Tag Archives: inspiration

If you want to write, write.

I want to be a ______________.

Fill in the blank and then ask yourself: are you doing what it takes to be what you want?

In Ze Frank’s thoughts on the creative career, he touches on what other creatives have said before when giving advice: “If you want to be something, start being it. Not tomorrow — today.”

To be a creative professional, you must start somewhere, and starting is hard and uncomfortable. But ultimately, doing what you love is worth it. So what are you waiting for?

If you’re in a creative rut and need help getting started, here are three techniques for getting unstuck.

For love and money: balancing life as a writer

When I decided that Professional Writing would be my major, I did it for many numerous self-fulfilling, positive reasons. I wanted to be a novelist but I couldn’t count on that. I still loved writing, just didn’t want to major in creative writing and get stuck teaching it. I wanted a major that would get me a job I would love.

Professional Writing was the obvious choice.

And now, out of school and working full-time in Greenville, South Carolina, I have a job I love working as a Project Manager in the Marketing department of a mega-church. It’s crazy how life turns out. I spend four days a week (I know, I get three day weekends because I work 10 hour days, it’s basically the bomb) managing and organizing the Marketing department. I do everything from doling out work and keeping the schedules of our designs to ordering items to writing synopses for the CDs and DVDs we sell. And that’s maybe an eighth of what I do.

But here’s the thing—I still want to be a novelist. I still want to, someday, become a self-sufficient writer career wise, and if that’s going to happen I have to work toward it on a regular basis.

Let’s face the facts, people. I work 4 days a week, sure, but they are 10 hour days. I don’t get home until 6:30 – 7pm, and if I go to the gym let’s make that 8pm. I’ve sent anywhere from 80 to 100 emails that day (I am not exaggerating), and the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a novel. I’d much rather eat some ice cream and catch up on How I Met Your Mother.

But I have goals. I don’t have time for any of that.

Here’s what you might be asking—not just how do you find the time, but how do you stay inspired? How do you balance being a professional writer at work and come home and do blogging, book reviews, and creative writing?

Determination. And time management.

That’s the short way to describe it. It helps that I love writing, and if I get myself in the right mindset I can force myself to write. And after about ten minutes of forcing myself to write, eighty percent of the time I’m not forcing myself anymore. I’m deep into whatever I’m writing and I’m excited.

Sometimes this might take a beer or three. Sometimes it takes a cupcake. Sometimes it takes watching How I Met Your Mother before even attempting. And sometimes it takes determination.

Time management is incredibly important for me. When I get home, and let’s say I haven’t worked out so I’m home at 6:30, I need to eat. By the time I’ve finished and done dishes, it’s 7:30. I’m mentally exhausted, so I watch 30 minutes of mindless TV. The hardest part is forcing myself to turn it off and get to work. From there, I always say that I’ll just write for a little bit. Then I pick the thing that I want to work on most, and I dive in.

Some days I get about one hundred words in and give up and go back to my library book or some TV, but most days I’m in it for the long haul. I write for a while, usually until I know I need to do some other stuff. Then I work on stuff I didn’t really want to do. Maybe a blog post, maybe some blog reading about queries (who likes to read about queries?). Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I try to do a little French, since I’m trying to pick up the language again.

By the time I’m done, it’s usually 10 – 11pm. Time for a shower, maybe a little reading, and bed. Then I wake up and do it all over again, but not always in the same order.

Something that is incredibly important for me is inspiration. And so is taking the time to find it. For me, inspiration comes in all forms. Reading is the big one—anything from blogs to novels to poetry. A blog about how a certain writer approaches outlines might inspire me. A poem about a cat might make me think that I want to write about a cat. Pinterest is another big source of inspiration, both writing and not writing (cooking and DIY stuff I will probably never do). I’ve always found photography to be hugely inspirational, and many a time if I need a prompt to write something I pick a photo and write the story behind it. If I feel blah or stupid or like my writing is dumb, reading helps, and so does Pinterest, and sometimes so does wine.

