I’ve spent most of the last 12 months of my life working on No Missing Tools and now that it’s nearly ready for release I’m facing that big black chasm we all confront at the end of a major project – what to do next.
Having been here before, I know how easy it is to get stuck after a major project. So, here’s some ideas for how I tackle the gap and how you might be able to move more decisively from one major creative project to another.
Reward And Celebrate
It’s only fitting to tie a bow around completed projects. If they’ve gone well, we should celebrate the achievement, before parking it in the trophy cabinet of experience. And, if things didn’t go smoothly, then it is always a relief to say goodbye. Either way there are toasts to be made and thank yous to be said or written.
And, whether the project succeed, failed or went on to something in between, this is the moment to reflect on the lessons we learnt.
When the production schedule for No Missing Tools was decided I booked a little weeklong ski trip while the layout was being done. It was a week when I knew there was little for me to contribute. That time away was the perfect opportunity to get some distance from the project and make notes about how I might approach my next book. You might want to codify what you’ve learnt into a blogpost, a video, a manifesto or some other tangible thing you can share with others (I’m planning an epic blogpost on independent publishing).
Open Yourself Up
In order to complete a project our focus always ends up becoming narrower. When I started writing No Missing Tools, I was thinking about every aspect of creativity, but by the end of the writing, I was mostly deleting things that were not relevant to the main themes of the book. Along the way, I was spending less and less time making music or photos as the editing and design of the book took over all my time.
But, creativity is about being open to the world. At the end of a big project, it’s time to open the windows of our soul and let in some fresh creative air.
Give yourself permission to soak in whatever kinds of experiences fuel and inspire you. I’ve literally got it all over the next few weeks; travel, films, books, galleries, exercise, shopping, time goofing off in the studio – everything I’ve been putting off or doing less of in order to get the book done. Whatever you’ve been denying yourself in order to finish your project, now is the time to order a double serving!
Engage With Smart Creative People
If you want a really transformative tip at the end of a big project, this is it – go find really smart creative people and hang out with them. I don’t mean hang out in a social media, water cooler sense. I mean find a way to deeply and meaningful work with them, learn from them or in some fashion, let them into your world.
Nothing will kick start your creativity faster than adding some fresh good quality faces to your roster. We naturally feel stale and shorn of ideas at the end of a big project. So new collaborations, especially ones with people who have a sharp creative process, will liven up your transition to the next big thing. For example, right now I’m bringing all these new people into my creative world.
Mentor – in No Missing Tools I develop some of my previous thinking about the importance of mentors. After that, I had to take my own advice and find someone to fill that role for me. I’ve been fortunate to secure a respected artist, who is a creative and commercial success, from outside the worlds of music, photography and writing to help me be more bold and adventurous in my next projects.
Web Designer – I’ve DIY’d my websites since the 90s. Back in the days of HTML frames I was a core contributor to the King’s College London site and I’ve built a few commercial WordPress websites over the years. But, the last redesign of this site three years ago, took me most of a month and honestly, I was never happy with the result. Now I’m working with a great designer and already thinking more sharply about how I want this site to work in the future.
Copywriter – for years now I’ve been complaining about my inability to write a good bio or about me page. It’s a struggle for most creatives. But, rather than continue to whine about it, I’ve found a copywriter with great major agency experience, to coach me on writing better explanations of my work and projects.
Photo Editor – I’ve benefitted a lot in the past from image critique sessions with photographers and gallery owners. Now I’ve booked a session with an experienced photo editor to go through 200 of my best images from the past 5 years and whittle those down to a small section of 25 or so images I will highlight on the new site.
Photographer – the last time another photographer took my photo was 2011! Since then I’ve been reusing the same old images, most of which are self-portraits (is it a selfie if you use studio lights?). So, I contacted a Tokyo based portrait photographer I admire, who only works with natural light, to shoot some fresh new images for this site and my social media profiles.
All these people are not just giving me services I need, they are making me think in fresh dynamic ways about the style and substance of my work and helping me clarify what I should do next and what it should look like. They are people who’ve travelled a good way down the road and have great stories to share.
Find Your Next Big Thing
The space between delivering on our last big announcement and finding the next big project to announce can be a little dangerous. It’s easy to get stuck, spending too long either coasting off our last success or, wallowing in defeat and despair.
I hope these three ideas, Reward and Celebrate, Open Yourself Up and Engage With Smart People can help you navigate this space well. The examples I’ve given are the way I’m doing it after a really big project, the biggest one I’ve tackled in years. I’m sure if you give yourself some time, you can fill in your own ideas for look back, look out and look up as you embark on your next big creative adventure.