Pro vs Am Creativity
“The amateur waits for inspiration because they don’t know how to create it.”
My Two Cents
Professional creatives aren’t given the credit they are due. Mostly, I think this is because they aren’t understood. This isn’t to say that creative professions are a mystery (however much they can feel at times), but rather they are so far from all the standard and mechanical jobs of the world that they are held in this awkward light. When they deliver, they are praised for their brilliance, and when they don’t they are prodded for their uselessness; but you never really know what you can expect from one unless you’ve lived it.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me start at the beginning.
Once Upon a Time
I wish I could remember where I first heard it so I could send you straight to the source, but what I do remember is hearing someone talk about the fact that professional creatives are professional when they can flip a switch. They can go from non-creative work to being creative almost instantly. The general opinion on this is “that’s impossible, I can’t just flip a switch, I have to be motivated and then the creative juices start flowing.” Well, yes and no.
I think we sometimes misunderstand what it means to ‘flip a switch.’ Because of the mechanical nature of the wording, we think about the switch like a light-bulb. We flip it, and instantly there is light. And so we understand this sentiment to mean that we can suddenly be something else like a room being dark one second and bright in the next. This is where we get it wrong. It’s not instant, but it also doesn’t have to be.
Being creative isn’t always about the output. That’s what the world sees because that’s all they can see. But, if you’re a creative, you’ll know there is far more that you do outside of your output that contributes to the final result. Sleep, being exposed to inspiration and, more importantly, being curious.
The Professional and the Amateur
Many creatives will tote the “it’s hard to be creative because I’m not always inspired.” Yes, that does happen, but if you think inspiration is always going to be there you’re not going to make it very far in any creative industry. Sometimes, you have to create your own inspiration. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to fall into your lap. Sometimes that happens, but most of the time it doesn’t. And when you can’t say when and where you’re going to be “inspired” and creative, then you’re not reliable; and a lack of reliability is a kink in the backbone of success.
The amateur waits for inspiration because they don’t know how to create it. They don’t know where it lives and how to tap into it. The professional, in contrast, knows those things. They understand that external inspiration is fleeting and motivation is difficult to pin down, and so they have learnt how to create it for themselves. The professional can ‘flip a switch’ because they are always aware of their creative surroundings. They know what drains their energy and they know what fuels it. The professional can be tasked with something and sit down (or stand) and do it.
It’s not forced, which is what it may sound like, but rather it’s like turning on the tap. The flow isn’t there, and now it is. Creative professionals don’t just sit and create something monumental off the bat, however. They tinker, they test, they prototype and they experiment. They create so smoothly because they understand how they work and how they can inspire and motivate themselves.
I think when professional creatives aren’t given the credit they are due it’s because they are judged by amateurs. They are judged by people who don’t understand their processes, because they aren’t the same as other industries. Professionals make connections, reliably. It’s intuitive and it’s practised. It’s professional.
How to Be the Professional
The professional works even when they don’t want to. They work because it’s their job and they do it well. They know that some days will be worse than others and they don’t let that affect their workflow as much as the amateur does. They’re reliable.
The professional also doesn’t wait for inspiration. And they don’t hope for motivation; they know their sources and they tap into them. They’re curious. They’re always looking for ideas and connections, even when they’re not “working.” And then when they are working, they’ve almost always already done the leg work of generating ideas.
I think the misconception is in the wording of, “flip a switch.” The switch doesn’t generate light, it starts the process that generates light. If it helps, change the way you look at it. Think of it like the ignition to your car. The ignition doesn’t make the car move, it doesn’t get you from A to B. The ignition ignites. It starts the process. It ignites the engine and the engine turns the wheels and the wheels move the car (I know it’s more complicated than that, but I trust you get the point). The difference between the amateur and the professional is the professional knows their car and doesn’t lose the key. They know exactly where it is and how to start their car at any time.
The professional knows their process, and they know how to optimise it. We don’t always like driving in the rain, and there will be rainy days, but the professional can turn the key, start the car and drive no matter the conditions. They’re a professional.