Deadlines, Clients and Other Workplace Hazards: 11 Creatives on How to Cope (Pt 2)
Nada Alic / WNW Member
Welcome to Part 2 of our Workplace Hazards series. In Part 1, we covered everything from bad emails, awkward phone calls and business lunches, read more on that here. Here, we ask 11 creatives to share their strategies on how to deal with the emotional minefield of receiving criticism, scrolling through Instagram, and being creative when you don’t feel like it. Creativity can sometimes feel like a shy squirrel-like creature who only comes out when it’s completely safe, so managing your reactions to the sometimes uncomfortable encounters you have throughout the day is your best bet for protecting your creative state. Some days, it just won’t happen for you and that’s fine too. But when you’re on a deadline or you’re really just wanting to get on with your day, there are some things you can do besides having a total meltdown or telling everyone you “quit art.” Because let’s be real, what else will you do with that degree in art history?? Instead, take a deep breath, grab a CBD latte, and read on!
You are on a deadline and you can’t muster one ounce of creativity from your soul. What do you do?
If it's a writing gig, it's usually the opener (or the mere act of starting the damn thing) that gets me, so I usually start somewhere in the middle of the piece before coming back to the beginning later. Also, I've realized that futzing around for at least half the day is just part of the process for me, so I let it happen, and usually around 4 or 5pm my brain turns on and it's go go go. If all else fails, I take a shower; that's usually when the ideas come. - Randi, writer and podcaster
Go for a walk. I recently heard a lecture that had to do with processing trauma stuck in your limbic system. Now I'm no expert so do your own research, but essentially you cross your hands on your chest and tap your collarbone left right left right (you can also put your right hand on your left knee and your left hand on your right knee and tap your knees). My understanding is that essentially this helps connect the left side of your brain to the right side of your brain which then can help you process your trauma. It seems like going for a walk engages my brain in a similar way due to the repetitive walking steps and helps open me up. - Kenny, filmmaker
Oh god, you're speaking directly to me. I have two very non-glamourous options. The first one I try is by waking up super early and going to — yep — Starbucks. As a freelancer, sometimes working from home is just too distracting or casual to feel like a place where you can kick your own ass. I'm a morning person so I'd almost always rather get some sleep and wake up early to bang it out — even if it's the day of a deadline (sleep must come first). It's truly amazing how much I'll get done at a Starbucks (as opposed to literally anywhere else). Probably because there's literally nothing inspiring to distract you. Anyway, if that doesn't work I'll just get real with the editor. Only a jerk wouldn't let you have another day or two to come up with a better, more inspired result. - Ashley, writer
It sounds counterintuitive and this is not a one-size-fits-all prescription—but when I cannot be fucked to finish a project when I’m up against it, I find a glass of scotch can help to grease the wheels, allow me to cross my eyes, and just bang the sucker out. - Nick, writer & director
Finish it. At a certain point you need to move on to the next. Not every piece is worth your “portfolio” or the art you thought you could make of it. - Stephen, photographer
It really depends on the project and the relationship with the employer. Sometimes I just have to push through and pull it together. Other times, I try to be honest and ask for a short extension. - Sara, writer
I try to take a mental break and revisit the project after clearing my mind. If that doesn't work, I just push through it and make *something*. Sometimes I end up happy with what I end up making anyway. - Gaby, illustrator
I read somewhere in the last few years that procrastination is a reaction to anxiety, and although that now sounds so completely obviously to me, I didn’t really think about it like that for a long time. Not being able to meet a deadline has everything to do with feeling inadequate, depressed, anxious, and nothing to do with having some block of divine creative intervention. But, it still FEELS real, so we have to find ways to cope! Sometimes, when I’m dreading an approaching deadline and I don’t “feel the spark,” I clean my desk, and then my office, and then water all my plants, until I’m so bored of that that I finally sit down in front of my computer and get to work. Sometimes, though, I set my alarm clock early — for 6 AM, which, for a freelancer is obscene — just so I can start my day with fresh coffee and a few episodes of Baywatch, (season one). That puts me in a good mood to get more done by the time it’s 8 o’clock. I’ve found it’s less about finding balance than it is about getting used to the ebb and flow of extremes. Freelance is feast or famine, every day is going to feel different, and you have to just kind of go with the flow. The alternative is letting “the flow” drown you, so I’ve found it’s just easier to comply and give myself a break for being human. - Erin, writer & publisher
I've started meditating (thanks to your article, actually!) and sketching every day, and having this routine has really helped to get me into a flow of creativity that I felt was lacking when I only sat down to create when I had a deadline. - Carmela, illustrator
You just scrolled through social media and saw that one of your peers achieved something that you wish you could have achieved. How do you react?