There’s no right way to balance your work ambitions and your personal ambitions—everyone does it differently. I write lists. I check things off. I read blogs (a lot of blogs) about writing and the publishing industry, trying to keep up to speed. I’m always thinking about the next step, both professionally and personally. Being lazy is okay sometimes—the other day I spent a whole three hours watching That 70s Show. Such things are necessary. Reading for fun is necessary too. How else am I going to get inspiration for everything on my to-do list?

For me, the key is balance. When I’m at work for 10 or often 11 hours, I spend about thirty minutes a day working on a blog post that isn’t about work. It frees up my brain halfway through the day and allows me to unwind, and when I jump back into work I’m so much more focused. It helps me be able to make the switch from professional to creative writing that much easier. Not everyone has time to do this, but I highly suggest it.

One thing I’m still working on is waking up an hour early to write. I can barely wake up ten minutes early to do my makeup nicely. Someday I’ll be badass enough to do it and not complain.

About the Author

Vanessa-Levin-PompetzkiVanessa Levin-Pompetzki is an alumni of the Professional Writing program at Michigan State University. She currently works as the Marketing Project Manager at Redemption (please excuse the website, they’re redesigning) in Greenville, South Carolina. Tweet her at @vanessalevpom or check out her blog.

The necessity of risk

The Great Discontent recently interviewed design great Debbie Millman, who shared her experiences from 30 years in the business. Here is one passage that particularly resonated with me:

I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.

Debbie talks a lot in the interview about dealing with rejection, fear, and failure — things we all have to deal with, but don’t like to talk about. And yet in sharing her own moments of self-doubt, Debbie shows that great things come from taking risks — a valuable lesson for creatives at all stages of their career.

For more on the necessity of risk in creative work, check out iA’s Story of a Beautiful Failure and Seth Godin’s Risk, fear, and worry.

Things I wish I’d understood when I was in design school

School is a bubble, a safe haven from the real world. Cultivate curiosity. Stay up all night X-actoing. Try to understand that right now you don’t really have to worry about dental bills, insurance, rush deadlines, press checks, expense reports, and pitches. Retirement benefits are important (unless you want to work until the age of 80), and compound interest is worth learning about. One day you’ll be responsible for all that, and you won’t ever be able to find the time for anything.

Write down your goals, draw a map of things you’d like to do. Once the seasonal structure of school is gone, life can start to feel like a never-ending free fall or a stagnant pool of sameness if you don’t draft your own direction. You will learn more at your first real job than you did in school.

A job is a job, so don’t take it too personally. Work can sometimes bog you down and make you forget that you’re alive. You can make your life anything you want it to be, but you’ll have to be the one to take the actions to get you there. This may seem obvious and sound easy; it is not.

If you’ve never had a crappy job, get one, at least for a little while. Later in your career, when you’re a manager, you need to remember what it felt like to make minimum wage and do menial work.

Learn how to almost always say yes, even when your initial reaction may be no. Use social media strategically. Create on a regular basis, not just for your job, but for yourself. Then put your work out there for everyone to see. Be flexible. Details matter. Use grids most of the time and kern thoughtfully. Read. Look. See. Remove the price sticker from your portfolio case before going to your first job interview.

Seek and foster relationships with mentors you respect. Jump into chaos, fix the problems later. Sit beneath a very old tree and look up. Know design history. Designing non-functional typography á la David Carson won’t work for most paying clients. Hoefler & Frere-Jones is not a fancy French winery. Know your type foundries and understand that at some point you will have to pay money for a font.

Have strong opinions. Share them, but don’t push them. There are no absolutes.

Travel, near and far. Embrace empathy; it is the key to all successful relationships. Purposely leave your comfort zone; familiarity and habit can make you stagnant. Accumulate stories. Understand that as a problem solver, you’re obligated to explore and be open to all experiences. This is how you will make new connections and arrive at surprising solutions. This is also how you’ll come to feel super alive.

