WHY CREATIVITY + CONNECTION GO HAND IN HAND
In order to create, I need to feel a connection... not just to whatever the subject matter happens to be but also to those who are consuming the content. Yep... you sitting here taking the time to read these musing with your cup of tea in hand... you’re the one I mean! If I didn't feel connected to my readers, how would I know who I'm creating for and what to create? And what's the point of doing the creating if no one's connecting with it?
Confused? Me too. Hopefully my further ramblings will begin to make more sense as this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Not least because I think it’s all too easy to confuse the connection part with the numbers game. It's way more fluffy than numbers. Enough already with the stats and followers... they can end up being a real inhibitor when it comes to creativity. And from what I've seen, vast numbers often don't foster that much connection either.
The realisation that the words and images I weave together form a small online corner where others come for inspiration still gives me all the warm and fuzzies whenever I think about it. And that in itself makes me feel connected to each and every person I interact with online.
Now we've got fluffy and fuzzy!
If I stripped away all the number based validation and looked at what I value the most, it comes down to having the chance to create and then enjoy the connection opportunities that follow. Both in person and online. Usually, when I find myself deep in the midst of an uninspired slump, its because I've been spending too much time on all the necessary (but boring) shizzle. Meaning I haven't had enough time to get on and create. When light eventually dawns on marble head and I realise what it is I'm missing, I get back to the creation stuff... and around comes the connection part again. Which in turn makes me want to create more... which sounds to me like the best kind of self-perpetuating prophecy there ever was!
By connection I mean the "Me Too!" factor. Someone says something and I nod enthusiastically along whilst simultaneously feeling relieved that I'm not the only one thinking X Y or Z about A B and C. Is that a form of validation? I guess it is on some level... but I prefer to think of it as more of a positive or uplifting affirmation. In its simplest form it can be a virtual nod of agreement that yes, that camel jumpsuit from COS is definitely a must-purchase and will certainly become a staple from here on in. But on a more serious note and I guess this is the one that I value the most of late, it’s knowing that someone else out there is experiencing the same thoughts and emotions as me and no I'm not alone in it or driving myself crazy over nothing. And to think this comes as unexpected side bonus of existing and working in blog and Instagram land.... not bad at all when you come to think about it.
And let's not forget the buzz that comes with meeting up with one or a group of like-minded women in real life. Invariably the opportunity might have arisen out of a work related activity but the personal connections you can end up coming away with are the real icing on the cake. I would add at this point that both the online and IRL connection opportunities are not to be confused with that moment when a complete stranger says “Hey... let’s connect!” in a cringey, networking way. If I’m honest all that stuff leaves me cold.... and more often that not turns out to be code for "What can I get from you?" or "What can I sell you?"
Watch out too for the completely out of left field suggestion to "Meet up for coffee and a chat". Read: "I want to shamelessly pick your brains in person". Or there’s the ... "Would you mind answering this email full of questions that I have?" Read: "I need your help with this and even though I don't know you, I feel it's my right to extract this information from you at the expense of your time." Cynic or the voice of experience? A bit of both.
But if you're after the kind of genuine connection that will lift you up, inspire you, foster creativity and bring the all important me too factor to the table, how do you get your fix when you're freelance and work from home a lot? Here's a few things that have helped me over the years...
Since working for myself, one of the biggest imbalances I used to suffer was never allowing myself any time off to meet up with friends or go and do something locally that just interests me. There's a mentality that seems to imbed itself when it's just you working for you... i.e. you must work every single free hour and NEVER take time out!
TIME OFF WITH OLD FRIENDS
Once I eventually realised that not taking time off is completely ridiculous and actually in the long term, had the opposite effect of making me less productive, I set about trying to right the balance a little. It can be as simple as a coffee meet up with an old friend who you love spending time with and is completely unrelated to your field of work. The friends who love you for all the other bits of you and who've known you for the longest time are truly gold dust for so many reasons. Not only that but the chance to switch off from being Mrs Always Online and not have a lengthy discussion over what the hell the Instagram algorithm has done this week should never be underestimated!