I have horrible advice for this, it plagues me. Actually I know: put them on MUTE. It may sound immature, but sometimes the only way to deal is just to be oblivious. - Randi
As insecure as I can be, I'm thankfully really able to separate this. My immediate response is to be truly happy for that person. If I'm feeling really down on my work at the same time, I might suggest getting together with them and picking their brain about their process. - Ashley
I’m encouraged by the success of my peers. If this giabrono can do it, what in the world is keeping me from doing the same? - Nick
Focus on comparing myself to who I was a year ago rather than to them. - Stephen
Double tap! Congratulate them and think about their process, how mine could have been different. I have a particular friend I will not name who constantly shares things with me and says “look I had this idea 10 years ago.” Sadly I’m not kidding but this guy does it all the time and I’ve responded with saying that doesn’t help anyone, ideas float around everywhere and staying positive about seeing someone doing something you wish you had done is the healthiest approach. Having a perspective of curiosity and admiration for other artwork achievements is critical for a healthy perspective. - Elena, photographer
I try to think about what steps that person must have taken to get there and then I try to figure out what I can do in the moment to feel like I'm taking even a tiny step in that direction. I honestly feel motivated and inspired - Gaby
I usually counteract my jealous side and go full sunshine, perhaps because I hope to train myself to be less of an asshole. I’ll comment on the post, saying something real and true and NICE, and then usually eat a family size bag of salt and vinegar chips. - Erin
At first, definitely jealousy, but quickly switching to congratulatory/awe at the work, especially if the peer is a woman or POC because this industry doesn't make it easy to achieve and especially create work that is in line with your personal work. It also is a kick in the ass to get on my personal work and work harder so I can accomplish things rather than sitting there wishing I did. - Carmen
This is so hard! I remind myself that we are all on different levels and that there is room for everyone in the creative world. I try to make a very conscious effort to ignore the little "jealousy monster" that sometimes appears, and to feel excited and impressed by my peers' achievements. And then I try to get inspired, and think that if they have achieved something incredible, I can as well. - Carmela
You submitted work you’re proud of but your client sends it back for revisions or doesn’t love it. How do you deal?
This used to drive me nuts because the number of editors who think editing means rewriting something in their tone is SHOCKING, but I've kind of eased up on it. If it's something with my name on it, I try to come up with a compromise, if my name is absent, I will still try to come up with a compromise, but give in to them a little more.... everyone knows clients are crazy! - Randi
This happens a lot with writing. If I'm passionate enough, I'll fight back for the original or at least what I think it a better compromise. If it's a project that I don't need to represent me — then let them have it their (dumb) way. - Ashley
There are times when the client gives you really good notes and they do help to improve your work. There are many more times when they send you unfiltered, nebulous, stream-of-consciousness brain sick just so that their higher-ups see them contributing and it’s the least helpful thing ever. Just do what they say (if you can decipher their enigma) and get yourself paid! - Nick
If I have concrete reasons for wanting to keep things as they are, I try to explain them to the client (while remaining open to the possibility that I still might end up having to make changes). I also make sure that I keep a file of the version I prefer, to possible use in my portfolio. - Gaby
Even if I think the revision ideas are awful I’ll still do them, it’s better to do it all because you never know what new idea might come out of the revisions, after you’ve worked on several revisions you can look at the options together and see what’s best. - Elena
Show them that you're open to revisions and want to get on the same page about the project so they do ultimately love it. - Sara
Good work is subjective and perhaps work I'm proud of isn't exactly in line with the client's vision so I accommodate the client's needs. They're paying so they should have a say. I get to have my say over everything when I create personal work. - Carmen
I used to have a hard time with this but I've learned that it doesn't mean my work is bad - it just wasn't what the client was expecting for this particular project, and that's okay. I think it's important to remember that I'm doing work for someone else, and that means they have to be happy with the outcome. - Carmela
Your day got away from you and you got busy running errands. How do you not feel like the day was wasted?