We’re all in this crazy world together, and don’t ever become so selfish that you forget it. The government isn’t always right, and corporations are not people, no matter what legislation says. Some misguided people will try to pay you a lot of money to design something that is unethical. Go to a quiet place and really think about if it’s worth it. Use your problem solving and visual communication skills for good; give back to the world that helped you get to where you are today. As a designer especially, you have an obligation to a greater good; don’t leave a legacy that ruins the future of others.

There is so much more you don’t know. Realize it, and let that knowledge humble you and inspire you to keep seeking. Don’t waste your time always searching for advice from other people. If you take time to listen to the quiet of your heart, you will come to understand that you already know the answer.

A lot of other people have advice to give. Here are some of my favorites:

David Foster Wallace – Kenyan commencement speech

Stefan Sagmeister – Things I have learned in my life so far

Frank Chimero – The Particle

Ira Glass – on being an artist

First Things First Manifesto 2000 – on ethics and the responsibility of being a designer

About the Author

Jessica Yurasek is a Creative Strategist at Innovation Protocol, a strategic brand consulting firm. She also works with socially conscious non-profits such as The Tiziano Project and Counterspill.org to promote truth through storytelling using design along with new media platforms. Find her on Twitter @missjessrose.

Remembering Steve Jobs

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

— Steve Jobs, 2005

Steve Jobs’ vision and creative thinking changed the world and the way we think about technology and communication. Share your thoughts, memories, and condolences at rememberingsteve@apple.com.

Type matters

If you are ever having a discussion (or argument) with someone who doesn’t believe that type matters, then demonstrate your point by showing them this:


These are two identical photos of Audrey Hepburn, only one is captioned in Bodoni and one is captioned in Comic Sans. The distinctive style of each typeface alters the perception of the image—classic or comical?

This is just one of the examples that graphic designer and I Love Typography (ILT) founder John Boardley shared at Type Matters last week in Japan.

I’ve been reading ILT for a few years now, so when I heard John was going to be speaking in Tokyo, I cleared my calendar, added my name to the waiting list, and crossed my fingers that I’d get bumped up. It was wonderful to sit in a room with other type lovers and hear John talk about its history and usage. Here are some of the tips he shared about the four elements of good typography: Contrast, Size, Hierarchy, and White Space.

  • Check for contrast by printing out your design in grayscale.
  • Text is the most important element on any page and it should always be a legible size.
  • Use typography to establish a visual hierarchy.
  • Many designers fear white space, but typography is about balancing the black and white.

To learn more, check out John’s Guide to Web Typography. In fact, if you’re not already reading I Love Typography, go, browse, learn. There is a ton of content on all aspects of typography, and it’s a fantastic resource whether you’re a professional designer or a type enthusiast.

And for some typographical inspiration, here are some shots I took during the historical part of John’s presentation. You can click on each image for a closer look.

latin-alpha-700bc cuneiform
carolingean c-capmark
bodoni-punches estienne
jenson rome-letters

Design inspiration: China

I spent two weeks traveling in China this spring, and my route from Beijing to Xi’an to Shanghai was a fusion of ancient history and modernity. Here are some snapshots from the trip—bits of color, architecture, and typography that caught my eye and continue to provide inspiration. You can click on the thumbnails for a closer look.

painted-pandas beihai-park
A-nest paperscreens
geometric fountain
(left to right, top to bottom) 1. Painted pandas – Beijing Zoo; 2. Beihai Park – Beijing; 3. A + Bird’s Nest – Olympic Park, Beijing; 4. Script + paper screens – Forbidden City, Beijing; 5. Geometric architecture – Shanghai; 6. Fountain Deli – Shanghai.

heart-type wedding-window
weapons papercut
tile-bricks uighur-scarf
(left to right, top to bottom) 7. Heart type – Beijing; 8. Wedding window display – Xi’an; 9. Red and gold – Confucius Temple, Beijing; 10. Paper cut in the subway – Beijing; 11. Tiled – Yonghegong Lama Temple, Beijing; 12. Uighur embroidered scarf – Shanghai Museum.

jade-covering brown-sugar
clockface coffee-tea
water-cube stone-armor
(left to right, top to bottom) 13. Jade pieces used for a funerary face covering – Shanghai Museum; 14. Brown Sugar – Shanghai; 15. The Hall of Clocks and Watches – Forbidden City, Beijing; 16. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – Shanghai; 17. Water Cube – Olympic Park, Beijing; 18. Stone armor for Terracotta Army – Xi’an.

