Toastmasters

2 ways to be more creative right now

I gave this as a speech recently.

I’m a freelance copywriter and every day, I work on projects that require me to think creatively. Creative thinking is a big theme right now in the world of work, and sometimes we have a hard time finding creative juice when we need it. So today I’ll share a few ideas on how to get unstuck.

Both of these have helped me in a slump:

  1. Messing up my desk.
  2. Wasting time going for a walk.

Let’s start with the first one:

  1.  Messing up my desk.

I’ll confess: my desk is always a mess. (Maybe my entire house actually, but we won’t discuss that.) I wrote this piece on a desk so messy that I had to carve out space for the keyboard. For me, a messy desk makes it easier for me to jump from lily to lily in the creative pond. Ideas don’t hide in boxes, but sit tucked away in jagged corners. A mess on my desk keeps my brain from becoming too comfortable with its surroundings.

And there’s a scientific basis for you logical thinkers out there. In one study, people were given 2 environments to complete a creative project. The first was a messy room–jagged lines, stuff strewn all over–and the second was a neat and tidy room–straight, clean lines, everything in its right place. The two groups sat in these rooms and collected ideas based on a theme.

When all of the ideas were submitted to an independent panel, who do you think had the better ideas?

The ideas from the messy room. They were rated as much more creative and innovative than the ones from the tidy room. That’s because we work more freely in an environment that encourages messy thought. We don’t restrict ourselves.

And a fun fact: Even Einstein seemed to know this trick.

  1. Wasting time going for a walk.

I’ve had some humdingers of delicious problems handed down to me from clients lately. One afternoon I was working through something so intensely that I realized I hadn’t taken the dog out for 8 hours. (Whoops.) To atone for my sin, I took him to the dog park. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there.

To be honest, that kind of break is a big waste of time for me when I’ve got a big push. But something happened to me on that walk: As I walked, I felt my brain relaxing. The structure of the problem in my head began to rearrange itself. Thoughts and ideas started coming faster and faster–so fast that I started talking to myself out loud about what was going on in my head.

(At this point, I put headphones on so I looked like I was on a call. I couldn’t be “that crazy lady” at the park.)

When I got back to my desk, my brain had somehow worked out the problem I had been struggling with for the past three hours. I looked it up and found that my experience is backed up by science:

This year, a Stanford University study found that the simple act of walking can boost your creativity up to 60 percent.

That means if you are working on a specific problem, you are measurably more creative while you are walking and for a short period of time after you finish walking. It doesn’t matter where you walk – people experienced the same effect when they walked around a drab office and when they walked on a green, tree-lined street.

So next time you’re on a desperate deadline, throw a few papers around the room and then waste some time by taking a walk. What happens in your brain might surprise you.

Creativity is a state of mind you can choose. Last year I had another big breakthrough in creativity, and you can read about that one here.

I was asked to give a speech

I’ve struggled with something my entire life, and last week I told a room full of people about it in my first Toastmasters speech. 

My name is Jena Binderup and I am a copywriter, and I’m here because I have to be. A few months ago, I quit my job.

Let me explain.

I’m a writer. Sometimes people ask me how I became a writer, and it’s a very hard question to answer. I was born this way, Lady-Gaga style. I always kept a diary, I frequently got in trouble for writing too much, in fourth grade I wrote 5 chapters of a novel. Writing isn’t what I do; it’s who I am. I’m lucky because I’m good enough to get paid for my writing. I’ve won awards and been asked to speak places because of it.

But that’s not why I’m here.

This time last year, I was working as a copywriter in a corporate office. A woman—another writer, actually–began working in my department. She wasn’t a great writer, but she had fantastical skills in pitching herself and getting company leaders to love her. She was so good that I noticed something after a few months: she got credit for all of my ideas. How did she do that?

I thought about this for a long time. It worked like this:

I’d have an idea or a solution for a strategy, new project, or marketing piece. I’d bring it to her or my manager and it would get shot down immediately–then re-introduced by her a week or so later, to great applause. Meanwhile, every time something went wrong in the department, the woman found a way to blame it on me. She got promoted in six months because she sold herself constantly as an expert. But for me, it got to the point where my manager thought I was incompetent. After all, I never had any great ideas and I always made mistakes. I began to believe that I was on the verge of getting fired.

All the while, I was working as a freelancer on the side. One day, I got a big job from one of my freelance clients. It was big enough that it would take me a whole month to finish and it was going to pay me twice what I was making at my full time job. I called in sick the next day to work. I went to the park and stewed on what to do. The next day I walked into work and quit my job, effective immediately. My manager was angry, and it was the only time I’ve left a job on bad terms where they wouldn’t rehire me. But I don’t regret it.

Since then, my freelance career has taken off. My current clients love my work. However… while that was a toxic office environment, I still have the same problem. I see bad writing on billboards, marketing materials, pretty much everywhere. I know that I can do better. But when I pitch myself or my ideas to a client–especially one I really want–I talk too fast and too much, talk too little, minimize my successes, or say straight-up strange things. When I think back, I remember a few times when I actually apologized to people for my ideas. In doing all that, I have talked myself out of jobs. It’s a miracle that I am so busy.

A few months ago I told a friend of mine about my problem. “Why don’t you try Toastmasters?” she said.

“What’s that?” I said. “Some kind of California cult?”

She laughed. “No, look it up.”

I did. I came to a meeting and realized within the first ten minutes that I needed to stick around. I love public speaking, actually, and I’m good at it–a prepared speech with prepared materials, entertaining or instructing or involving the audience in an activity, is a strength. I love it, and I’ve been told that audiences connect with me. Selling myself is where I fall flat. So most of my speeches will be, in some way, me pitching myself, my work, or my ideas. I may ask people to interrupt me so that I am forced to think on my feet. I may bring my resume in here and ask people to quiz me on my qualifications. After all, like I said—I’m here because I have to improve to be as successful as I want to be.

Let the writing continue, because it will. But let the pitching begin.