CREATIVITY: Throw It Out & Start Fresh

By Earl Pilkington

Like many other copywriters I am sure, we look for inspiration anywhere we can. Sometimes ideas can come from the weirdest of places. AND you don’t expect these inspirational moments to change the way you work… but this one did!

I stumbled across the YouTube video of Louis CK and his emotional tribute to the one and only George Carlin. This 10 minute video may not change your life, but it did mine. In it Louis CK speaks honestly about writing comedy, and it really resonated with me about writing copy. Then he says that his own newfound creativity was spurred on by George Carlin’s prolific work habits.

How? Every year, George Carlin would create a brand new hour of comedy material, and before he started, he would throw out every single one of his old jokes. He would start from scratch.

Now, I ask you… as a creative, do you re-use some of your old material? Do you re-work an old idea that you thought was good, just to save time?

Sure, you worked hard on creating it originally, but do you just go through the motions of simply recrafting it to make it work?

Anyway, back to the video… Louis CK was in no position to question Carlin, who he considered to be a comedy genius. Louis CK was broke, doing the same material for 15 years night in, night out. His jokes weren’t funny, and he had nothing else to fall back on.

So… Louis CK threw everything out, everything, and started over.

Guess what? It worked.

Louis CK told deeper, more interesting jokes, material that now resonated and connected with his audience. He wrote about his life, his family, and the world as he saw it.

I felt I was pretty much in the same situation with my writing, so I followed his example. I threw out my 20 plus years of a ‘Swipe File’. That’s a 3 drawer cabinet overstuffed and overflowing with old material, scripts, posters, ads, and ideas. Now… it’s all gone.

As a result, I feel I have become more creative. This purge was freeing, liberating, and believe it or not, it unleashed a flurry of fresh material and ideas. It turns out that my old habits were holding me back.

I have started to do new things, from more creative commercial scripts, to starting to consult with clients about writing their web copy and print ads. I’ve even started pushing myself to write that dream novel I have always wanted to write.

Let George Carlin and Louis CK be an example you emulate. Search for something better, be creative, and you’ll discover that old thoughts, habits and ways of working that you always did, are holding you back.

Be creative. Be an inspiration. Be yourself, and don’t rely on the crutch of your old material or ideas, don’t let them hold you back. Destroy, delete and throw out your old material, and you too will become more creative.

Good luck.

Earl Pilkington works as a copywriter for West Coast Radio in Western Australia. He has mentored on-air talent, audio producers, journos and others inside and outside the industry, including TV, newspaper, voice talent and students. Earl welcomes your correspondence at theboss@shedloadofgeeks.com.

Comments (8)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

C. K. Rules....so did George Carlin and Lenny Bruce before him.

Finding or making a window where the new stuff gets in. That's the challenge. I need mental space to allow myself to think in a different way. Sometimes that's the result of re-reading the sound effects CDF library guide until my brain catches on some sound effect. Then, BOOM, I have a new concept.

But what if the SFX library approach itself is old and needs to be thrown out?

Then what?

Ty Ford
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I have to admit that I am guilty of reading the sound effect library guide too for inspiration - that's kind of scary, here I was thinking I was the only one that was 'that' weird!!
I have to admit that I have kept all my old sound effects, everything.
Old BBC SFX records from the 60's, CD's and DAT tapes from recording session. Early last year I spent a month digitally encoding the lot, then stored them all in a large box in the garage.
I am 'that guy' who travels with a hard drive of sound effects with him. And have been called by other producers who now work at other stations asking for a specific effect, which I usually have in my hard drive library.
It's very strange considering that i am now a copywriter, but hey! Old habits die hard!
Thanks for your comment Ty.

Earl Pilkington
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I have the BBC beige 3 box set on vinyl. There are not enough hours in my day/life to compel me to convert them to digital. I commend you on your effort, sir!

Ty Ford
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I only ever had individual vinyl records for the SFX library (4 of them). I remember the beige 3 box set. WOW! That had a 'lot' of content in them.
And thanks for the kind words Ty

Earl Pilkington
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Good advise, with one caveat. I would say, don't actually throw away your backups and masters. Put them some place like the attic or a storage locker so they aren't just an arm's length away. I worked 44+ years in production, 36 of them at WMMR. I know that kind of longevity is rare, especially these days. From my first week in production, on my 3rd, from scratch, recut of something because of other people's mistakes, I learned the value of keeping masters. From then on I backed up and saved everything. There were many times when old content was audio gold for occasions like station anniversaries, tributes to people that died, bits of nostalgia for fun, etc. Plus, those backups contain my life's work. Sometimes I'll have a vague memory of something I worked on and I'll want to hear it again or share it with somebody. I still have a closet full of tapes, but 90% of my stuff is on optical media or hard drives so when those memories trigger, I can usually find what I want. ...