Beer With Branson: Making it happen with social media

The new year is a time for dreaming big, making resolutions, and then diving in headfirst. Or at least it is if you are Justin “Bugsy” Sailor.

Bugsy kicked off 2010 with an ambitious goal: to have a beer with Richard Branson by the end of the year. But if you know Bugsy (and if you don’t, you should), then you know that it’s not just talk. He is a guy of action with a history of making his bright ideas happen, from networking with the Lansing Breakfast Club to promoting the Upper Peninsula with Yooper Steez to visiting all 50 states in his Hometown Invasion Tour. Bugsy’s New Year’s resolution is fueled by that same entrepreneurial spirit, and he launched the Beer With Branson website on January 1.

Beer with Richard Branson

The site, illustrated by the talented Angela Duncan, encourages supporters to submit questions Bugsy should ask Branson when they meet, give suggestions of where the duo should share their beer, and vote on what kind of beer they should drink.

But that’s not all. Bugsy is also using Twitter, Facebook, and fellow bloggers to spread the word. The social media push has already proven powerful — it took only five hours for him to connect with a Virgin employee in London.

There’s a lot to be learned from Beer With Branson about the power of community and networking to bring about real results. Social media has helped lessen the gap between the everyman and the celebrity, and many famous people are using sites like Twitter to connect with their fans and customers — including Richard Branson:

With more than 200 Virgin companies worldwide, my days and nights are filled with exciting service launches, product announcements, parties, events, and consumer opportunities. I’m regularly asked what a day in the life of Richard Branson looks like, and Twitter helps me answer that. It also enables communication no matter where I am. Source: Business Week

If Branson hasn’t heard about Bugsy yet, I’m sure it won’t be long before he does. You can lend a hand at beerwithbranson.com and help Bugsy make it happen, one connection at a time.

Design inspiration: Thai-pography

Our latest design inspiration comes from Elaine Chernov. Elaine has a BFA in Visual Communication from Long Beach State and is currently working as an Art Director at a small ad agency in Chicago, as well as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer.

Born in the Soviet Union, raised in Los Angeles, and currently loving Chicago, Elaine also has a passion for travel. Her most recent trip was to Thailand, where she found inspiration in the written language.

When you look at the characters of a completely foreign language, especially one as ornate as Thai, all you notice is form, line weight, and relationships. It’s the kind of total blindness that made me just stare at all the signs, applying the same type-sensitive eye I would to a romance alphabet but without any bias towards connotation. It’s an exercise in pure typography.

Elaine shares her favorites below, but definitely check out the full set on Flickr for more Thai-pography goodness.

This Way
This Way

Temple Whiteboard
Temple Whiteboard

Beware Sippery Surface
Beware Sippery Surface


Temple Signs
Temple Signs

Red Sign
Red Sign


The value of a leave-behind

Portfolios, resumes, business cards, personal branding — there are many ways people try to set themselves apart from the competition when searching for a job. Whether you are networking or interviewing, you want to leave a great impression, along with a way for people to learn more about you and contact you.

One valuable way to show your creativity and experience is through a leave-behind. A leave-behind is a part of a portfolio that is left with a potential employer after an interview.

Andrea Zagata, a senior at Michigan State University majoring in journalism, recently decided to create a leave-behind portfolio to showcase her work in a visually compelling way. The result? A memorable and well-executed design that has helped her cross language barriers and generate buzz about her work. Andrea agreed to share with us her inspiration and design process to show how valuable her leave-behind has been as she prepares for the transition from college to the workforce.

