The dreaded “full creative freedom”

full-creative-freedom“Do whatever you want, you have full creative freedom!

I cringe when I hear those dreaded words. You should too. No creative ever wants full creative freedom. We need parameters, deadlines, timeline, budgets, brand identity guidelines, licensing guidelines, whatever. You might as well be clearing snow from the tarmac at Liberty International with only a toy beach shovel knowing a 747 could come barreling in from any direction at any moment with no notice. Yes, the idea is really that stress inducing.

So why do I bring this up? Because I’ve heard this probably a billion times now and I bet you have too. It’s not out of malice mind you, it’s not like your manager or the VP way up the line intended to cause you turmoil, they think it’s what you desire. To the outside world, the one thing all of us creatives desire more than anything else – more than a pay raise, recognition for our hard work or a long overdue promotion – is full creative freedom. They can’t be more off the mark.

It’s a simple fact for those not in the know: full creative freedom paralyzes us with fear and anxiety. And that leads to less than desirable execution of the job at hand. And an even less than desirable job performance flag on our annual reviews.

For everyone else in the know trying to curb this problem from damaging your ego and corrupting your portfolio, I offer you these recommendations derived from my many years of trials and tribulations:

1. Ask for parameters, i.e. deadlines, intended goals, all that stuff you need and want to know.

Demand it, set a timeframe for reviews. Confirm the intent of the creative work at hand. When they say, “whatever works for you” tell them tagging your street name on each of the south-facing cubicle walls probably won’t accomplish the goal. Fun, yes!

2. Be polite and respectful, but don’t be a doormat.

It’s easy to feel compelled to say yes to everything the boss tells you. The reality is, saying yes to everything creates two problems: 1. you take on more work than you can or should handle for the timeframe; and 2. you become the go-to-guy for doing all the garbage work because no one expects you to say no. Bottom line: learn to say no, respectfully, and for valid reasons. Most importantly, don’t be pompous about it.

3. Be honest.

Tell the boss that full creative freedom is much too broad and therefore vague. She or he should appreciate this perspective, most likely having to endure a similar matter in their own job history. Honesty goes a long way in the professional world, and is often appreciated and admired.

4. Don’t bitch and complain to your co-workers about the burden you allowed yourself to take on.

First, if you allowed it to happen, you have no one to blame but yourself. Suck it up, deal with it. Don’t complain. Secondly, if you do complain to your peers, guess what? Rumors spread, faster than that blood rush to your head during that dare to hang from the hotel balcony by your feet at Spring Break. No, I never did that, I just had to create a far-fetched scenario to make sure you’re paying attention. Point is: follow the first three steps and this fourth will not need to apply. You’re  a smart person, do the right thing.

Whether you follow my advice is your ultimate decision. I share it based on a career’s worth of successes and mistakes made in the creative field. And my goal is to help you, the reader, learn from my experiences. All I ask is that you accept or decline what I have to offer with respect and dignity. I wish you all success in your creative endeavors, and to pay it forward.

Good luck.

On writing in business: 5 Steps to avoiding tone-deaf emails

going 2 lunchSince I’ve been writing about work-related communications on this blog lately, I thought I would touch on a subject that makes my teeth hurt – tone-deaf emails. Now I know the proper usage and definition of tone-deaf, but I find its concept applicable to this subject on a multidimensional scale.

Tone-deaf emails are simply emails written with a total disregard to the tone, or emotion, the message conveys. I have received a lot of them in my professional life, I’m sure you have too. There are the gratuitously angry messages like, “you NEED to do this NOW!!!” in the subject line with a blank body. And there are the five words or less messages like “thanks – got it” or “can you do it????” They seem harmless enough, but consider receiving them several times an hour – all day every day. The sheer quantity of these simple messages adds up to piles of resentment and gnawing frustration as a complete lack of humanity grows apparent.

We all need humanity in our relationships with other people; communication, emails included, is a critical element in all relationships. But you already know this. Thing is, this applies to business relationships too, they are no less valuable than one with a spouse, child, or parent. So why treat business relationships as lesser status?

Here are five steps that should take up residence in your subconscious to avoid being tone-deaf in your work emails.

1. Mood is everything.

Think about the emails that piss you off. You feel like the sender is a nasty, ego-centric ogre who shows no gratitude or respect for your valuable time. These emails suck. They throw off your mood. Don’t be one of these tone-deaf senders. Don’t be an ogre.

The solution is actually quite easy, it just requires care and attention to detail, and an extra minute of your time for review, to avoid a tenure of acrimony. Start by maintaining professionalism. Be cheerful if appropriate, but don’t ever spew anger or frustration in an email. Simply stated, be nice and respectful. Even if it’s to communicate a negative topic. It makes the recipient more likely to cooperate rather than throw a chair at your head at the next meeting.

