How to Run Your Life as a Creative Professional–JC Herz’s Wisdom and Advice

Found this at Boing Boing (a site that’s like the proverbial treasure chest in your attic, full of both good and whimsical stuff). 

J. C. Herz (photo from the Speakers Bureau International website)

On May 6 2011, J.C. Herz gave the commencement speech at Ringling College of Art and Design, in her words, “the #1 art school in the country for computer animation and game art and design (grads go to Pixar, ILM, and EA)”.  The speech is something every creative professional needs to take to heart.  (I know I do.)

From the Ringling College site.  “J. C. Herz is a technologist with a background in biological systems and computer game design. Her specialty is massively multiplayer systems that leverage social network effects, whether on the web, mobile devices, or more exotic high-end or grubby low-end hardware. She currently runs an analytics company, Batchtags LLC, which sells a next-generation graph database and information visualization to enterprise customers, predominantly in the high tech and health care sectors. The Batchtags team has experience in algorithm and software development for large financial flows (e.g. Wall Street, cybersecurity), elegant visual presentation of complex, multidimensional information, and the development of intuitive game-like interfaces and interaction design.”

The speech is full of basic, down-to-earth advice about functioning as a creative professional in the world.  I can’t summarize it.  So here is the first couple of paragraphs and then a link to the speech itself.  I did save the speech for myself—and I wish I could turn it into a little grad book you could buy at a flower shop or a gift card store.  The advice she gives is what I needed to hear.

In the speech, she pinpoints a real issue for me, and other creative types.  How many times have I taken a walk in the woods or done some other mind-freeing thing, thinking I was solving the real problem of getting unstuck, when actually I needed to push through:

“But back to the business of creative work: Getting stuck is a big part of creative work, and it’s really important to be good at getting unstuck. There are two main reasons why creative people get stuck on a piece of work: The first is, you don’t actually have an idea. You may have requirements, and you may have tools. But you don’t actually have an idea that’s going to carry the day, and you’re going to be stuck until you get a solid idea. The second reason creative people get stuck is that, while they have the idea, executing the idea takes a lot of work, and not all of that work is fun, and basically you don’t want to do the work, because having the idea in the first place was the fun part. The problem is, you don’t get to say “check mate in four.” You actually have to finish the project. So you get mystically “stuck” after the brilliant sketch is done.

It is very, very important to accurately understand which of these problems you’re having when you get stuck. If you don’t have an idea, you need to play around a little, take a walk, have a good conversation, open the aperture. As they say in drawing class, explore the negative space. If you’re balking at the work, you need to stop playing around, sit down, shut up, go offline, and focus single-mindedly on executing the work, and make it real. In either case, if you try to solve one problem when you’re really having the other, you’re going to waste a lot of time.”

A creative professional in his natural habitat

Read the whole commencement address, which is good enough to publish as its own little book.  Thank you, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.  And Thank you, J.C. Herz!  (Consider publishing this in a little grad book so I can hand it out to all my creative writers in their workshops.)

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