5 Important Lessons I Learned Being A Creative Professional

Being creative for a living is not easy. There exists the stereotype of the starving artist, who can live a creative life but not be able to pay his bills because creativity and business don't mix well, and it is absolutely true. Navigating through companies that need to make money for a living and have a bottom line, could be soul crushing when all you want to do is create cool, innovative, fun things for a living. I've been a creative person in the business world, and these are the important lessons I learned that helped me survive and keep my creative spirit. 

1. You Create Your Own Momentum

The more you do, the more you can do.
— Lucille Ball

Sometimes you lose momentum, it happens. It's not easy to get motivated about something that doesn't excite you. Growing up I didn't think I could be a game designer because I didn't think I was smart enough, good enough, or was privileged enough. I figured I could do my other dream though, pro wrestling. It was cheaper, and it was physical so you didn't have to be "smart". I soon found out that wrestling is really, really, really hard, physically and mentally. After surviving something like that, I absolutely knew I could be game designer, because wrestling was so hard and being a game designer is probably easier because you're just sitting down designing things. The perspective of the dream changed for me, my attitude changed towards this previously "unattainable" goal because I unintentionally raised the bar to a very high standard for myself. Wrestling pushed my personal limits and made everything else easier in comparison.  I now had this momentum and I wasn't about to let it go to waste. The next week I got a job at Activision, and a few weeks later I started going to school for game design. It was very easy to do, and it was easy to graduate from the game design school compared to wrestling school for many reasons. 

This was our final project.

This was our final project.

You can't wait around for inspiration. In a cruel twist of fate, action begets inspiration, not the other way around. This inspiration then turns into momentum. When you start doing things, it's easier for you start doing NEW things, and you then start doing things outside of your wheelhouse. The first time you do something outside of your wheelhouse, you don't know how to do it... so it's scary. You might get people angry, or you might feel bad because you did something wrong. But afterwards you're not scared anymore, you're more confident because you know you can do something new and it won't be the end of the world. You are just able to do more things, you start to like the challenge of doing stuff you've never done before. Honestly, that's the kind of momentum you're going to need if you want to realize your creative dreams.

 

2. You Don't Need Permission

What it comes down to is this, figure out what you want to make and try and make it. There is no excuse other than your own laziness.
— Jesse Schell

There's a friend of mine that wanted to start a sewing class, and I asked her why she didn't just go and start it. She said she didn't feel like she should. I said "You know how to sew right?", she said "Yeah". I said "And you want to teach people right?", she said "Yeah". I said "And you know where the students are who want to sew, right?". Once again she said "Yeah". I told her I could build her a website and she could get started right away. She then said that she didn't feel like she should. She said she didn't feel like she had permission to do it. Keep in mind that she didn't have a boss or anyone to answer to, yet somehow she still didn't have "permission". 

The man in the mirror said I was walking on thin ice.

The man in the mirror said I was walking on thin ice.

There's a lot of people who should be doing the things that they want to do, but they just don't feel like they're worth it. The thing is, you don't need permission, if you want to do it, just go and do it. If you fail at it, you're just going to be better at it next time, you'll adjust, trust me. You don't need permission to start your own game studio, or project, there's literally no one stopping you. There are people out there that are LESS qualified than you, doing what you want to do, the only difference is that they are out there doing it. This is going to sound cheesy, but it's also very true; The only one stopping you, is you. Give yourself permission, and if you need to hear it from someone else, then here, I give you permission to go and build what you want to build.

3. Create Your Own Path

Everyone is trying to get their piece of the pie. They don’t realize that the world is a kitchen. You can make your own pie.
— Terry Crews

Usually a massively successful hit like Clash of Clans is released, and everyone does their own version if it. But most products never make the money that a Clash of Clans made because the people who played it already made all the discoveries that they're gonna make with that engine and mechanic. So when you make your clone, you're just going to make diminishing returns. You don't have to make whatever has been made already though, make your own thing. Disneyland is a great example. Theme parks were not profitable when Walt Disney created Disneyland in 1955. Every expert in the amusement park industry told Walt Disney not to do it because it would "absolutely fail", Walt Disney did it anyway. Now the Disney resorts today make the most money of all Disney properties including movies and toys. Disney didn't look at the situation with the attitude of 'well this other amusement park is successful, let's go and do that exactly', Disney knew that his park was going to be different, and it was. You want to build something for people to discover, copying something that exists, by it's nature, is not a great platform for discovery. Although, after that, other people did say 'Disneyland is successful, let's go and do that exactly', such as "Dreamland" in Japan.

