By Trent Rentsch
Inspiration can be fattening. I’ve decorated my office with several items designed to keep the Creative juices flowing, but at the same time some of them seem to be expanding my waistline.
Because I write mostly car dealer spots these days, it seemed appropriate to decorate my desktop with a variety of model cars. One of my favorites is an antique wooden pick-up truck. The bed is generally filled to the top with mini chocolate bars. I try hard to keep it filled to the top until at least noon, but some days... well, okay, most days, the truck needs restocking at some point mid afternoon.
Blue M&M guy stands in the corner, decked out in shades, wailing on a saxophone. If you pull down his left arm, a handful of M&Ms fall out of a hidden compartment in his side. I, ah, “jam” with Blue off and on all day.
Then there are those Creative brainstorming lunches. I like to call them that; it makes the daily rotation of buffets sound valid. Our audio guy likes the pizza buffet. One of the video guys could do the Chinese buffet 5 lunches a week. I tend to be a social butterfly, willing to eat wherever the gang is headed on any given day. All this inspirational eating is turning me into a butterfly that will never get off the ground... more like an elephant with wings.
Still, I defend it all as Creatively constructive. Why just the other day I came across this quote while grazing for an idea, “Any activity becomes Creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.” It’s possibly one of the best descriptions of the Creative process I’ve ever heard. The fact that it came from a fortune cookie doesn’t mean it’s any less valid.
When are you the least Creative? I can zero in on two separate, yet often intersecting times. When I am extremely busy, and when I have very little time to finish a project. The busier I am, the more likely it is that I’ll fall into familiar patterns and take a trip to Cliché World. Until I realized it and forced myself to stop, I had a character voice that I would automatically start writing for when I was busy. He’s gone by many names, but his first was George. Something about him gave me an easy canvas to work with; if I used George, I’d have a silly little spot quickly and could move on to the next thing on an over-loaded workday. I thought George was my ace in the hole, the never-miss Creative tool in my arsenal. Then one day I realized that George was more Creative crutch than tool. He was the voice of all 4 spots in a break. Trust me; while he might be a little funny, a little George goes a long way. In fact, my PD reminded me of that fact about a minute after the end of the break.
Then there are those other times… when I am out of time. I am writing this smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and it’s reminding me that I am still haunted by the ghosts of holiday seasons past. 50+ pieces of production a day were a reality then, more than half of the orders were usually stamped with the dreaded “ASAP.” Just as I thought I had everything covered and might get out in time to see my kid’s holiday pageant, it would land on my desk… the last minute order that “HAS to start in the morning.” If you think I was thinking about being “Real Creative” during those times, you give me more credit than I deserve. I might treat myself to the luxury of a legal pad to scribble down a line or two, but more often than not I was ad-libbing directly from the Production Order, underscored by whatever the next track on the Production CD was. This was desperation production — I’m not proud, but I did it.
At these times, did I care less about doing things right or better? Did I care at all? Yes… and sometimes, no. There are times that we have to admit that we are human, that the spirit is willing but the flesh really wants to get home to watch the new episode of C.S.I. Besides, stressed out and pushed for time is no recipe for Creative. If a station really, truly wants good Creative on the air, management needs to offer an environment that encourages it. Create deadlines and mean them, demand complete production orders and kick back the ones that aren’t, have enough production staff to effectively handle the workload. Believe me, this is NOT a case where downsizing means efficiency! These ideas were old before I got into the industry — some stations used them, some didn’t. The ones that did were the best sounding stations I worked for, with the best ratings. The others, well, you can probably guess what the others were like, and why I didn’t stay with them long.
Let’s read my fortune once again, “Any activity becomes Creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.” I think the most important word in that sentence is “cares.” As important as Creative is, it will not exist if someone doesn’t care, and one person shouldn’t be expected to carry that weight alone. Everyone, across the board, needs to care about the Creative process enough to help it along rather than hinder its progress. It can be as easy as making sure whoever does the Creative gets all the information they need in a timely matter. Heck, even a free lunch from time to time will grease the Creative skids. If you ever get that lucky, have a fortune cookie for me… I’m trying to cut down.