In our yard the snow is piled high. But for the past two weeks our days have been played out to the staccato rhythm of dripping water. So it should not have been a surprise when I drove out into the nearby hill towns and realized that mud season has started.
I shouldn’t have been surprised because it is also mud season at work.
In a perfect world I would always have a couple of jobs out on the horizon, one as a draft proposal, one in the creative phase and a handful production. Keeping work on an even flow is delightful. Unfortunately it is also a bit of a pipe dream.
For the past week I've been mired in the mud. I've got three projects at the same stage. One is a new project for a new client. One is for a former client starting a new business venture. And one is for an existing client with a new product. For all three I'm in between developing briefs and the first presentation of creative. It is equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. (Throw in a handful of rush jobs for my biggest client and it has been interesting.)
Being creative is not something that can be turned on and off like a switch. Getting my head and hands into the creative phase of a project can take hours. There is no other way to get the work done than to wade in and get dirty. My office will attest to this. Paper, tracing paper, pens, pencils, colored pencils, computer print outs, production samples and Pantone color chips litter every surface. Hours and hours have been spent looking, sketching and honing in on various possible solutions. (Sometimes those hours are at my desk or table. Sometimes those hours are outside of the office where I can focus without the distraction of email whooshing in or the ringing phone.) But finding time to make sketches is just the beginning.
My routine tells me that my critical next step is getting away from the work. Sometimes this can be as brief as the drive to the coffee shop or a walk around the block. But I know I need time to clear my brain and open my eyes. As I re-approach the sketches my goal is to now identify design directions to pull forward.
At this point sometimes I find that the sketches I just spent hours on are dreck. But if I'm lucky I may find a nugget or two of something really good.
I try hard to switch off the exploration and instead bring the sketched concept to life. Anyone who has written a paper or prepared a presentation knows this is harder than it seems. It is VERY easy to get distracted. Once I have a few directions cleanly centered on a sheet of paper I step away.
Now is the time to clean up the office. Put away the inspiration. Re-gather the client notes and brief. Put the rough sketches in a folder. And take a good long break. When I re-approach the project I like to start back at the beginning—re-reading my notes from the client meeting and conversations. Then I return to the brief and visual brief. Then with a renewed understanding of the client's problems and objectives I turn to my sketches.
And this is where I find myself right now, deep in the mud. Shifting grounds and piles of sketches and inspirations. But like the mud, I know change is coming. I can feel some solid spots. And I know the sun will come out and the breeze will blow and the earth below my feet will firm up. In my tiny office as I prepare my presentations the ranging sketches will come together. The concepts behind the work will clarify and the project will move out of the muck and into the light.