Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Four Ways to Get Your Edge Back

When I embarked on my new career as a writer/entrepreneur/podcaster, I had a few real concerns.  Chief among those, though, was whether I had lost my creativity after almost three years of trying to suffocate it.

Being a lawyer is about a great many things, but rarely is it about true creativity.  Oh, sure, there are those that will argue that finding that one unique distinction in a line of case law is being extremely creative.  Or, they pride themselves on pulling out an argument that no one else on the case thought of that somehow carries the day.  To whom I say, “fantastic.”  This is the kind of creativity that your brain thrives on, and you obviously made a great decision to be a lawyer.

This goes for anyone who truly enjoys their job.  Well done.  For the rest of us, though, the long slog doing boring, repetitive, mundane tasks for at least eight hours per day takes its toll on the creative person within.

I know that I was the same way. After a long day of exercising my brain in a way it didn’t want to be exercised, it was all I could do to come home and turn on “Shot at Love” for an hour, or (gulp) “That’s Amore,” the spin-off about one of Tila’s jilted, over-caffeinated suitors named Domenico. (Hey, I had a live-in girlfriend at the time!). 

The point is that the creative side of your brain is a muscle like any other, and if you don’t exercise it properly, it can wither away and die. The good news is that I’ve been able to get back to about 90% of where I was at previously, before subjecting myself to the anesthetizing effects of BigLaw. 

The bad news is that it’s taken me over two months to do so. 

I figured that since there are probably people reading this looking to do the same thing, I’d go through some of the techniques that I’ve found most effective to get back in creative fighting shape.

1) Put Down the Remote

This is probably the most important step.  And I don’t mean “just pick one channel and volume level for the night and leave it be.”  If you have any time at all outside of work right now, it’s a goddamned shame to waste it watching TV.  There are literally thousands of other things to do with your time that are more productive.  Don’t believe me?  Okay then, smart-ass.  Build a birdhouse.  There’s one.  Make a sculpture out of modeling clay.  There’s another.  Become a wine connoisseur. There’s a third. There are many others.  Don’t believe me?  Okay, I’ll stop. The point is, once you stop vegging out in front of the TV and start putting your off-hours to a productive use, you’ll find that old edge sharpening up, if only a bit. Besides, part of the reason that everyone thinks that “every story worth telling has already been told” is because they watch the same kinds of derivative sitcoms and procedurals over-and-over again. Get your inspiration from other sources and you’ll start finding yourself having more original thoughts.

2) Find a Safe Place

I don’t mean a panic room, nor do I mean the horrible Jodie Foster movie of the same name.  I mean find a place, be it a journal, group of friends, hobby group, etc., where you can write or speak your mind, no matter how “offensive” or “repulsive” other people might find those thoughts.  So much of corporate employment is being taught to “play it safe,” “be non-offensive,” and “go with the flow.”  I’m sure many of you have a more rambunctious former self that was cast aside either because of implicit or overt pressures to conform.  The safe place allows you to try to rediscover that person without fear of reprisal or reprimand.  One quick side note: as Anthony Weiner can probably attest, your twitter account or facebook page probably shouldn’t be considered a “safe place.”

3) Create Some Kind of Art on the Side

Paint.  Draw.  Sculpt.  Write.  Woodwork.  Make movies.  Put machines together.  Podcast.  There has to be something that you either enjoyed as a little kid, or thought that you would enjoy as a youngster, but never had the resources to try. Sure, your first attempts might not be so great: as most of you can probably attest, my early work on this blog is probably not at the same level as more recent posts, nor are my first short stories or podcasts. But that’s part of learning a craft and the subtle nuances that make your end product go from “okay” to “fantastic.”  The sheer act of trying out these new hobbies will likely exercise parts of your brain that you never knew existed.

4) Find Your Personal “Line,” then Cross It

Maybe you’re afraid to publish your blog posts to your facebook page.  God knows I’m not, but I used to be worried that someone would stumble upon them, rat me out, and I’d be out of a job.  Then I realized I didn’t really care about my job, so I figured, “fuck it,” and started putting them up there. You know what?  Nobody cared. I wasn’t badmouthing anyone other than bitchers and other people that talk a big game but never do anything. What did happen was that I got a fairly substantial outpouring of support from friends and even long-lost acquaintances that felt similarly. Like anything else, without any risk, there can be no reward, unless the fix is in.

Though this “line” doesn’t always have to do with sensibilities, it usually does involve going beyond your point of personal comfort.  Don’t like talking to people?  Make it a point to talk to five strangers that day.  Then up it by one person per day until you’re able to talk to anyone.  Don’t like heights?  Keep pushing the boundaries until you literally become physically ill.  Uncomfortable with certain words or phrases?  Record yourself saying them until you realize that they’re just words, and don’t really matter.  Push the envelope, then take things up another notch, realize that it wasn’t so bad, and establish a new baseline.

So that’s it.  Kind of simple, right?  Anybody have any that I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

4 comments:

  1. What if "bitching" is what I want to do? Would that make me both a bitcher and a doer? My head hurts..

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  2. Bitching is by definition not doing anything. I don't advocate a purely hedonistic lifestyle--all I want is for people to reach their true potential.

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  3. What if you bitched in blog or podcast form and updated it daily? Hmm?

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  4. Who would've thought once I got on ATL it would be my friends that were the asshole commenters? IT IS STILL BITCHING!!!

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