Flash back to 2010, and I’m giving a workshop to a room full of entrepreneurs who want to learn copywriting. We were on the subject of headlines. I’d given them the basics, and now, to make sure they “got it”, I had them each write a headline of their own.
The room was silent except for the tapping and scribbling of pens. Then, some pens hit the table, and I looked around to see smiling faces. These people were proud of what they’d written.
“Okay, now that everyone is done, here’s what I want you to do next. Pick your pen back up. Read over your headline one more time. Now cross it out.”
I got wide eyes and gasps.
“Cross it out? My beautiful headline?” their eyes said.
“Cross it out,” I said. “Now, pick your pens back up and do it again. Write another headline.”
I had them do this 5 more times. And each time, I had to pull teeth to get them to do it.
And it’s understandable. When you really put effort into something, attachment to that creation is a natural side-effect.
It’s your baby.
Who wants to cross out their baby?
But this exercise was teaching them more than they realized (I’ll explain that in a bit). And every time they wrote a new headline for the same product / service, it got better.
When I took this same exercise I’d developed, and used it for design, the results were truly amazing.
I learned most of what I know about design from my partner, Louisa (my partner both in business and in life). She’s a truly outstanding designer, and she’s always painfully honest.
Although writing is my true craft, design has always pulled me in. Over the years I’ve kept trying at it, creating designs, and bringing them to Lou for feedback.
And… her first glance would usually let me know I’d done a terrible job. But she always had constructive feedback that I took in like grass in the sun.
Over the years I’ve gotten better. Now, Lou even uses many of my designs as a starting point, and they become the end-products we give to our clients. Of course, she takes them to a level I’ll probably never be able to – but that’s alright. The fact that she sees something in them in the first place shows me how far I’ve come.
And many of my other designs we actually do use and ship. Particularly with typography and text formatting.
But it was this exercise that accelerated my learning. Here’s how:
This exercise teaches you that you can always do better. When you create something that you think is amazing, and you throw it in the trash, it’s a statement to yourself and the universe that says,
“Wait till you see what’s next.”
Because the truth is, the moment you create something, your skills evolve beyond it. You really can do better the next time.
Every time you design, you innovate. And those innovations become embedded into your style. By creating, deleting, creating, deleting… you accelerate that process.
Each time, you challenge yourself to innovate. And then you throw it out. And then you innovate. And then you throw it out.
But while the design is deleted – the innovations are not. They’re a part of you forever.
You learn how to detach from your work, and give it more “space”. You learn how to take away a lot of the pressure that comes with design and blocks creativity.
After all, if it’s no big deal to scrap a design, suddenly the design isn’t this big, scary monster. It’s something you could easily throw away and do all over again.
You learn that the design isn’t what counts. It’s your skill and artistic soul that matter. That’s where your design comes from, and that’s why you get paid for what you do.
You learn that you’re truly capable of creating great things, no matter what. And that feeling is truly priceless.
Have thoughts or comments? I’d love to hear them.
Just post them in the comments on this post. And who knows? Maybe we can even start a conversation.
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