In October, I had the opportunity to attend two events that gave me a fresh perspective on my business. One was a writing retreat that only had twelve other writers attending. The other was a larger copywriting conference that had around 400 registrants.
I have to admit I preferred the writing retreat.
Plus, how can a writer (or anyone else for that matter) not love attending a writing retreat. In Vermont. In October?
I’m still unpacking everything I absorbed during the writing retreat, but here are a few things I learned and how it’s changing my life:
Creative Alchemy grows in fresh, new environments
I write in the same place almost every day. At home. At my desk. In complete silence.
I have a window on the side that allows me to gaze at the weather as I ponder ideas and thoughts for the project at hand.
I can’t write in a crowded cafe. It’s too tempting to eavesdrop and get caught up in my observations about my surroundings.
But I do know that doing the same thing, in the same place, can end up stifling one’s creativity. It’s good to break up the routine every once in awhile.
This is where a retreat can help. Traveling away from my home and spending twelve hours in a car allowed me to de-compress from my daily life and start to think of new ideas.
I was excited to be able to attend the retreat and the excitement continued throughout the time I spent in Vermont.
Although Steve Roller (the leader of the writing retreat), is a smart, creative guy… the true creativity came as a result of what I call “creative alchemy.” It happens when you’re in a room with a bunch of other creative people.
As I listened to Steve’s ideas, the creative pump started to get primed. But once the ideas were out and people started to discuss them, that’s when the waters of creativity really flowed.
I can’t overestimate how important it is to get together face-to-face with creative people.
Email doesn’t cut it. Facebook messages don’t cut it. And texting definitely doesn’t cut it.
These modern tools of communication end up truncating any creativity that has a chance to flow before the first trickle even starts.
Think about it.
You find yourself checking email then realize the laundry probably just finished its washing cycle, so you leave to attend that task…
Or you check Facebook briefly, see that someone left you a message that opened an interesting conversation and you answer it. But then you leave Facebook because you have to get back to work…
You’re working and a colleague texts you something that you really want to comment on at greater length, but you don’t have the time. So you quickly reply with a “Absolutely. Totally agree.”
How on earth can creative alchemy happen with such short exchanges?
Short answer: it can’t.
So I have taken some steps to fix my solitary life so that I interact more with people face-to-face. I joined a weekly networking group. I also am looking to increase my participation with an entrepreneurial center in town that attracts a lot of creative people.
I ask people to meet for coffee more often.
And you know what? Something new is happening in my business. I’m stirring things up and I’m getting introduced to new people, attracting new clients and working on new projects. Which is pretty exciting stuff.
So I challenge you to do something similar.
You might not have a writing or work-related retreat to attend, but look for opportunities to get together with other people who have a desire to grow and improve their business. It could be a Meetup group or a networking group in town.
There are many opportunities that already exist. If you can’t find one, start one! You might be surprised that others have been waiting for someone to do just that.
Creative Alchemy thrives when you feed your brain good stuff
How do you get ideas?
Well, we all know the Good Idea Fairy doesn’t come around too often. At least, not without a little coaxing.
Here’s my recipe for superb creative alchemy:
Take a few blogs from creative thinkers, add in some daily thoughts on the world from news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, sprinkle in some books that make you think and stir vigorously.
Then take a nap.
Some will laugh but once you fill your mind with thought-provoking information, it’s important to give your brain a rest. You need that information to percolate a bit inside your noggin. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas either just before I fell asleep or just as I awoke.
This may mean you’ll need to curtail your activity on social media or skip watching your favorite TV show, but it’s well worth it. You’re not going to get fresh ideas by mimicking others.
You get fresh ideas by absorbing information and then developing your own take on it.
Creative alchemy thrives when you do something
I took lots of notes during the writing retreat. I read some books, talked to some interesting people, and then mulled over some ideas.
But really, nothing happens until you do something.
Make a decision. Commit to it. And take action.
You can come up with the greatest ideas in the world, but if you don’t act upon them, they’re just dreams.
Part of being a creative is having too many ideas. The challenge is to find the ones worth pursuing. Sometimes it’s a matter of just choosing one and running with it.
Here’s an interesting fact: whenever I’ve gone forward with taking a risk and developing an idea, it’s always been followed by other ideas, some which have turned out really, really well.
It’s always made me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t followed up on Great Idea A. Would Great Idea B, C, and D have been born? I lean toward saying “no.”
I believe acting upon an idea births other ideas. Imperfect action beats over-analysis. Think of the term, “movers and shakers.” The “movers and shakers” of the world are in motion. They’re not still, like a pond. There is life to them… vibrancy. Energy.
This energy has to be cultivated. It’s why I returned from the retreat with a renewed commitment to increase my activity level – to pursue meeting more people face-to-face and fill my mind with new sources of information and inspiration.
Recently, an artist friend of mine (who also is an talented copywriter), introduced me to her artist journals. They were breathtaking. And they reminded me that my artistic talents had been relegated to digital design for far too long.
Bottom line: I needed to hold a pencil in my hands again.
So the following weekend, I visited a local art store and bought a Moleskine sketchbook, colored pencils, and a pencil accessory kit.
I’m starting out slow with some sketches and yes, they suck. At least for now they suck. But in time, my artistic eye is going to come back and I’ll be rocking and rolling again. Meanwhile, I believe that my experimentation is going to bring in even more creative alchemy in my life.
So go for it. The important thing is to move forward with your creativity. Find ways to cultivate it. Discover what inspires you and then make it a part of your daily and weekly life. Your life will be better for it.
About the author: Mary Rose Maguire
Copywriter. Content marketing specialist, B2B web copy, content marketing collateral, and email marketing. Tireless advocate for testing response. David Ogilvy is my invisible mentor, along with John Caples and Claude C. Hopkins. You can find me on Google+
Dear Mary Rose,
I wish you hadn’t used the word ‘Alchemy’ in the title of your article. Alchemy is pseudo science. Nothing you have written is pseudo. I realise that given a choice between ‘Alchemy’ and ‘Chemistry’ which, I think, is the more appropriate word, Chemistry sounds nerdy. Alchemy is sexy. It conjures up visions of a magical transformation. Ergo, your choice?
Here I am. Carping about one wee word when the rest of them were, well, alchemical.