Remember what I said about diminishing returns?

Remember what I said about diminishing returns?

Amusement parks were not massively successful before Disneyland, but Walt just did what he wanted to do, and he executed it in a way that nobody had ever seen before. Flappy Bird made 50k a day, and the developer didn't follow any other pattern of something that was created already, he just went and did whatever he wanted to do. When you do something like that, you make your own pie, you're not trying to get a slice of something that exists, you own the entire pie. 

4. There Is No Wrong Answer

Life is attention, and what we are attending to determines to a great extent how we experience the world.
— Marcel Proust

Once you have the fundamentals of design down, you start to realize there is no wrong answer. Let me clarify, each one of you has a very unique view on life. You've all had different experiences, you have all been through different things, even if other people have been through the same things you have, you are still viewing it through you're very unique lenses. So whatever you make, if you make it true to yourself and based on how you honestly see the world, it's always going to be an original product and original products are almost always full of discovery (fun),

Just stamping "Original" on it with big red letters, is usually not enough.

Just stamping "Original" on it with big red letters, is usually not enough.

That means there's no wrong answer as long as it is true inside you. In fact the only time you can go wrong is when you create something that is not based on what you believe in. People will believe in your view of the world, but they can very quickly spot when you're not consistent. The worst thing you can do is confuse the audience when they already buy into your vision. As long as its true and its something that resonates with you, what you produce can't be wrong. There's no need to worry about 'well I don't know if the market is going to like it' because good creative people don't rely on the established market to develop their products, they rely on being true to their vision and themselves.

5. Be A Factory Not A Warehouse

Trust your imagination. There is always something in the box.
— Patricia Ryan Madson

A lot of students and professionals will have an idea they have hung on to for 8 years and they don't want to tell anyone about it. They want to develop it eventually but they think other people are going to "steal" it. The problem with that is if you hold on to an idea, you're just dating yourself. As soon as you let that idea go another idea is going to spawn in it's place, don't worry about this being your only good idea. If this is your ONLY good idea then you're not a creative person. The more you let your ideas out into the universe, the faster your brain starts coming up with ideas to replace them and improve upon them. So just have faith that you will have more ideas, don't be afraid of letting them go. Don't be a warehouse with a very finite amount of space. Once you regularly think of and execute ideas, you become a factory, and you churn out ideas for a living. Additionally, you stay in tune with changes and updated technology and ways of thinking, this in turn makes your ideas better due to this exposure. You can't do that if you're holding on to old ideas, ways of thinking, and possibilities.

Almost done designing "Virtual Stand Up Comedian"...

Almost done designing "Virtual Stand Up Comedian"...

When you get used to letting old ideas out, and letting new ones germinate, you just keep churning things out. You kind of need that, because game development along with almost all entertainment, is a numbers game. It's the same with reality TV and movies. 90 percent of the stuff is going to fail and the the 10 percent that does work makes up for the majority that didn't make their money back. The only way you can get to those successful ideas is by having larger numbers. The more you do it, the faster it is for you to churn out even more creative ideas, and the faster it'll be for you to get to those hits. Believe it or not, your ideas will just get better and better, because you always learn something every time you let an idea go.

 

In the end, it is quite difficult to be a creative person AND make a living off of it. You have to dream like a child, but take responsibility like an adult. You must maintain that childlike imagination, while navigating that corporate world and adult life problems, in order to continue making original and fun products. 

This is EXACTLY what it's like.

This is EXACTLY what it's like.

The professional side of things always trend towards the bottom line, meetings and milestones. Remember that you're a creative person, that's the reason people buy entertainment, because it's a fun product. YOU make it fun. At the end of the day, fun is the most important metric to track a successful product by.