Writers and designers in the communications and advertising industries--where I work--expend enormous amounts of creativity every day. And we should. We are paid to be creative. The hitch is, we are creating to serve someone else's dream--we are writing in someone else's room, so to speak, and they get to set the house rules. Often, those rules don't make a lot of sense to outsiders. Successful writers (and designers) have to learn how to offer up their best work and most informed opinions--and then smile and make the client's often less-informed--and even ill-advised--revisions. It can be hard.
The solution? Keep a room of your own. Make time and space to pursue your own writing, design, and artistic dreams independent of your client work. Think you don't have the time? You don't have the time not to. Having projects that allow your creativity the opportunity to experiment, explore, and learn will allow you to keep offering your best work to your clients--and smiling pleasantly and implementing their revisions, even when you don't agree with them. If you have your own projects, it's possible to remember when it's not your own project, let go, and honor your client's vision--no matter what you may think of it privately. After all, it's not your piece, right?
Without that "room of your own," that space where you are free to exercise your creativity in the ways that seem best to you, chances are good that you'll burn out, or turn into a hack, cranking out the same old tired designs time after time after time. The creative work you do on your own will fuel and inspire the creativity you offer your clients. My college writing professor once likened editing to "having your baby's legs cut off to make it fit into the cradle." Having your own writing and art makes it possible to say, "Hey, I don't like it, but it's not my baby," and make the revisions, send the bill, and cash the check.
We owe our clients our best efforts, our creativity, our marketing knowledge--if it applies--and our courtesy. We do not owe them our souls. Keep yours safe by building it a room of its own.
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.