I keep this scrap of paper, pasted to an old piece of poster board, pinned to the bulletin board right next to my desk at home. It’s not much to look at, but I look at it fairly regularly — The 10 Commandments for Reporters.
It’s pretty amazing that I still have it. I think the message on the paper was printed on a dot matrix printer, which should tell you how old it is.
I’ve carefully protected this remnant through countless moves across the country. There have been times I wondered what was so special about it that I should keep it. But as I grow older and reflect more on my younger self, I realize that it was a piece a career advice from a teacher who changed my course.
I don’t even remember her name. But I remember her journalism class was tough. So tough I was failing it (I had never even gotten a C — let alone fail). I nearly dropped out. But one day it clicked. And once it clicked, I was hooked on journalism. Still am, even though my path has taken me into the digital world, far from a newspaper or TV broadcast.
I’m still a creative with a thirst for knowledge, and I think these commandments are essential for more than just reporters. Because following these commandments can set you apart when everyone else is just skating by.
10 Commandments for Creatives
Observe carefully and listen attentively.
In our fast-paced industry, we often get so caught up in the “doing”, that we forget to look around.
When my head is to the grindstone, I miss stuff — ideas, techniques, people! Plus, observing and listening is so important when it comes to our clients and our users. We need to hear what they have to say and even hear what they’re NOT saying so we can produce work that gives them the very best experience.
Stock the mental cupboard.
This is one of my favorite pieces of advice. It means — LEARN and keep on learning. About everything! Learning should never stop. One of my favorite ways to learn is to pick a subject I’m interested in and listen to a book. I love Audible, and I have been listening to the Great Courses, which is a series of lectures from university professors. One that I heard was on critical thinking. Another was on entrepreneurship. It doesn’t have to be just in subjects related to your career. In fact — it shouldn’t. You should allow your mind to stretch across subjects. I recently read a book called Brain Rules, which I highly recommend, which is about brain science and how we think. And when I really want to challenge myself, I’ll pick out one of the math or science books that Andy keeps in the house. Anyone interested in string theory physics?
Read carefully and regularly.
This is definitely related to “stocking the mental cupboard.” I know it can be a challenge. A lot of people don’t read anymore.
I had trouble finding time to read between my job and my family. I no longer have the luxury of reading all day on a Saturday when the whim strikes. Time is precious. Here are some things that worked for me:
- I use Feedly regularly. It’s a blog reader that’s even better than what Google Reader used to be. I can pull all sorts of news feeds into one place and peruse them at my leisure, from web and technology, to cooking and inspiration.
- I listen to books when I’m driving, cooking and even exercising. I know — listening to a book isn’t the same as reading it. But it’s what works for me right now. I mentioned how much I love Audible. But you can check out great audio books from the library, too. Austin’s Public Library has their whole catalog online so you can easily download audio books to your computer.
- I read chapter books to my kids. I got bored with storybooks a long time ago. When my son was just a baby I started reading him chapter books. We read The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Harry Potter and more. He’s 9 now, and I still read out loud. Both he and my daughter look forward to our reading time together. We just finished Bridge to Terebithia and we were all crying at the end. It’s just as good as a book club and you don’t have the read fast.
By the way, reading the headlines in your social media news feed doesn’t count. You need to actually read the articles attached to those links your Facebook friends are sharing.
Build a wide acquaintanceship.
When I worked in news, most of the people I knew and hung out with were also in news. They were awesome people, but my interaction with the world was limited. But there were some people who really opened my eyes — people who had different experiences because they didn’t have the same career path as me. My neighbors in Nashville were amazing. They were college professors and absolutely fascinating. I learned so much from them.
But you don’t have to be friends with college professors to learn a lot from other people. One way to meet people is to network. I have a networking group and over time I’ve met quite a few people just from that group. There’s Michael, a roofer, and Chris, a mover. There’s Holly, a nutrition consultant, Carrie, a physical therapist, and so many others. These are people who have not only taught me a lot, but now I have a network of people to turn to when I need a expert in a particular field.
Display initiative and resourcefulness.
You don’t get anywhere waiting for your next big break. You’ve got to make things happen for yourself. When I was an employee, I found that I was promoted faster when I took initiative to help out or work on projects that benefited the company. And now, as the employer, I appreciate that in my employees. It shows dedication and determination. It’s just good mojo.
Exercise diligence and patience.
My journalism teacher intended this to be about following that story and working hard on a lead until it panned out. For creatives, this is really about working hard on that project down to the last detail. It’s better to put time into the details than to rush it out the door. Be diligent in your work and patient with yourself.
Use imagination, but don’t fake.
I highly encourage imagination. I’m one of those people who is often coming up with crazy ideas. “You know what would be great?…” What if we…” Sally and I, in particular, have spent many hours scheming and dreaming up ideas. Most of them don’t end up becoming reality, but just the exercise of brainstorming leads to amazing work.
Still, it’s important not to take credit for other people’s ideas. I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due. If I didn’t dream up the idea, I don’t want to take credit for it. It’s dishonest and unethical to steal. Don’t do it.
Write, and keep on writing.
I fell out of the habit of writing when things got busy. But thanks to a recent conference I went to, Jeffrey Zeldman inspired me to start writing again when he talked about how important it is to get your ideas out there. Some people have told me they don’t write because they’re not good at it. Well, you can only get better at something by doing it, right? Start a blog, start a journal… whatever you do — write something.
Think clearly and accurately.
Focus is important when you’re creating – whether it’s designing a logo or developing a website. I know that I have trouble focusing when I’m distracted. My email and my phone are constantly going off. I have employees that need to ask me questions or children that are telling me about their day. I can’t turn away from the people, but I can help myself focus by turning off my phone and email, putting on my headphones, and really zoning into my work.
Make wide use of leisure time.
You are not your job. Let me repeat that — you are not your job. And you can’t reach your height of creativity if you don’t give yourself downtime. You will find your greatest inspiration when you are not at work. Maybe you’ll find it walking your dog, standup paddle boarding, or creating a mosaic piece of art. Whatever it is — rest your brain and find new inspiration in the world.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. I STILL struggle with all of these, and I’ve been carrying around this piece of paper since I was 16.
What are your commandments for creativity?