Relish in the fact that you are freelance and can do it all again tomorrow. - Randi
Honestly, you probably needed to do that, and it might have been a subconscious way of getting some much needed fresh air so you don't keep beating a dead horse. Tell yourself that now you've got less distractions and excuses now to bang it out and power through. And of course, last minute-ness always seems to be a great motivator. - Ashley
The day is long. Stay-up late and get something, anything, done. Or give up and drink. Whichever. - Nick
My to-do list is never ending, and I always cram as much as possible into one day. I still get disappointed sometimes when I feel like I haven’t achieved enough but I realize that I know I do the best I can so even if a day is taken up errands that’s a great accomplishment! You have to do what’s right for you, running the errands, or going on a hike, or watching a film, whatever feels right for you is not a waste of time in my opinion :) - Elena
Plan and commit to everything you wanted to get done on errand day, the next day. ie. do better tomorrow. No point dwelling on an "unproductive" day. Also, errands are necessary too even though it isn't deep work. You have to do it at some point! - Carmen
I still have a very hard time with this. If I'm not exhausted or if I have something urgent to deliver, I'll work longer hours and get whatever I need to get done, done. But if there's nothing urgent, then I remind myself that the errands were part of what I needed to get done and sometimes that's part of life and part of being a freelancer. - Carmela
You got an offer to do a project that’s not in line with your interests at all. What do you do?
Do I need the money? Ha! If yes, or if it's something I want on my portfolio (because I've simply been dying to work with that company), I'll make it work. If it's not, I'll just be super clear that it's not a fit and therefore I just can't make the time. - Ashley
I typically will try and find someone else I know who’d be eager to take the gig and pass it off to them. In one of my brokest moments, I was offered a lucrative gig making Zionist propaganda. Run—don’t walk—away from these offers. - Nick
Turn it down unless it pays extremely well & you push through or there’s something you can still take away from it even if that’s the smallest lesson/stepping out of your comfort zone. - Stephen
If it's a low-paying project that feels like it wouldn't be worth the time, I just say that I'm too busy to take it on. If it's something that pays well, I try to see it as a challenge in turning something potentially boring into something I actually like. - Gaby
Thank the person for reaching out and refer them to someone else who might be able to help. - Carmen
I've started learning to say no. For example, logo design is something I've been trying to get away from and stop doing, so whenever I get a proposal for that I explain that it isn't something I do anymore, and usually suggest someone I know who can do a better job. I think a good way of saying no is by suggesting someone else who can say yes. - Carmela
Depends how poor you are! - Randi
Nada Alic is a Los Angeles-based editor, writer and content strategist with 9 years of professional experience. Currently, she's working on a collection of fiction. Previously, Nada was the Editorial Director for e-comm arts platform Society6. Before that, she was agency-side, managing editorial for Gap Inc. properties. She also built Etsy's first Canadian HQ, and has had work featured in VICE, Nasty Gal, Ephemera Mag, Time Out LA, Cool Hunting, and People of Print.
Artwork by Liisa Kruusmägi