On Struggling Creatively in a Creative Agency

Let me just bring on big misconception to a shrieking and ignoble death: writing things for a living is hard, and we’re convinced that somewhere between the sixth and seventh circles of hell, there is a smaller, secret hell that looks like one never-ending loop of someone repeatedly typing a sentence and promptly deleting it.
To reiterate: writing is hard. Writing good content is worse. Writing good content on demand is just, why would you ask that?
Writing good content on demand when you’re creatively stuck is impossible, and when your job is literally just Writing Good Content on Demand, being creatively stuck leaves you feeling like you might as well hand your papers in and walk out (note: do not do this).

A Personal Perspective

Look, as soon as someone handed me a pen and a vague notion of language and pacing, I wrote. I have copies of terrible plays I’d write during my lessons (note: also do not do this) and read out to my friends. My Dropbox has about 1000+ works, and some of them are even finished. I’ve been published. I microblog short stories. My hobbies are finding beautiful ways to say mundane things, and shoehorning in as many references as I can.
And I’m stuck.
You’d think, with eight years of Just Writing underneath my belt, it gets easier, or at least more manageable. I’m still waiting to discover the magic trick or secret up-up-down-down-circle-square-zero combination for Making Words Happen, and if anyone has any tricks, send them to me, because I’d love to hear them.
Writing is what I do, and suddenly I can’t do it anymore. Not the way I like. Not the way I think works, the way I think it flows, the way I think it should be.
I know it’ll end; it always does. I also know that, when these moments happen, it’s hard not to think that you’re in the wrong career, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, just waiting for someone to notice that you’re not really as good as your CV says so.
I’ll be honest, I wrote an email to my supervisor twice this week and apologised for my work not being up to par.

A Team Effort

The thing is, I’m an anxious person, and writing something like that to a supervisor sounded to me like a death sentence – but that’s me. I’m an 18th century novella protagonist, complete with corset and fatalistic jokes (I’m serious about the corset).
The thing that slipped my mind, though, the thing that I’m still not used to even though I’ve worked at Switch for six months and should know by now is that a creative agency doesn’t just run on creativity. Obviously, it’s a big part, but it’s not like we just sit around waiting for inspiration to lightning-strike and raise our collective muse like Frankenstein.
We work. A lot.
There’s research to be done. Every campaign needs a solid foundation underneath it, or it crumbles. We think a lot. Ed plans, a lot. Matt does whatever Matt does, and Teri makes sure the office runs like clockwork, complete with occasional cuckoo calls of ‘tea/coffee/vodka/other?’ every half hour.
That helps. Getting your mind to reset with facts, not fantasy, makes you rethink the way good writing works, and flows. Getting to see what the other half do – designers with their magic-potion colour palettes, and weird ability to see a 0.05% difference in line thickness – helps. Bothering both of the office dogs helps. Insisting on a three-person coffee escapade helps.
Talking helps.

Helping hands

Switch tries really really hard not to boil people down to their components, and I know this. If I feel like a human typewriter, it isn’t the company’s fault – it’s the way my brain is wired, the synapses shooting wild in my head telling me these things. The company places a lot of trust in people going to their coworkers when they’re struggling, in asking for help, in pacing themselves, and not burning themselves out; in making sure we’re delivering good work, which also means not delivering work beyond what can be achieved by a single 8 hours of work a day.
If you’re busy, you say so. If you’re struggling, you say so. If you’re finding a task difficult, you say so.
And once you do, that anxiety is lifted.
As my supervisor says, nobody is expected to be creative or come up with all the ideas all the time. It’s a team effort, through and through.
And I think that helps more than anything.

A Short List of Inspiring Things

Here’s what inspires me about the office.

  1. Turning around to see what Naomi is working on, and getting an eyeful of colour and shapes.
  2. Luke’s 30-minute rants on Game of Thrones, and the passion boiling over out of every word.
  3. Monday morning discussions of last night’s TV show episodes. Theories abound. Most of them turn out to be completely wrong.
  4. Melissa’s excited squeak of ‘PUPPY’ every time Ozzy comes into the room. Without fail. Even if it’s the seventh time.
  5. Ozzy making a break for the main office, heedless to the fact that Pablo will eat his tiny fluffy face.
  6. Sunshine on the tiles next to Rik’s desk while he tries to convince the entire office that there is indeed a band called something like Automated Garbage Truck Symphony.
  7. Teri squabbling with Pablo about why he should not charge at people’s ankles.
  8. Pablo remaining resolutely convinced that he needs to charge at people’s ankles for Honour.
  9. Ernesta’s quiet interjections of ‘ew’ when someone (me) sends her a picture of sphynx cats looking particularly goblinish.
  10. Simon’s headphones do not quite blur out the sound of his music, and we know you’ve listened to Welcome to the Jungle for six times in an hour.
  11. Vanessa answering the phone and accidentally insulting the caller. This happens a minimum of 2x a week.
  12. Bre’s stories and a game we like to call ‘Dog or Natural Disaster’?
  13. Tom striding into the office with coffee and meticulously going around the desks to say hello to everyone. Usually in different accents.
  14. Astrid and her singing.
  15. Mike carrying Ozzy in an ICOM tote bag.
  16. Ozzy simultaneously enraged and thrilled at being carried in an ICOM tote bag.
  17. Pablo and his devotion to protecting everyone from the terrors of cranes, construction, and random pieces of paper that look threatening.
  18. The sheer confusion on intern’s faces when they walk in for the first time and realise nobody possesses an inside voice.
  19. Also when they see the office dogs.
  20. Ed and his conversations which need a minimum of 1 day to think over and digest the following afternoon because essentially Ed is the Library of Alexandria.
  21. Also Ed and mismatched or colourful socks.
  22. Sweets on the little breakroom table.
  23. Food is a Communal Commodity and even if you brought lunch in for yourself someone will invariably offer you their lunch, and someone else offers you their lunch, and it turns into one big sampling buffet.
  24. Sometimes people make Granny On A Computer mistakes. See: our copywriter mass-sending everyone her out of office email by accident.
  25. The fact that it took three or four visits for our office gardener to admit that he’d been caring for a dead orchid and maybe we should think about a replacement? (It was Christmas and orchids are sensitive to abandonment, okay?)
  26. Colour. Coded. Everything.
  27. Everyone is unequivocally EXCITED ABOUT ALL THE THINGS.
  28. Also: when people travel they bring sweets for the office.
  29. Realizing that Simba is in the office and resigning yourself to the fact that you will be knocked over by 50 kilos of love.
  30. Naomi mishearing things it’s impossible to mishear (no, eBay and LinkedIn do not sound alike).

In Conclusion

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