Jessica Neill

25 May 2016

When copywriters need to step back and let the work breathe

Grandma’s hand

My Grandmother wasn’t the most affectionate woman. Her love ran deep but its journey through and out of her was less than straightforward.

I used to dread a visit to the shops. She’d grip my hand so tightly when we crossed the road that it hurt and frightened me. As a child I didn’t understand why she squeezed so hard. As an adult the answer seems obvious: her grip was born of love but ruled by fear.

I sometimes wonder if my creative projects can relate to this.

The thing

I’m making a documentary which has my family at its centre. For over a decade the documentary lived inside me as an idea, but it’s now taking shape. It has become a ‘thing’.

Heading up a tiny but talented team, I have to take this ‘thing’ (footage from three weeks in Jamaica, where my brother and I grew up) and shape it into a story. Needless to say I’ve had my fair share of fears about pulling it off.

Sometimes these fears manifest themselves as an inability to let go, an unwillingness to accept help or even admit that I need help. But a recent light bulb moment changed all that.

I’ve been so afraid of all the things this film might not be that I’ve neglected to let it be what it is. Just like Granny wringing the trust from my six year old hand, I’ve been suffocating the emerging narrative by holding on way too tight.

Yielding

I have, at times, found it difficult to shape what I’ve come to think of as an unyielding clay. But I’m the reason the clay won’t yield; it needs room to manoeuvre.

Although unfinished, Pick Me Up & Turn Me Round no longer lives in my head. It has claimed a space in the world. If I let go it’s not going to hurl itself under the first car it sees. It’s going to stretch its limbs and look around and start growing the way it’s supposed to grow. Just like anything else that’s alive.

Of course it will need guidance and encouragement and perhaps even reprimands. But I need to trust and listen to it, not force it to tell. I need to let it breathe.

Whether you’re working on a speech, a bid or even a difficult relationship, the temptation to hold on too tight when things get tricky is significant. But real freedom and creative reward can come from loosening your grip.

Oxygen

Life goes better with oxygen. Here are a few of my favourite ways to let things breathe:

  • Go for a walkWalking is a well-known problem solver. It takes you away from the issue that you’re tackling and gets you closer to the nature that you’re part of, even in the middle of a city.It makes a clearing in the forest of your mind and allows new thought to emerge. Just the ticket when the well runs dry.
  • Spend time aloneModern life is busy. Solitude often eludes. But if you don’t make time and space for yourself what hope does your project have?Joseph Roux once said: “Solitude vivifies.” Whether you read, go for a walk or meditate, spending time alone is an excellent way to vivify your project, and yourself.
  • Do something elseThe blank page. The obstinate paragraph. We’ve all been there.There’s a time to grit your teeth and plough on and there’s a time to walk away. If you’re strangling the life out of something then you might want to consider the latter.

    Play that hard-to-get muse at her own game and take someone else out for dinner. The work will still be there when you get back.

Any suggestions? Do you have any tips for giving your creativity space to breathe?


What do you think?

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Kirsten Irving

May 31, 2016 at 12:19pm

Agree wholeheartedly. A brain break is time well spent, and lets your mind mix up the ingredients you’ve given it. For the same reason, tea breaks, breakfast and lunch should not be missed.

I have the opposite problem to needing time alone, myself. I find co-working helps me relax and think so much more.

Things I’ve found helpful as brain-breaks include:
1. lying down and listening to podcasts
2. meditation or mindfulness (youtube has so many videos)
3. reading.

And your suggestion of a walk is timeless and true. Exercise really gets your brain going and gets some fresh air into your thinking.

It also gives your eyes a break from the screen.

Thanks so much for this, Jessica, and good luck with the documentary!

Jessica Neill

May 31, 2016 at 12:27pm

Thanks Kirsten! Love your suggestions. I don’t meditate enough actually, really good idea.

Have a great day now.