words on paper. After thinking for a few minutes and staring down the blank page, I just let whatever comes to mind first flow. I write and write until I don’t have any more words to spit out. Then, I go back through and read what I’ve come up with. I delete the parts that don’t quite work, and embellish the ones that do. I find that looking at whatever content I have helps me to define and solidify my opinions and ideas.

After going through the words a few times, I’ll return to the research to make sure there aren’t any ideas that I wanted to incorporate but left out. I’ll listen to some music to get my brain flowing again (this article says that music can inspire you, put you in a good mood, and increase your focus!) , and maybe have a snack. Then, the only thing left to do is edit and edit until I’m happy with the finished product.

While this creative process is specificially for writing words, the same applies to when I am writing music. The major key here is having something to work with. Getting a few lines of lyrics on paper (or chords on sheet music) is the first step for me. From there I can refine my work to satisfaction. What is your creative process?

Image Credit


The documentary “Briefly,” created from interviews with six really great advertising professionals, explores the relationship between creative briefs and the end products they birth. There are many great take-aways and quotes from this documentary that I agree with, and that explain some of the thinking that has guided to where I am today and where I want to be in my career.

“This is about creating emotional work so you can still create beauty in this world.”

Many people ask me what I like about advertising. This quote sums it up perfectly. I believe that everyone has strengths and talents that they bring to the world in order to make it a more beautiful place. While I am not a painter or a sculptor, I hope to bring beauty through my work in advertising. Part of why research is so important in advertising is that it allows us to uncover human truths that explain why we feel the way we do. As an AdWeek article said, “All humans seek to find significance and meaning in what we see, and there is absolutely a universality to how we react to common situations like a loss of someone, a drive to do better, a desire to gain more.” Celebrating raw human qualities in an advertising campaign unites us as humans.

“I don’t believe in briefs, I believe in relationships.”

I think this really illustrates the difference between real world work and the work we have done in classrooms. We complete assignments based on briefs that we are given by professors, or even by clients, but we don’t get the experience of getting to know the people on the other side of the brief. That is what this quote really gets at, and its what I’ll finally get to experience when I begin my career in an agency. Knowing the people you are working with and getting a glimpse into their world powers you to create the best work you can. When you see their motivations as your motivations, you become partners.

And finally, a few other take-aways:

  • A brief is inspirational: it should give the creative team exactly what it needs to run wild (in the right direction, of course).
  • A brief is short: say what you need and be done. Like Doug Kleeman said in a guest lecture, you should answer the essential questions and leave out the rest.
  • You come out in every project you do. Yes, you start with a brief, but you bring something original to that, and that’s what makes each advertising agency unique.