Swell Press Process | Riding the Wave of The Creative Process


A question I’m frequently asked is where my ideas come from and what my creative process is like. To me, the answers to those questions are instrinsically linked- and while I don’t necessarily think I’m an expert in this field, I can share what my personal process is like.

Like other creatives, I’ve always considered myself somewhat ‘precious’ when it comes to getting into The Zone. What’s The Zone? The Zone is where the magic happens, and my favorite part of the Creative Process. The Zone is where I feel like I’ve struck gold- where I have too many ideas rushing through my head that I can’t write them down fast enough, I’m genuinely excited to the core that I get to do this as a living, and there’s a surge of adrenaline at the thought of the final product. I love The Zone. I want to live in The Zone. I wish I could hop right off platform 9 3/4 onto The Zone Express whenever I need to. But, it’s not that easy. My journey to The Zone is a delicate one fraught with frustration, creative block, doubt, and insecurity- which is actually all just a part of my personal process.

These artists below have perfectly captured what myself, and I think so many other creatives / artists experience as this creative cycle.
Original sources linked via photos.

After doing this for a few years, I’ve come to recognize a few key stages of my ‘process’, and identifying them has helped my sanity, my scheduling, and my business. Here are some things I’ve learned that help me, and maybe they’ll do the same for you:

1. KNOW your process. Seems a little redundant, right? But this one has been HUGE for me- specifically identifying one key part of my process- The Void. In every project, there comes the moment when I am paralyzed, with no concrete ideas, and what seems like no potential sparks of creativity. Some abstract ideas may linger, but there is nothing I can put onto paper. I stare at a blank canvas* (*an Illustrator artboard), panicking, and debate telling the client that I won’t be able to deliver on their vision. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s true despair (in the creative sense)- this part of the process is what I call The Void. I visit The Void every. single. time. It’s safe to say that behind any custom project I’ve shared, there was time in The Void.

As someone whose livelihood depends on the very ability to REALIZE ideas and bring them to life, The Void is the scariest part of it all, because the suckiest part is that it doesn’t stop at the lack of ideas. The Void also sucks out hope and replaces everything with feelings of defeat and other fears- I doubt myself, my ability, I am convinced I am unworthy. Imposter syndrome? Yep, that’s me.

Those drawings I shared above? Seems like I’m not alone in this part. And guess what? Because it happens every time, I know it’s just a part of the process. So now when I’m sucked into The Void, I entertain the emotions and discouragement that comes with it, but I know it’s all a farce, it’s an [anti]muse that I must dance with in order to get to the next step. I know I’ll come out of The Void, eventually. And just that little nugget of wisdom- knowing that those moments of despair are a part of the process and not the end to the process- has helped me immensely.

2. Find an environment that cultivates creativity and focus. Remember when I said I’m a bit precious? It means try as I might, I can’t get into The Zone if I’m around other people- I need to be alone with no distractions. If I had access to a soundproof room with only a desk in the corner, you’d find me there most of the time. For a while I fought the notion that The Zone and workdays at the studio couldn’t mutually exist- I bought a giant computer with a giant screen where I’d truly feel immersed in the work, noise-cancelling headphones, I faced my desk against a wall. But the reality is that as a business owner who is supervising operations in a busy studio most days- pausing to do press-checks, answering questions, and delegating properly- working in the studio is great for so many things, but not for deeply creative work. The space where I can find the most solace usually means late nights or weekends- aka, outside of business hours. I’ve read that if you’re distracted from a task at hand, it takes about 23 minutes to recover. Knowing this, and knowing the physical space I need to do my best work, has helped me schedule my life, my projects, and my workflow properly. If I have a custom project that I know will take a lot of mental creative energy, I set aside the physical and mental space it requires.

Keep in mind that the environment that gets you to The Zone may be totally different than mine, and it may change based on the project you’re doing. My friend Nicole did the bulk of authoring her book at her neighborhood Starbucks- surrounded by people, crowded by shoppers and fellow caffeine-lovers. Personally an open space with patrons buzzing about is not my cup of tea (very boring and obvious pun intended), but it’s whatever works for you.

3. Know when to push through, and know when to take breaks. There’s only so much I can stare at a blank computer screen, trying to conjure ideas with no avail, until I need to get out into the world. Some days I’ll set a timer, and if I haven’t made any real progress for two hours, I’ll take a walk outside to a local coffee shop. I’ll do my best to stop thinking about the task at hand, letting my mind wander and listen to music. Frequently, my best ideas come when I’ve pushed the project out of my conscious mind and I’m thinking about something completely unrelated. Those ‘aha’ moments you get when you’re in the shower? There’s some science behind that.

When I’ve removed myself from my precious zone of solitude and I’m out in the world, I’ll also take into account what is inspiring about my surroundings. Maybe it’s something in nature, or perhaps it’s a little more literal, like the font from a storefront’s signage. Whenever I see something that’s visually compelling I inspect it a little closer- what is it about that particular thing that caught my eye? Is it the way the colors play off one another between the sky and the ocean? Is it the shop’s careful use of kerning on their signage? The texture of the sidewalk? Usually what I find isn’t directly translatable to my project, but after inspecting closer I can find a deeper lesson or theme that I can use as inspiration.

4. When you’re on it, RIDE THAT WAVE. I’m hopping metaphors for a second, but bear with me.
In the past I’ve cancelled many plans with myself, my husband, and my friends due to my creative process. I’m not proud of it, but part of honoring the process, for me, is knowing when it’s time to stop (as mentioned above), but also when it’s time to keep going. When ideas hit me and I’m in The Zone (finally!), I continue riding the wave of creativity. A lot of time, I find myself stepping into the ever-pursued, long-awaited Zone at the most inopportune times- it’s 10pm at night and I have an early morning the next day, or 8am and I’m supposed to head into the studio shortly. Ugh, typical. But I’ve learned that the best thing for me is to just go with it- and sometimes that means sacrificing certain things. Maybe this means I don’t get much sleep that night, skip an evening yoga class, or I head into the office later than I’d like. However, knowing that riding the wave usually takes precedence over any other plans, I can schedule my creative time accordingly (usually beginning in the morning, on a day when I have no evening plans or hard ‘finish’ time), allowing myself to honor the plans I’ve made with myself or others.

In closing- know everyone’s process is different, but if you feel discouraged, you’re not alone.

And if you want a little boost, check this out- Ira Glass’s words have helped me navigate the creative process immensely, hopefully they will do the same for you.

Britt JunodComment