2. Timing is everything too.

You have full control over the time when composing an email. There is no prize for clicking that send button quickly. Save a draft for later if you’re in a hurry. Review, revise, and edit what you wrote, you can avoid mistakes that would otherwise lead to several back-and-forth question and answer sessions clarifying what you originally wrote – how annoying is that? I’ve seen it happen to people I work with, it becomes stressful on both ends.

3. Be decisive.

It’s incredibly unnecessary to include your thought and decision-making processes. No one wants or needs to read, “hmmmmmm … let me think about this … maybe … not sure … well, okay …… yeah … let’s go with it.” Be decisive and direct, leave out the garbage.

4. Brevity counts, but only if it’s clear.

Like my examples in the introduction, those five words or less messages can lead to many questions wasting a lot of time. “That project from a few weeks back – status?” does not accomplish clarity, especially when considering the average person has several concurrent projects at any given time. Going back to mood, it’s easy to be ambiguous. What you may consider a good-natured message may come across as negative to a recipient who is having a bad day.

Keeping it short is fine, generally a good thing, but be specific in message and mood. Humanity matters here.

5. Good grammar and punctuation shows you care.

Just like good manners at the dinner table, good grammar and proper use of punctuation show you care about what you do, that you care about others, and how you want to be perceived. Sadly, I see a serious decline in all forms of online and digital communication. I cringe at ninety percent of the content I see on Twitter and Facebook.

There are thousands of articles on this topic available online, so all I will say is this: think about how you want others to see yourself before sending a message like: “Hey, r u going 2 lunch at 1??? Ill prolly b late.”

Take a minute to look at what you wrote before hitting send.

It’s the difference between being a good communicator or a tone-deaf pejorative you don’t want people calling you behind your back.

Don’t overthink, just write

blah blah blah In my usual efforts to avoid the work I really need to do – write my book – I find myself reading all sorts of articles related to writing. All offering positive advice with the best intentions appearing on blogs, and educational and professional writing sites. I like to see what’s out there hoping I might learn something new. And I’ve come to a conclusion: there are a lot of overthinkers out there offering superfluous advice to aspiring writers. In turn, these nascent writers are online seeking quick solutions to their questions and hurdles allowing them to become passive about their art. Not good.

Overthinker on opposite gender writing.

One overthinker’s piece snagged me with its barbed hook; I needed to read it. His article was built around the idea that male writers need to be in touch with and comprehend feminism in order to write female characters. But it has to be right kind of feminism, otherwise it means some entirely different vague thing that was never clearly described.

Look, I’m paraphrasing here, and I’m intentionally not linking the article in question as I’m not looking for a fight. There are hundreds more like it, if you don’t believe me I challenge you to see this Google search. This is a genuine link to Google and will not show anything bad. It’s safe for work, it’s even safe for preschool. I promise.

The article was overwrought with justifications for the apparent complexity of the female character issue, playing off the idea that male writers just can’t write female characters. Rather, they write about their ideals of what women should be or their disdain for women. Essentially creating archetypes, not characters, or more likely stereotypes. Male writers spend all of their time describing male characters by carefully not making them female because they can’t overtly give male and female characters certain anatomical parts to define their genders. And it went on and on and on. I wondered if Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates would agree with this guy’s perspective.

I stopped halfway. My brain produced an agonizing scream as it processed this convoluted mess. I’ve underestimated its vocalization capabilities all these years. It was brutal. I hope it never happens again. Ever.

So, here’s the deal, my advice to you.

Ignore that overthought stuff, it’s not helping you. If you’re male and you need to write a female character – do it. Don’t overthink it, don’t make assumptions, just write what feels right. Write what you know, what you don’t know, what makes sense for the story, what makes it a great story. Reality will reveal itself. The female character will come across just as authentic as your male character. It doesn’t hurt to make sure one of your readers is female. There are those little societal gender cues that are easy to miss. For example, you’ll rarely ever hear a woman say, “I gotta go take a piss.”

This advice is multidisciplinary and cross-functional. And universal!

No subject escapes the death grip of overthinking. Overthinkers are another manifestation of what we know as red tape in government and multiple layers of bureaucratic management in a corporation. I’m still searching for the source of these unnecessary convolutions, my current theory is that they are rooted in human nature. The fact that everyone feels a need to have control, to have a say in how things are done. To be armchair philosophers and basement dwelling anthropologists exploring the human condition with nothing more than the tool that gives you access to all things, the Internet. Laziness combined with ego. A dreadful combination.

I mock and joke. But in reality, ninety-eight percent* of the time I ignore that stuff when I write. And so should you.

Don’t overthink, just write.

* That other two percent is used for locating source material for blog entries like this. Time well spent.