Andrea Zagata

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have been interested in design since I became involved with Society for News Design (SND) my freshman year. Design is the way I merge my appreciation for art with my love of telling a great story through journalism.

This is my fourth semester at The State News, where I started in fall 2008 as a copy designer. This semester I am Visual Editor, running a desk of five designers (including myself) to produce the print edition of the paper as well as all interactive Flash content for the website. I have been a copy designer, assistant design editor, assistant multimedia editor, and visual editor. I graduate in May and am looking for a job designing for a news organization.

What was the inspiration behind your leave-behind?
The leave-behind was born out of necessity. I attended the annual SND conference in Buenos Aires in September, and I wanted a way to show people my work. I knew I didn’t want to do a business card — I find them kind of pretentious for students. I feel the same way about personal branding; I know how to create a logo, but I’m not an entity unto myself. I’m just a kid who wants to do good work. I thought the best way to tell anyone that would be to simply show some examples of what I’ve done.

Henry Brimmer, an advertising professor, had us do mini-portfolios in one of my design classes. This was perfect for what I needed to do. It gives me the freedom to put in as many pieces as I want, by simply adding or taking away panels, and I can show a variety of work in a small space.

Tell us about your design process.
Andrea Zagata's Leave-Behind 1I started with a 3×15″ document in InDesign and divided it into 3×3″ squares. It’s two pages so it can be printed front and back, but the 3×15″ size means it can easily be printed on 11×17″ paper. The opening panel has who I am — visual journalist, reporter, writer, storyteller, designer, artist, but they are all crossed out because the important info is on the bottom: I need a job.

The front is green because it’s my favorite design color, and the next panels are white because a blank canvas highlights the work more than a colored background would. Included are a variety of samples: small thumbnails of newspaper pages, illustrations, and screenshots of interactive projects. The second page is exactly the same, with different work samples. The last panel has my contact information and graduation date. Printed front and back, it folds up quite nicely into a manageable, transportable, 3×3″ square.

Andrea Zagata's Leave-Behind 2

How have you used your leave-behind?
This is always my substitute for a business card. I take a couple with me pretty much everywhere I go, just in case. I printed about 20 and have a few in my backpack. The first time I gave them out was in Buenos Aires at the conference, but I’ve also sent them out along with internship applications, and taken them to various events. I even met a man in an airport who gave me a business card — in return, I gave him my leave-behind.

I find them very personal; it’s obvious that I’ve put some work into creating them, and they have my work all over them. I’ve found that people are often flattered to receive them. It used to match the design of my resume, but since I’ve re-designed my resume package I’ll probably redo the cover of the leave-behind before I print the next batch. It is a form of personal branding, I suppose, but it’s less about me and more about the work.

What have been the reactions to your leave-behind?
I’ve gotten some pretty great feedback. It was a big hit at MSU’s Creative Arts Forum, and people tend to enjoy seeing and looking at it. This is something people tend to want to keep (which is fine with me because then they always have my name). It’s one thing to have a great resume or really be able to talk yourself up, but to show people examples of what you’ve done, that’s powerful. It’s also a great conversation piece.

Do you have any advice for other students or designers about the value of a leave-behind?
Leave-behinds are really valuable, especially if they’re unique. It’s just a great way to help people remember you. You don’t get lost in a stack of business cards. I would have one to take to interviews, to conferences, anywhere you might want to network with someone.

Be careful not to be too kitschy. The key is to make something unique, but small and simple enough to be kept. Go just far enough to be interesting, but not far enough to be overdone and thrown away. My design philosophy is kind of the same — someone once told me that the best designers finish a project and then undo the last design element they added. You have to know when enough is enough. The mini-portfolio, in my opinion, is just the right amount of design and simplicity.

You can view more photos of Andrea’s leave-behind on her “I Shot the Serif” State News blog. To learn more about Andrea’s work, check out her portfolio and interactive work.