The other evening I went to a D&AD celebration of their student classes.
A young female creative team came over for a chat.
One of them said “What do you do when you get creative block. How do you unblock it?”
I said “I bet you’re the copywriter half of the team.”
She said, “How do you know that?”
I said “Because that’s a writer’s question. An art director wouldn’t ask that.”
She asked me what I meant.
I said the actual buck for having an idea rests on the writer’s shoulders.
How well you do it rests on the art directors shoulders.
Art direction is necessarily a more right brain occupation.
It’s to do with the ‘feeling’ side of the brain.
You can’t ‘logic’ your way to a good visual.
You have to have taste, style, judgement, a sense of what works visually.
All of those are right brain, sensory attributes.
You can’t reason whether 9pt Bodoni will work better than 10pt Caslon.
You can’t logic whether you should have single-directional lighting or bounce in a lot of fill.
You have to just know what looks right.
You have to feel what will work better.
But a writer isn’t right brain, a writer is left brain.
Words, at least in our business, aren’t about feel.
Words are about logic and persuasion.
And reason is about working out logically what we’re doing and why.
So, whereas an art director will always be concerned about HOW we’re doing something.
A writer will always be concerned with WHAT we’re doing.
Once the idea exists an art director can always make it better.
But if the idea doesn’t exist, he hasn’t got anything to make better.
So the pressure to come up with ideas is always on the copywriter.
It might be on the art director too.
But it’s greater on the copywriter because that’s supposed to be his job.
That’s why I said her’s was a writer’s question.
She was trying to logically work her way out of a problem.
Which is why it was also a very smart question.
I’ve got this old bloke here, how can I use him?
What has he got that I need?
What does he know that’s useful?
So I told her what I’ve learned over the years.
Each of us is different, so each of us has to find out what works for us.
You have to experiment.
You have to try getting drunk, and working next day with a hangover.
You have to try going to the cinema.
You have to try art galleries.
We are in the centre of one of the two most important cities in the world, culturally.
If you can’t find it here, you can’t find it.
But all everyone does is sit at their desk and look at YouTube.
The problem is exactly that.
Everyone is doing the same thing.
For me, one of the most important things is getting away from your desk.
Changing the physical location also changes your mental environment.
It gives you a much greater chance of fresher stuff happening.
So sometimes I’d just sit on the tube, do a complete round of the Circle line, and look at the people.
Pick a particular person and think “What could I say to you, just you, one-to-one, that would work?”
Sometimes I’d go to the supermarket, I’d stand in front of my client’s display.
I’d watch how people shopped.
How they approached that section, how they browsed, what they bought.
If they bought the competitor, I’d think “How do I get you to move your hand two shelves up and pick my client’s brand instead?”
Something else that works for me is standing outside yourself.
Study the machinery, work out how to get the best out of it.
For me, that meant waking it up.
When I was young, I used to go to work in torn jeans and a T-shirt.
I used to think being comfortable was really important.
But being comfortable is actually the opposite of what you want.
You don’t want to be relaxed, in comfy slippers, ready for sleep.
You want to be wide-awake, sharp, always thinking, always aware.
So I stopped wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
I got up every morning: shaved, showered, washed my hair.
I put on a clean, crisp shirt and a suit.
And dressed as if I was going out to a party on Saturday night.
And that worked really well for me.
It kept my full brain wide-awake and sharp, paying attention to whatever I was working on.
Now I don’t know if any of that will work for her.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is she’s looking for the answer.
And she’s going to use anyone as an opportunity.
And she doesn’t care who it comes from.
And she’s got an enquiring mind.
And she’s not shy.
She’ll be good.