Good advise, with one caveat. I would say, don't actually throw away your backups and masters. Put them some place like the attic or a storage locker so they aren't just an arm's length away. I worked 44+ years in production, 36 of them at WMMR. I know that kind of longevity is rare, especially these days. From my first week in production, on my 3rd, from scratch, recut of something because of other people's mistakes, I learned the value of keeping masters. From then on I backed up and saved everything. There were many times when old content was audio gold for occasions like station anniversaries, tributes to people that died, bits of nostalgia for fun, etc. Plus, those backups contain my life's work. Sometimes I'll have a vague memory of something I worked on and I'll want to hear it again or share it with somebody. I still have a closet full of tapes, but 90% of my stuff is on optical media or hard drives so when those memories trigger, I can usually find what I want. That all said, I totally agree with Earl's well presented notion that not recycling old stuff forces you to be creative. It is very tempting, especially when you are besieged with work. I confess, I did it sometimes, but I learned long ago that it blunts your creative tools. Plus, the rush of doing something fresh was what made production fun and challenging. Recycle your trash, not your intellectual property, which is not trash.
Steve Lushbaugh
P.S. Keep good masters. You never know when you might really need something, but not to use as a crutch!

Read More
Steve (better known as "Lush") Lushbaugh
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

G'day 'Lush'. While the focus of the article was more on my inspirational 'swipe file' than work I had produced, I totally agree with you.

I do have copies of audio I have produced in storage. even copies of old TV shows I worked on, and other things I have produced from various industries I have worked in. All in storage. Although a lot of them, the machines no longer exist to play them, or convert them. So maybe I should throw them out?

But the masters situation is something I did attend to last year with my sound effects library - see my reply to Ty Ford.

The other work on 8 track, reel to reel, DAT, and, even on old 8 & 12 inch floppy disks is still all in storage. It's hard to let go of the material you spend so long working on - and is your intellectual property - but i have to admit... I never look at it again. I don't tend to go back to it for inspiration, and I think the last time I went back to it for an 'event' was about 15 years ago. They are all just gathering...

G'day 'Lush'. While the focus of the article was more on my inspirational 'swipe file' than work I had produced, I totally agree with you.

I do have copies of audio I have produced in storage. even copies of old TV shows I worked on, and other things I have produced from various industries I have worked in. All in storage. Although a lot of them, the machines no longer exist to play them, or convert them. So maybe I should throw them out?

But the masters situation is something I did attend to last year with my sound effects library - see my reply to Ty Ford.

The other work on 8 track, reel to reel, DAT, and, even on old 8 & 12 inch floppy disks is still all in storage. It's hard to let go of the material you spend so long working on - and is your intellectual property - but i have to admit... I never look at it again. I don't tend to go back to it for inspiration, and I think the last time I went back to it for an 'event' was about 15 years ago. They are all just gathering dust.

Thanks for the feedback.

Read More
Earl Pilkington
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

WMMR, Yay!

I was at 'HFS (102.3) and WIYY(98 Rock) /WBAL for the better part of my radio production work.Always held WMMR in high regard.

Ty Ford
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Truly sorry Earl for hijacking your terrific article. Not my intention, but years of working alone in a sound proofed room has made me chatty and I'm easily distratable. I have written a lot of copy too. Most of it I still have. Avoiding old ideas when they are just a word search away is hard. But it can be invaluable reference when you absolutely need to find something. DOH! I did it again. But I couldn't agree with you more about staying fresh and being creative. It takes discipline, but I learned early that challenging yourself is what makes the job fun, even when it's hard and you start thinking you have used up all your good ideas. A blank document (or sheet of paper in the typewriter for those who remember) can be your worst nightmare. Defeating that devil by covering it with well crafted words makes us mighty. Copying and pasting leaves the creative mind felling hollow and guilty. The words will come. Often the best ideas arrive when you are running of fumes....

Truly sorry Earl for hijacking your terrific article. Not my intention, but years of working alone in a sound proofed room has made me chatty and I'm easily distratable. I have written a lot of copy too. Most of it I still have. Avoiding old ideas when they are just a word search away is hard. But it can be invaluable reference when you absolutely need to find something. DOH! I did it again. But I couldn't agree with you more about staying fresh and being creative. It takes discipline, but I learned early that challenging yourself is what makes the job fun, even when it's hard and you start thinking you have used up all your good ideas. A blank document (or sheet of paper in the typewriter for those who remember) can be your worst nightmare. Defeating that devil by covering it with well crafted words makes us mighty. Copying and pasting leaves the creative mind felling hollow and guilty. The words will come. Often the best ideas arrive when you are running of fumes. Sometimes you have to dig for them, other times they fly at you so fast you're sweating from chasing them. Either way, being creative is a joy. Churning old stuff is less satisfying than screwing in dome lights at an auto factory.

I'm retired now, but I too always carried my laptop, iLoks and a portable drive with my essential elements on it almost every time I left home or work. I've relaxed a bit now that I don't have a job, but my gig-bag is spill mostly packed. Came in handy this weekend when a friend presented a classical trio and wanted to record it. Old habits die hard, thank goodness.

I haven't copied everything to digital...yet. But I did get a bunch of record cleaning and restoring stuff for all my sound effect records and other treasured vinyl. Have a reel-to-reel deck also and soon my closet of tapes will fit on a couple of Blu Ray discs and I'll have a place to shelve the records.

My 4-track masters are still in the basement at MMR. May have to go back and rummage through them next year for the station's 50th birthday!

Well, I've written another tome. Would this be more than 60 seconds on copy paper?

Thanks to you and Ty for the kind words and being kindred spirits.

Lush

Read More
Steve (better known as "Lush") Lushbaugh
There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location