TIME SPENT WITH NEW FRIENDS
Just as when you go and start work somewhere new and make new "work friends", working from home has helped me forge new friendships too - usually formed online at first. I've lost count of the number of times I've come away from a coffee or lunch with an online creative mate (or Work Wife), and am left feeling inspired, refreshed and motivated. I have several of these women in my life - they know who they are - and spending time with them is like savouring that first shot of coffee on a sunny spring morning - glorious! Speaking of that previous imbalance, I still find myself having to say no to things when I've got a lot of work on but these days it’s said without any guilt or angst. Those that know me, old friends and new, know that there are times when I have to make work a priority in order to ensure I can still hold down my space in the online world and make it work.
WORKSHOPS AND LOCAL EVENTS
Local workshops and events are definitely becoming more abundant and I'm fairly sure that's as a result of more small business owners needing somewhere to make those creative connections. Finding out about their existence might seem tricky to begin with but I've found that making online connections (more on that below), widens your horizons and naturally opens up new avenues to explore by default.
Case in point, I met Laura though our blogs some years ago. She went on to found Hero and later, to host workshops and events. Some of which I co-hosted alongside her. And now she's fostering a thriving local creative community who love nothing more than to gather often and swap stories and share tips and resources.
If ever Laura or I are in need of a creativity or motivational fix, we'll spend a couple of hours in each others company, throwing any issues into the pot, discussing those really important challenges... or just laughing at the ridiculousness of the other "problems" that really don't merit any air time at all when you pick them apart. Seek out like-minded souls, find your creative tribe and give time over to nurturing those relationships. When you find that magic combination of mutual respect and admiration, honesty and the ability to laugh in the face of adversity with someone who gets you; spending time in their company is the best tonic you could ever wish for.
My biggest source of instant online connection has to be Instagram, closely followed by blogs. I admitted here that I don’t “hang out” much on Twitter anymore but give me a new Instagram hashtag rabbit hole to explore and I’ll show you about ten people I could envisage myself making a strong creative connection with. Find those people, initiate light but meaningful conversation when you can and see what happens. I know for a fact that there are many genuine friendships that have begun in this way. Same goes for conversations that happen in the comments sections of blogs too.
To me this is truly a wonder of the online age we live in and not to be sniffed at.
When you share something personal, it can create deeper connections. But... and this is a hugely vital but...only ever share according to your own personal level of comfort. Just because you have an online persona and community, it doesn't mean that you're obliged to bare every single part of your soul or share every pivotal life event. When you do share what you're truly comfortable with, the positive impact it can have on others is not to be underestimated. It brings a human element to the glossiest of online "shop fronts" and serves as a reminder that everyone has a messy backstory, no matter how together it might appear on the surface.
FEED IT BACK AROUND
If someone you admire/secretly style stalk/have numerous fangirl moments over has done something to inspire you, reach out and tell them so. It doesn't have to be in the public domain of blog or Instagram comments either if that makes you feel uncomfortable. Some of the loveliest conversations I've had have been over email. We put stuff out there and more often that not, sit back and listen to the sound of.... 'erm... chirping crickets. Then one day, someone tells you that something you wrote or an image you posted made them feel a connection. That's the best feed back ever and, if you create content, it'll inspire you to create more of the same.
BOOKMARK YOUR INSPIRATION
I end up reading a lot of blogs for my own entertainment and inspiration. I constantly check back with them, not just because their content inspires me but also because their personal stories or outlook on life leaves me feeling happy and upbeat. These blogs and sites get consumed at will… sometimes over the first early morning coffee or yes... shock horror, when I commit the cardinal sin of eating lunch at my desk. Knowing I can find a few snippets of "happy" online when I need them makes working at home even better.
I think when all is said and done, the connection and creativity link is born out of a basic need for human interaction. And as solo entrepreneurs are on the rise and more of us work from home on a regular basis, it should only become more important.
In my experience, cultivating your online and in person friendships with love and care means that a lack of creativity soon becomes a much rarer thing. It's far easier to create when you feel happy and connected with the world at large. In summary... forget those numbers for a minute and shift your focus to the fluffy as often as possible - it’ll pay dividends in the longer term.